You’ve heard about cognitive biases and their influence on users’ perception, haven’t you? These unconscious errors in mental processing guide the way we see life, interpret reality, and make decisions.
What you may not have considered is how much cognitive biases affect social media marketing.
First, cognitive biases prevent users from perceiving social media content the way marketers want. And second, experienced social media marketers understand the nature of cognitive biases and craft content in a way that it would evoke the desired reaction from consumers.
Indeed, some cognitive biases work to marketers’ advantage. When used right, they can help to persuade and convert target audiences. For example:
In this article, we’ll reveal some secrets of social media content creation through a lens of cognitive biases.
A cognitive bias is a systematic and unconscious error in mental processing. It refers to the irrational nature of how we reason, predict, evaluate, and remember things in favor of our own perspectives despite the rational arguments at hand.
The concept of cognitive bias was first introduced in 1976. Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky explained the nature of this phenomenon: Biases are hardwired into human brains, so we can’t avert them in full. In 2002, Kahneman won the Nobel Prize for that study, and his 2011 book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” is a great read for marketers.
While they used to be the subject of social scientists and economists’ discussions, cognitive biases have become a hot topic these days. Different organizations and industries examine the concept and provide bias training for employees to help overcome stereotyping and discrimination. Google’s Unbiasing and the US government’s Sirius programs are just a couple of examples.
For the marketing industry, cognitive biases’ nature is a must-know to understand how to relate to and communicate with the target audience effectively.
Given that we live with more than 200 unconscious biases, it’s also important to know how they can impede or misrepresent our marketing messages. Empowered with this knowledge, we’ll craft social media content that deals with users’ cognitive biases and evokes required responses from them.
Experts divide all identified cognitive biases into four groups:
Let’s reveal the insights on each group and see what we can do with social media content to use biases for better marketing.
It evolutionally happened that the human mind is lazy. Cognitive biases serve to protect our brain against excessive fatigue, and that’s the reason it stands against new information.
Sure, we notice when something changes but, subconsciously, we don’t like it. That’s the reason why everything new triggers users like sin. Think of the constant storms of criticism that appear volcanically every time a website or an app updates its web design.
Too much information biases make us notice flaws in others more easily than in ourselves. They make us notice things that confirm our existing beliefs and are primed to our memory. These biases are to blame for our tendency to consider the often-repeated information as a matter of fact.
To deal with these biases in social media content and make the audience notice your marketing message, do the following:
Appeal to the bizarreness effect. People notice strange and cute things first, so try posting unusual images or start a social media post with some bizarre or unexpected words and phrases. It will hook a user and motivate them to stop scrolling the feed to learn more.
Don’t be afraid of posting humorous content that fits your brand’s nature and tone of voice. It refers to the humor effect bias, saying that humorous items are more easily remembered. It happens because of the positive emotional arousal that humor causes.
Many brands appeal to this bias in their commercial ads, including Dollar Shave Club and Old Spice’s “I’m on a Horse“. In social media content, post funny short videos, relevant memes or comics, and witty captions. But remember your buyer persona!
While it’s funny to you, some things may not be so for your targets; ensure that humorous content is relevant to your brand narrative, and the audience will accept it.
Make the most out of the picture superiority effect, which says that “people remember pictures better than they remember the corresponding words.” Build your social media content accordingly: bright, high-quality, branded images are what will help your message stand out.
Use images to communicate your message to the audience. People are more likely to remember concepts presented in visual forms, which is another reason why infographics are permanently popular.
Remember that too much information biases are what makes human brains stick out to bizarre, funny, and visually-striking content; usual and often-repeated information will go unnoticed.
Build social media content with the self-reference effect in mind. It says that the degree of personal involvement in a message (or events) defines how well a user will remember it.
In plain English:
The more personalized social media content you post, the more it will resonate and be remembered. So, when planning and scheduling your social media posts, address each of them to the audience directly:
This group of cognitive biases makes people stick with what they already know and subconsciously stand against new information. Again, it happens because our brain is lazy and tries to avoid understanding the rapidly changing and too complicated world around us.
In plain English:
We rely on the information we (or someone else) already know. How can addressing this group of biases help your social media content work?
Make the most of influencer marketing, collaborate with opinion leaders, and work on your social signals. Publish posts with expert quotes, share insights from your industry leaders, etc.
By showcasing your authority, you’ll boost people’s trust in your brand. It happens thanks to authority bias saying that we tend to trust businesses and personalities we’ve deemed authoritative, as exemplified by the Milgram experiment and the Dr. Fox effect, among others.
In-group favoritism plays its role here too: the better social signals your content has, the more authoritative it will look in the eyes of users.
Avoid stereotyping in your social media content. We all fill in characteristics from generalities and prior histories, and this bias can play old-fashioned with your content strategy: if building it on stereotypes, you may offend and alienate the audience.
Instead, think outside the box and share diverse experiences through your content. Tell authentic stories of your audience through brand storytelling.
Don’t forget: lazy to overwork, our brain remembers the information selectively. The third group of cognitive biases refers to people’s tendency to form generalities (negativity bias), reduce info to key elements (the list-length effect), and store memories based on how they were experienced (Google effect).
Also, ensure that your content provides short and concise information. Stick to the one message = one idea rule. It will help you deal with the targets’ need to act fast cognitive biases.
Afraid of getting lost in today’s rapidly changing trends, updates, and other information, people feel the need for acting fast. They favor simple-looking options and immediate things over complex ones, they try to avoid irreversible decisions, and they want to feel what they do is important.
To make these biases work for you in social media content, try the following:
Appeal to people’s hyperbolic discounting, defining some frames in the content.
Give them confidence in their strengths and innocence; share DIY content when applicable, use lexical items communicating the ease and speed of that practice, etc.
Address their zero-risk bias, providing guarantees. And approach a unit bias, making your social media content allow people to act quickly. Provide users with simple choices to satisfy their perception of completion.
By understanding the nature of cognitive biases and their influence on people’s perceptions, social media marketers can craft their content so that it will evoke the desired emotions and actions from users.
But of course, we should remember about ethics and use all those psychological tricks for good. It’s all about brand reputation and user trust.
And last but not least, to deal with cognitive biases in social media content, marketers shouldn’t forget that they are also biased. Let’s be mindful of our own mental errors and reflect on our targets’ judgments before communicating them.
Listening to the feedback from customers and colleagues can help to challenge the biases too. Thanks to the blind-spot bias, they will see our flaws better than we do.
Lesley Vos is a web writer and content architect at Bid4Papers blog, also contributing to publications on digital marketing, social media, and self-development. You could see her works at @Moz, @SMExaminer, @CoSchedule, and other niche websites. Feel free to reach out to Lesley via Twitter @LesleyVos.