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Psychology of social interaction

The Psychology of Social Interactions6 min read

6 min read

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[/vc_raw_html][text_output]The unprecedented pace of change in the digital age makes ours an exciting industry to work in, with technology constantly adapting how we think, learn and communicate. But these shifting sands can also make for a disconcerting environment for brands. After all, a reactive approach to digital innovation would require frequent upheaval, resulting in a fragmented, inefficient strategy.  As such, we need to understand the deeper truths that drive these changes; and by doing so, we can both maximise the potential of today’s technology and plan for what will come next.


Universal Truths of Human Psychology

One such approach can be taken from the study of human psychology. The plasticity of the human brain is an essential and hugely beneficial component of our existence, but our brains are not changing at the same rate as our surroundings. In her books Mind Change and I.D.: The Quest for meaning in the 21st Century, Baroness Susan Greenfield posits that there are ultimately three psychological scenarios that lead us to engage with brands and with each other online: the ‘Someone’ scenario, the ‘Anyone’ scenario and the ‘No-one’ scenario.


“A Coke is a Coke”

 The Someone Scenario

Andy Warhol famously wrote, “A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good.” This is an apt summation of the rampant consumerist society and the American dream of equality that so fascinated Warhol, but is this still true of today’s society?

The ‘Someone’ scenario occurs when we aspire to a unique and fulfilled self, manifested in the careful cultivation of our social media profiles, for example. This extends to the offline world, with seemingly personalised bottles of Coke on shelves worldwide. A Coke is still a Coke, but being the same is no longer good enough.


Clark coke


This is an illusion of personalisation, a serendipitous happenstance (especially if you have a name like Clark) that nonetheless appeals to our narcissism. I have yet to walk past a Clark Coke without buying it.


‘Someone’ – How can this shape our strategies?

The opportunities to apply this insight are myriad. We have written elsewhere and at length about the possibilities of personalisation, but suffice to say CRM data should form the fulcrum of many digital advertising strategies. Multi-product ads, providing a sense of choice and freedom, can also be a successful tactic.

Also worthy of mention within the ‘Someone’ scenario is Snapchat, which continues to go from strength to strength. The success of its time-restricted content owes much to this deep psychological drive – the satisfaction of accessing something exclusive will always prove enticing to consumers.


“The spectator is a prince”

The Anyone Scenario

The ‘Anyone’ scenario arises when our individual identity is subsumed into a mass collective, providing a sense of being part of something grander than the self. This can range from sharing a Buzzfeed article to joining in with a trending hash tag.

An interpretation of this psychological state can be taken further if we assess the rise of Periscope, the live video-streaming app. Charles Baudelaire summarised this timeless scenario as he wrote, “To be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world [..] The spectator is a prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito.” This suggests a certain sense of voyeurism, but the predominant note is one of enduring human curiosity – and this is a desire that Periscope feeds into adeptly.


‘Anyone’ – How can this shape our strategies?

While the possibilities here are normally of a less commercial nature than in the ‘Someone’ scenario, this is a particularly vital time to engender positive brand sentiment and engagement.

As such, engaging with the zeitgeist and being ‘on trend’ are essential. This permits consumers a sense of belonging and social status that can only help develop brand advocacy. To tap into this, constant social media monitoring and an agile approach to content creation and publication are crucial.


“The transience of pleasure”

The Noone Scenario

In the ‘No-one’ scenario, the individual is reduced to a passive recipient for their senses, constantly in search of instant gratification. A famous experiment on a group of rats showed that after surviving on a diet of junk food, they would rather starve than go back to eating healthy food. The junk food stimulates the brain’s pleasure centres, releasing small amounts of dopamine and keeping the rats in anticipation of the next hit.

Similar trends have been observed on human brains as we engage with social media platforms. As Baroness Greenfield reveals, interactions on apps including Instagram, Facebook and Tinder provide this same dopamine release and help to account for their addictive nature. Although the parallel with emaciated rats is less than flattering, this is not an altogether negative development. The transience of pleasure is an ineluctable fact of life, and our online interactions provide a sense of interconnectedness and gratification on a scale hitherto unthinkable.


‘No-one’ – How can this shape our strategies?

In what is undoubtedly a very visual modern culture, visceral imagery tends to perform very well when customers are in this psychological state.  Another important consideration is the nature of storytelling; the element of surprise is central to our enjoyment of a narrative, so this should be borne in mind. Posting the same types of content with the same messages at the same times daily removes this surprise element for consumers.


In summary: what’s next?

New media require new messages, and it is only through experimentation that we will harness the possibilities of new technologies. However, if we bear in mind the persistent, atavistic drivers behind much of what we do and consume, a certain strategic consistency can still be upheld. In addition, a measurement framework that adequately and accurately attributes value to social media (through tailored GA goals, for example) can help prove the success of this approach.

In summary, though the environment around us is changing rapidly, the factors that drive consumers remain relatively constant. An understanding of these universal truths, combined with an appetite for experimentation with content forms and media, can reap significant rewards for brands both now and in the long-term.



For more information check out my presentation here.[/text_output][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/4″][visibility type=”hidden-desktop”][gap size=”20px”][/visibility][vc_widget_sidebar sidebar_id=”ups-sidebar-2″][/vc_column][/vc_row]