Steve Jobs famously said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them”. This consumer psychology behavior is why great marketing is critical. The best marketers understand what makes people act, and how to use that understanding in campaigns, email marketing, social media content, and even graphic design.

Consumer psychology is all about getting into that unconscious territory where people are being directed to make purchases for reasons they are not clear about, states consumer psychology expert, Michael Fishman.

6 Consumer Psychology Principles That Create Social Media Fans

Let’s examine Econsultancy’s six consumer psychology principles and the social media actions you can take to leverage these principles to build up a larger and more loyal audience. These include:

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Information Gap Theory
  3. Social Proof
  4. Fear of Missing Out
  5. Loss Aversion
  6. Paradox of Choice

Consumer psychology pricncipals

Consumer Psychology Principal #1 – Reciprocity. Feels good, doesn’t it?

Reciprocity – meaning mutual exchange.

Reciprocity is a consumer psychological principle regarding a positive action that takes place in response to another positive action.  This principle suggests that one will return an act of friendship made by another.

How to use reciprocity in social media:

1 – Follow to be followed.

From Ryan Hanley’s post on just be awesome social media strategy:

  • Find ten to twenty blogs of thought leaders in your niche and connect with those people on the two to three social media platforms you use the most.  Then just participate.
  • Show interest in what they are saying by commenting on their post.
  • Add value to the discussion by sharing your personal experiences.
  • Be part of the solution that leads to achievement of their goals.

2 – Share great content, not just your own.

Share the content of other people BEFORE you ever share your own. Use social media to give value first and build trust with others and in return, they will help you spread your message

In general, by being Awesome and sharing the awesome content of other people first, you will garner the attention of appreciation of these individuals who will RECIPROCATE! 

Consumer Psychology Principal #2 -The secret to creating curiosity: Information Gap Theory.

Curiosity – a strong desire to know or learn something.

In psychology, the Information Gap Theory refers to the curiosity that humans develop if there is a gap between the information they already know and the information they wish to know.

Developed by George Loewenstein back in the early 1990s, this theory suggests that when there is a gap in knowledge, humans are triggered to take action to find what they want to know.

Loewenstein believes that curiosity proceeds in two basic steps:

  • First, a situation reveals a painful gap in our knowledge (that’s the headline)
  • Second, then we feel an urge to fill this gap and ease that pain (that’s the click)

How to use this curiosity in social media:

1 – The easiest way to do this is by creating eye-catching, attention-grabbing headlines.

Your headline and image grab attention. Curiosity, on the other hand, helps you keep attention! It’s important to spark an interest that already exists within your audience:

  • Choosing the right topics to write about is essential.
  • Find something that your audience will want to know more about, and hand them the answer on a plate.

Draw them in with the right headline and you have given them something great for free, taking us back to the Reciprocity Theory.

Here’s a great article on why curiosity based headlines hook us in: Upworthy’s Headlines Are Insufferable. Here’s Why You Click Anyway


Upworthy headlines are wildly effective. A recent web traffic chart reveals that Upworthy generated about 75,000 Facebook likes for each article. If that sounds impressive, get this: The second-best performing site produced fewer than 10,000 likes.

Whatever you think of Upworthy, the power of curiosity-gap headlines is, possibly, peerless.

Consumer Psychology Principal #3 – Use social proof to encourage readership and downloads.

Content marketing and social proof work hand in hand. This theory proposes that people naturally gravitate to a product that they know others already like and trust.

How to use social proof in social media:

1 – If you’re trying to grow your blog subscriber list, encourage them to subscribe:

“Join the 13,648 content marketers who subscribe to our blog!”

2 – Use social share counters on your blog posts.

Show readers and prospective readers how many people have already read and shared your article.

Consumer Psychology: Use social share counters on your blog posts

3 – Embed tweets from readers and share customer testimonials within your landing pages.

Consumer Psychology:: Tweets from readers and customer testimonials

Consumer Psychology Principal #4 – Keeping up with the fear of missing out.

Fear of Missing Out (or FOMO, for short) is a part of the scarcity marketing theory. The thought is – humans tend to put more value on things they feel are scarce and a lower value on anything that you can easily obtain.

When people worry they can’t have something due to limited time or quantity, psychologically they will start wanting it more. Also, in today’s world of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and the like, we are all instantly aware of the stuff we are missing out on.

How to use FOMO in social media:

1 – Show your customers that your content is rare and therefore, valuable.

  • If you have an e-book, make it free to download for a limited amount of time
  • If you have a newsletter, tell your customers that there is new content on your site that they have the opportunity to see before anyone else.

When people worry they can’t have something due to limited time or quantity, psychologically they will start wanting it more.

Consumer Psychology: Limited Quantity - You better buy now!

Consumer Psychology Principal #5 – Aversion to loss is more powerful than acquiring gains.

In economics and decision theory, loss aversion refers to the way people tend to prefer avoiding losses than acquiring gains. Most studies suggest that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains.

Whether a transaction is framed as a loss or as a gain is very important: would you rather get a $5 discount, or avoid a $5 surcharge?

How to use loss aversion to your advantage in social media:

The best way to apply the loss aversion principle to your content marketing is to work out what exactly makes your audience tick.

1 – Taylor your blog content to show your customers why your service or product will prevent them from losing something important to them, like time or money.
Tips to be great at social media in just minutes per day

2 –Use trial periods and rebates to take advantage of the buyer’s tendency to be wary of new things.

Consumer Psychology Principal #6 – Paradox of too many choices – why less is more.

In his book, The Paradox of Choice – Why More Is Less, Psychologist Barry Schwartz argues that you can significantly reduce anxiety in a consumer by simply limiting the number of choices that are available.

Autonomy and Freedom of choice are critical to our well being, and choice is critical to freedom and autonomy. Nonetheless, though modern Americans have more choice than any group of people ever has before, and thus, presumably, more freedom and autonomy, we don’t seem to be benefiting from it psychologically. —quoted from Ch.5, The Paradox of Choice, 2004

The Paradox of Choice principle proposes that humans become less satisfied if they have too many choices. People often struggle with important decisions, and when given too many choices, we often worry later that a different option may have been better for us.

How to use the paradox of choice in social media:

1 – Keep your social media content clear and concise and don’t overwhelm your audience with too many choices. When someone reads your content, ideally, you want the reader to take a further action.

Offer them two different options:

  • Share it
  • Read something similar (or related, popular or trending)

Goal: Avoid giving your audience too many options that result in them leaving your site.

For example, at the end of all our blog posts, we offer our audience two choices: ‘Share this’ or ‘Related’.

Consumer Psychology: Example of call to actions: Share this or Related

There are many factors to take into consideration when creating and implementing a successful social media marketing strategy. Keeping these six consumer psychology principles in mind will help you focus on your audiences’ thoughts and behavior, and most importantly, help you to stand out in a crowded world of online marketing.


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