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4 Research-Driven Tactics for Better Social Media Content

The last thing you want to do is leave your audience bored with your social content. Boredom is a one-way street to low engagement. But, to avoid boredom, we first need to understand exactly what it is and how it creeps into our lives.

Psychologists have yet to land on a universally-accepted term and definition of boredom. In their Unengaged Mind study, researchers from York University sought to better define boredom and which factors lead to it. In their research, two things stood out related to marketing and the factors that drive boredom:

  • The environment
  • Psychological energy (low vs. high stimuli for intrigue)

When it comes to the environment, digital marketers are competing with plenty of different distractions. We’re competing with browser tabs, social media notifications, the latest app, new games, other pieces of content, and everything in between. The environment itself, created for stimulation, offers our audience an endless supply of different opportunities to satisfy boredom.

So, the challenge for marketers becomes standing out and crafting content that has a positive influence on the reader’s psychological energy.

Here are four research-driven tactics you can use to craft better content for social media and, ultimately, stand out.

Use High Arousal and High Valence Content

While it was controversial, the Facebook Emotional Contagion study showed us that people are more likely to act when they are emotionally connected to something they see online. In their study, people were more likely to share content when subjected to high-arousal stories than when subjected to low-arousal.

Social Media Campaign Checklist

Valence is how positive or negative an event is, and arousal reflects whether it’s exciting/agitating or calming/soothing. The visual below shows language within the space to indicate approximate valence and arousal ratings:

Social Marketing Arousal

As marketers, we should take this insight into consideration and strive to use high arousal and valence language to drive interaction. Using this as a framework for how to drive impact, we should look to tell stories that are both high-arousal and high-valence. As an example, this post:


This example from Gatorade drives high valence and high emotion by capitalizing on positivity and inspiration. Starbucks does the same with this post:

Starbucks Facebook

More than 17,000 people connected with and shared this post because it drives high-arousal emotions. The joy we have when thinking about our closest friends is an emotion that is likely to drive a share.

Studies have shown that positivity is one of the biggest and most effective ways to drive shares on social media. As such, we should look to leverage inspiration, joy, and happiness more often.

Disarm the Reader’s Cost-Benefit Analysis

Angela Duckworth, psychology professor at UPenn, worked with colleagues to create a model for thinking about emotions that helps explain boredom. In an interview with Freakonomics, she talks about boredom as it relates to students in a classroom:

I think, actually, kids are, in a way, little economists who are weighing the costs and benefits of what they’re doing. When the calculus seems to favor not paying attention to what the teacher’s saying or not doing their homework, then that’s what they do. I think in a way they’re very rational.

The idea that people are gauging whether or not they should consume information is valuable for marketers. As you craft your copy for a social media post, you need to communicate why your audience should read the rest of your post or click a link.

Take this great post from Derek Halpern.

Derek Halpern

Starting your content by quickly showing them what they’re going to get if they keep reading filters out those who won’t be interested.

You can use this same approach when you’re crafting the headlines for the different pieces of content you’ll be sharing online. Take this example from BarkBox.

Reading the title of the article, it’s obviously targeted to a specific audience to ensure that psychological energy is high. In addition, it leverages one of the most powerful words in English: love. Someone who clicks this article is going to be relevant and fully engaged — exactly what every marketer wants.

Include Images or Video to Maximize Engagement

It’s not random that Facebook continues to modify its algorithm to rank photos more prominently. It’s also not random that Twitter recently made the decision to make Periscope streams display directly in your feed and boost First View video ads to the top of your feed.

It’s because people connect with visuals.

A study conducted by the Stanford Persuasive Tech Lab found that 46.1% of people say a website’s design is the number one criterion for discerning the credibility of the company. To further support the value of visuals, educational and training studies found that after three days, people retained only 10-20% of written or spoken content but almost 65% of visual content.

It’s why an image like this is more likely to be shared.

Cheerios Facebook

Now, imagine that post without the visual. It wouldn’t have the same shareability or evoke the same level of emotion.

An official study from Twitter showed that tweets with photos average a 35% boost in Retweets:

Twitter Study

Regardless of whether you’re creating or curating content, you should always try to include images with your posts or tweets. People will connect with this content, and it increases the likelihood of high engagement.

Create Content That Is Useful or Entertaining

The New York Times Customer Insight Group’s The Psychology of Sharing report is one of my favorite studies. This study uncovered the primary motivations for sharing content.

Ninety-four percent of those surveyed expressed that before they share something, they carefully consider how the information will be useful to the recipient.

Will the content you share make someone laugh or feel as if they learned something new? If so, you’re capitalizing on what Jonah Berger, the author of Contagious, defines as delivering Practical Value. If you can create content that offers value to the lives of your audience and their connections, it’s more likely to be shared.

For example, this post from Starbucks drives shares because people are able to share useful information with their friends.

Facebook Starbucks

This tweet from Staples does the same:

Staples Twitter

Offering value to your audience increases the likelihood that they’ll share it, because they want to add value to the lives of those around them.

So What’s Next?

 It’s time to take these insights and turn them into action. Let’s summarize:

1) Use High-Arousal / High-Valence language to reel your target audience in

2) Clearly communicate who should consume your content

3) Always create content that you would consider useful, fun, or valuable

4) Leverage visuals constantly

Building social media content that inspires action is the goal of most social media managers. While there’s a lot more that goes into crafting a perfect post for social media, the studies and tactics above should act as thought-starters.

Which of these studies and learnings did you find the most useful? Tweet at me and download Simply Measured’s 2016 Social + Digital Marketing Predictions guide below for more ways to improve in 2016.

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Ross Simmonds

Ross is passionate about technology, the future, good people, good coffee, and storytelling. He writes about a wide range of topics, including the highs and lows of entrepreneurship, along with the lessons he's learned over the last few years. Ross is the founder of Foundation (content consulting & creation), Hustle & Grind (subscription service for entrepreneurs), and Crate (content marketing software – beta).

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