Five Ways To Leverage Social Psychology in Online Marketing

Luka Stanojevic

Feb 15, 20185 min read
Five Ways To Leverage Social Psychology in Online Marketing

Humans, for the most part, remain social animals. People seek out opportunities to be with others and to experience and live something together. When they need help or advice, they turn to people first and whether they are happy or sad, sharing with another person either amplifies that joy or dampens the sadness.

Some argue that the information age has driven a wedge between people and broken down these once-necessary social bonds. MIT professor Sherry Turkle was quoted as saying that " We're losing the raw, human part of being with each other." However, others claim that technology and the Internet haven’t destroyed social interaction but simply transformed it, creating new and exciting ways and opportunities to interact and stay in touch.

This is a view that can be particularly interesting, and promising, to digital marketers, and it allows for new ways of tapping into social dynamics to get a message across more effectively than ever before. This is what we are exploring today – how marketers can use social psychology in order to come up with their next strategy. 


“Everybody else is doing it so it must be good,” or “everybody else has one, so I want one too.” These sentences sound funny when put this way and would most likely trigger a contrarian response when seen verbatim, but it is a fact that most people fall victim to groupthink. Daniel Richardson of University College London concludes that “ When people interact, they end up agreeing, and they make worse decisions - they don’t share information, they share biases.

This does not mean that marketers should be deceptive and prey on peoples’ mistakes, but it does present an interesting opportunity to harness groupthink in order to make products more appealing. It means that there is huge potential in showing approval for what you are selling to make it more attractive. Reviews and testimonials are the bread and butter of showcasing this social approval and banking on groupthink, and it is surprising how many websites still skip on using them. Others have started to dedicate entire pages just for reviews and linking to them quite frequently and eagerly to showcase approval for their brands.


A study by the Harvard Business Review found that referred customers are both “ more loyal and more valuable than other customers, and to most people, this would make intuitive sense. You probably ask your friends for advice when you plan on getting something, whether it is a phone or even a bank account because you trust they have your interest at heart and will give you sound advice. This means that referrals have an extremely strong potential when it comes not only to conversion rate, which spikes when someone is referred to your business, but also to loyalty and profitability.

One in three people admit that social media influences their buying habits so why not strengthen it even further and come up with campaigns that are shareable and fun? Evidence gathered from previous campaigns says that the most effective referral programs are those that reward both sides of the equation, both the referrer and the referred ( here’s a case study on how Dropbox did it to get 4 million users in 15 months.)


Time and time again, from Milgram’s famous experiment to analytical data gathered by websites, authority was shown to be an extremely strong driver for peoples’ actions. People tend to believe those that they consider experts on a given subject and when they are unsure, they willingly seek out these experts in order to get their advice.

In digital marketing, you probably won’t have an ad with some dated catchphrase that starts with ‘9 out of 10 dentists believe,’ but you can still use the potential of authority to influence buyer attitudes and actions. Authority can be created in multiple ways and some tie into the other topics of this article like referrals. Getting a referral automatically puts you in a position of authority because people think they are always being referred to authority figures. However, you can also benefit from the authority of others by attracting prominent figures to contribute to your content marketing strategy, whether through guest blogging or video marketing.


Gift giving is a tradition as old as time, and its benefits in relationship building are undeniable. Gifts not only create a friendly bond between the giver and recipient, but they also create this relationship of giving and receiving. Businesses can sometimes find it hard to give something out for free when trying to meet their forecasts and goals, but understanding the social and psychological dynamics of gifts can be a huge asset in making more money, and it doesn’t even have to be costly.

The entire mainstream trend of content marketing is arguably based on gift giving. It involves putting information out there for seekers to find and use and they, in turn, may do business with you down the line. Therefore, digital marketers find that the most accessible way of offering gifts to potential clients is through offering quality resources like blog posts or e-books.

Things get interesting, though, when you look at the results of a study done at the University of Toronto that states that experiences are far more effective gifts than material presents. This means that there are endless options for marketers to give their audience experiences more than just content. Maybe organize an event in VR Chat or a live stream like BuzzFeed’s staff dance-off that gets people to feel something and share a moment together.


This ominous-sounding section is about something almost everyone experiences quite frequently – fear of missing out or FOMO for short. FOMO is the unease people experience when they think they are missing out on something unrecoverable while others are out there right at that moment experiencing it to their fullest. FoMO is what makes people wait in line for three days in front of an Apple store and what makes you feel that sense of unease when your friends talk about a gathering you’ll have to miss because of another engagement.

Digital marketers can use this concept to influence buyer decisions by (responsibly) keeping them engaged to content through fear of missing out. This can be done through limited availability content such as live streaming or offers, through consistent updates that are regularly scheduled and can be anticipated, and through user-generated content that is easy to share on social media. It is just important not to take it so far as to make it overbearing or to make it too difficult to get back into should someone miss a date.

Bottom Line

While most marketers have definitely encountered and very likely even used these techniques in the past, it is helpful to understand why they are framed in such a manner and from what mechanisms they derive their effectiveness. If we go back to their source and understand why these methods work, it not only allows us to make our own efforts all the more effective but opens doors to a whole new range of channels and strategies that can be completely different final products all stemming from the same true principle.

Author Photo
Luka is the marketing manager at Emirates Graphic in Dubai. He enjoys giving insight into the cultural aspects of the MENA region that can influence marketing strategy.