How to Use Psychology to Maximize Social Engagement

What if there was a magic formula for social media marketing?

A formula that would allow you to snap your fingers while saying “Presto!” and have your audience instantly engaged with your content. Next thing you know, they follow, share, and leave comments.

Well, there is (sort of).

But instead of snapping your fingers, you use scientifically-backed psychological principles to maximize social engagement.

You can think of it as neuromarketing, defined as:

“the process of researching the brain patterns of consumers to reveal their responses to particular advertisements and products before developing new advertising campaigns and branding techniques.”

I’ve been fascinated with neuroscience for a while. Why? Because this stuff just works.

One of my favorite resources to make was the one on consumer psychology:


When I dug into the research, I started realizing people act in predictable ways. And then I realized that certain marketing messages could increase the likelihood of people acting in such ways.

Instantly, it made my job as a marketer way more interesting. I began researching all the ways I could apply these principles to blog articles, ad spend, videos, and, yes, social media.

By understanding a few key cognitive processes, you can drive social engagement and increase the effectiveness of your overall social media marketing campaign.

Here are some specific strategies you can implement right away.

The halo effect

This term halo effect originated nearly 100 years ago in 1920, when researcher Edward Thorndike conducted a study where “two commanding officers evaluated their soldiers in terms of their physical qualities (like neatness, energy and physique) and their mental, emotional and social qualities (like intellect, leadership and responsibilities).”

“Thorndike found that, if one of the soldier’s qualities was rated highly, the other qualities tended to also be rated highly, and vice versa.”

How does this relate to social media marketing?

It’s very simple.

If you establish your brand as having one positive trait, consumers are more likely to believe that your other qualities are more positive as well. In other words, they subconsciously form a positive bias.

Here’s an example. Say you build a reputation for posting top-tier, high-quality, thought-provoking articles on Twitter.

In turn, your audience views your brand as being more intelligent and competent.

This should spill over into other areas, and your audience will be more likely to think of your products/services and customer service as being high-quality as well.

The bottom line is that if you can kill it in one area, it’s easier to improve your overall public perception and thrive in other areas.

Consumers are more likely to trust your brand and will be more inclined to engage with you on social media.

Post what’s most commonly shared

What’s one of the primary goals of posting content on social media?

To get people to share it with their friends and followers.

But posting content blindly, without any rhyme or reason, is like throwing darts blindfolded. You’re just hoping and praying that something hits the target.

Fortunately, there’s a shortcut to maximizing shares.

All you have to do is post what other people share the most.

According to a study from a well-known market research company Ipsos,

“Global citizens who indicate they have shared some type of content online on social media sites in the past month seek primarily ‘to share interesting things’ (61 percent), ‘to share important things’ (43 percent) and ‘to share funny things’ (43 percent).”

Understanding people’s sharing habits drastically increases your chances of hitting your target and boosting social engagement.

This isn’t to say that every single piece of content you post that’s considered interesting, important, or funny will be wildly successful, but this does give you a general framework to build on.

Here’s a more detailed graph that provides even more insight into social media users’ sharing habits:


If you wonder what type of content is most likely to resonate with your audience, this graph can definitely help guide your efforts.

Give your audience something free

Here’s another psychological tactic you can use to your advantage.

Give away something your audience deems as being valuable, and they’ll feel indebted to you.

This phenomenon relies upon the concept of reciprocity, which says that humans feel inherently obligated to repay someone when that someone does them a favor, helps them out, or gives them something.

And this doesn’t have to be anything huge.

I’m not saying you have to give away a fifty-dollar-product to your social media followers to get results.

It can be something quite small as long as it’s legitimately valuable.

Here’s a great example:

Anytime Fitness gave their Facebook followers a free downloadable calendar to plan and monitor their exercise activities to ensure they met their fitness goals.


You could give away an e-book, whitepaper, month-long subscription, or anything else your audience would find valuable.

This simple yet effective technique subconsciously makes people want to return the favor, which can come in the form of more followers, more shares, and positive publicity.

Use social proof to create leverage

Peer pressure doesn’t disappear after high school.

Even as adults, we’re susceptible to it to some extent.

You can use peer pressure to your advantage from a psychological standpoint by creating social proof.

If you’re unfamiliar, social proof is defined as “the concept that people will conform to the actions of others under the assumption that those actions are reflective of the correct behavior.”

The premise is quite simple. You find ways to prove to potential followers or customers that your brand is awesome.

It follows then that when people see that others are digging your brand, they will feel they should too. Luckily, social media is an ideal medium for creating social proof.

Here are some specific ways you can maximize social engagement:

  • Try to get an industry expert to link to one of your blog posts on their profile.
  • Post a picture of a notable figure or celebrity using your product.
  • Encourage customers to share photos of your product.

Here’s an example of when a Snapchat celebrity Shaun McBride (a.k.a. Shonduras) let Taco Bell take over his Snapchat account to promote the launch of their Cap’n Crunch Berry Delights.


These are just a few ideas, but the possibilities are nearly endless.

Just look for ways to have others give your brand a collective nod of approval, and your engagement should grow along with your leads and conversions.

Incorporate nostalgia

As someone who grew up in the 90s, I get a little sentimental when I think about things like the original Nintendo, Goosebumps books, super soaker water guns, and Nickelodeon’s green gak.

It brings back fond memories:


Whether the past was actually as good as we remember is irrelevant. The majority of people look back at yesteryear, and their childhood in particular, through rose-colored glasses.

What does this mean from a social media standpoint?

It means that incorporating nostalgia into your campaign can significantly increase social media engagement.

Robert M. Brecht, Ph.D., wrote an article explaining the effectiveness of nostalgia in marketing.

According to Brecht,

Marketing research clearly shows a positive resonance with both nostalgic ads and the products advertised. It even shows more persuasive influence on customers.

He also made reference to a specific study and said that:

It indicates that when consumers experience nostalgia in a consumption context, they have a higher purchase likelihood with regard to the advertised products.

If you can incorporate nostalgia into your social media marketing, you can trigger a powerful psychological response, which should translate into higher engagement levels.

For example, you might jump on the #throwbackthursday hashtag on Twitter and post something that’s retro.

Or you might post pictures on Instagram that show what products in your industry looked like 20 or 30 years ago.

There are many different avenues you can take with this approach.

Create scarcity

One of the greatest fears for most people is the fear of missing out (FOMO).

We naturally want to “be in,” and the thought of missing out on something epic scares us.

That’s why the scarcity principle can be so incredibly effective.

After all, why do you think there are so many companies that use terms such as “while supplies last” or “limited time offer?”

Here’s an example that proves the power of scarcity brilliantly. A study by “researchers Worchel, Lee and Adewole asked participants to rate two jars of cookies. At first, both jars contained 10 of the exact same cookie.

Then from one jar, eight cookies were removed (making them more scarce). Now participants had to choose between the jar with 10 cookies or the jar with only two left.”

The jar with only two cookies was chosen much more often than the jar with 10 cookies.

In other words, scarcity sells.


If you’re really looking to boost engagement, create scarcity.

Make it abundantly clear that if social media users don’t take action immediately, the opportunity will be lost forever.

For example, you might have a deal where people who “Like” your Facebook page will be entered into a contest to receive a prize. But they have a limited amount of time to do so.

This tactic will trigger many people’s FOMO response, and they’ll take action.


Psychology is a social media marketer’s best friend.

There are several psychological principles you can implement into your social media campaign that will drive engagement and elicit a response from your audience.

This is important because it helps you get the most from your efforts and ensures the content you post doesn’t fall on deaf ears.

By providing a bit of motivation and encouragement, you can build a more engaged audience that’s highly responsive.

The long-term benefits?

More follows, comments, shares, and, ultimately, more quality leads coming to your website.

How much of a role does psychology play in your social media marketing?


  1. Any decision I make for my business regarding sales funnels, lead magnets or even the colors I use to Brand my website are all based on psychology. It’s funny that you’re mentioning this because it’s something I’ve been using for years and found to be 100% accurate.

    People make decisions based off of psychological triggers in addition to whatever perceived value they foresee. There’s a great book by Robert Cialdini called ‘Influence’ that goes into this.

    Great post about something that not very many people are thinking about.

    • Thank you George, the book is a good suggestion as well for anyone after further reading.

      • Albert Klausevits :

        Marketing on the basis of which there is no psychology – is doomed. Therefore, in my opinion a good marketing is a good psychological move.
        On this subject I liked the book Moser Klaus – “Psychology of marketing and advertising”. A popular book on psychology and its application in marketing. I think Moser Klaus will be a good addition to the already mentioned book.

        • Thank you Albert

          • Social proof is a powerful driver of website sales and conversions.

            People like to follow those things that are already popular. If something is selling hot, they want more. Apple is the best example of it. Even though it’s an expensive stuff, still people want more of it.

            Another important psychology metric is reciprocity. Do good to others before expecting something from them and you will see better results.

            Give, give, give, give – before you pitch anything.

            And give more. That’s how you succeed online.

            • I feel the power of reciprocity is something worth delving into more as a subject. It does feel almost our human nature to complete things or return in favor.

    • I just started reading this book and it’s great. I love the idea of perceptual contrast.

  2. diseño web y seo :

    excellent and interesting article, thanks

  3. Tiffany Simpson :

    Thanks for sharing Neil. Helps to reinforce that the techniques work.

  4. Good write up. As said under ‘Use social proof to create leverage’ in #2, i did a similar tactic in one of my campaign where i tried to share a quote of a popular person in the industry. This tactic worked well among all the others we did earlier.

    The others points are new where i can try in my next campaigns. Thanks.

  5. Caroline Achieng Otieno :

    This article is wonderful..reminds me of The Power of influence by Caldini.

    Thank you Neil..I’m trying so hard to monetize my blog, it will turn three years this April but I have hardly had any money coming in, except for two people who paid for their posts to be advertised..I will try to take these tips as it is frustrating going on as I am doing.

    • Neil is very helpful and a genius in social media marketing. I have used his ideas and methodologies and my website ranks top locally in Kenya for my two favorite key words. Your blog too will benefit immensely from his great wealth of advice you gain from his posts.

  6. Thank you Neil, I have always told myself that the best thing that I need to understand is the way the Psychology of people works. At least I am not so much in the woods on this and your post today has widened my little knowledge further. It had not ticked in me that I can use nolstagia to appeal to my would be clients. Ideas came running when I read about it. I will be figuring out ways on how to incorporate the rest in my marketing strategy.

  7. Great post, psychology is secret wepon of internet marketer, especially in trading. It triggers many big wins.

  8. Neil you are the master of solid content thx brian

  9. Incorporating nostalgia, my biggest takeaway from this post.

    I really never thought of it even if I clearly saw, tens of times, my friends and family get over-excited about posts like “What was it like growing in the 90s” or “What websites looked back in 2005”.

    It shouldn’t be that hard to replicate the concept to physical products.

  10. Thanks Neil. I’m working on some Facebook Ads for my business and I’m going to see how I can work in some of these techniques to my campaigns.

  11. Great post Niel.

  12. Claire de Lune :

    This is great. Thank you.

  13. Your blog too will benefit immensely from his great wealth of advice you gain from his posts.

  14. Thank you Neil. I discovered you and your content 3 days ago and I have decided to follow you everywhere except your bath & bedroom. Thanks for the article. Please do a piece on copywriting and NLP. “E se pupo” – thats “Thanks so much” in Yoruba language, South West, Nigeria.

  15. Teddy Tech India :

    Giving audience something free good idea also you have given a nice example for that.

    Thanks Neil.

  16. Rudra Ramya Sree :

    Hi Neil,
    Thanks for sharing information about methods to improve Psychology social engagements.
    first learning from your website implementing on my website giving good results

  17. fazal ur rehman :

    These are great effects to keep in mind while planning a marketing campaign. Thanks Neil for sharing.

  18. I have been following this guide from past 6 months. (Neil Had A Infographics) which I read long time ago.

  19. Magnus Vigren :

    Here is my list:
    The decoy effect
    The illusion of scarcity
    Loss aversion
    Social proof
    The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon
    The power of Anecdote

  20. Garry Mclachlan :

    Powerful article Neil and its so true. When you craft your marketing message you definitely need to understand the psychology of your target market and exploit solutions to their biggest problems with your content marketing plan. I take this into account when I write all my copy for a social marketing campaign. I highly recommend The book “Influence” by Robert Cialdini it’s a great resource that dives into the buying psychology.

  21. Great article! But is it moral?

  22. Wow always an inspiration,started reading your blog.
    Thanks for sharing

  23. Thanks for the wonderful tips, Neil. I would definitely like to implement these.

  24. Nice article. Thanks Nail. I am reading your all articles. these are very helpful for me.

    Thanks for your effort.

  25. Dear Neil,

    This is a awesome article on Social Media Tactics and it is very helpful to me.

    As I Think, Halo Effect can fall down the social media marketing success possibility.

    Thanks again for your Good Article 🙂

  26. Hey Neil, this is great and ties in nicely with a recent guest post I had someone write about Psychology-Based CRO.

    Thought it might make a nice supplement to this:

    Some things I learned where to ask “why” instead of “what” & that urgency needs to be used thoughtfully.

  27. I just want to say I’m new to blogs and seriously loved this web site. You really have great stories. Regards for revealing your web site.

    I’m talking about, I know it was my selection to read, but I actually thought you’d have something interesting to say. Great work Neil sir…


  28. Awesome article Neil! and great insights, thank you so much!

  29. camera 360 ultimate :

    Thank you for bringing more information to this topic for me. I’m truly grateful and really impressed. Really appreciate for your amazing article. Thank you for this valuable information.

  30. Thanks for an excellent article. I’ve read books on social media marketing but your tie in with psychology was very interesting and also eye opening. I look forward to reading and learning from your blog and videos!

    Thanks again for your information.

  31. Nice post. Always giving value. Q: I think you once said in a past post that embedding a Youtube video with the embed code only onto your website wasn’t the right way to go. PS. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    Can you please explain why not, and what we should do please Neil. Do you have a blog post on this already

    Thank you so much.


    • The best approach is to host the video yourself as the embedded youtube links out. But that doesn’t mean that there is not a place for embeds for everyone.

      The coding can usually be an area of confusion, as it can be seen as against google’s best practices.

      • I’m still a little confused Neil. You say to host the video yourself as the embedded youtube links out. I’m lost on this part. Thank you Neil.

        • WordPress allows you to have your own video hosted not on youtube for instance. But your embedded ones link to youtube allowing a backlink to them.

          • Thank you Neil. PS. Your summit for paying members is awesome. I watched about 20 videos so far and you have already saved me £5000 and 6 months of testing. I still have 15 videos in the featured sessions to watch, and I have most of the bonus sessions still to watch. I tell you what would be nice dude, if you could number the videos from 1 to 30 so it saves me time finding the last one I left off at because you have so much amazing content in it. Ha ha. Thank you so much for your help.

  32. Great article ? Just missed the data for little Denmark in the graph that provides insight into social media users’ sharing habits ?

  33. BTW: “?” were actually thumbs up and a smiley 😉

  34. Mahesh Mahajan :

    Apart from being an article which contributes towards better understanding as a Marketing guy, the article provides very relevant and applicable ideas. Offering Nostalgia and indicating scarcity apart from sharing what people accept most, is what I appreciate. Thnx, great thoughts.

  35. Arpan Aravandekar :

    Psychology is really big thing.
    Human behaviour has big part in making social media campaigns even more effective.
    Your points are bang on.
    I learn most of the points mentioned in Article and much more by observing.
    I love to observe how people respond on Social Media

    • Listening is a very good tactic to use Arpan. It means you understand the unique language and what truly your audience like.

  36. It’s fascinating to read about these psychological strategies. These tips remind me of the book “Psychology of Influence” by by Robert B. Cialdini

    Thanks a lot for a very helpful post.

  37. Amber K. Peterson :

    Awesome. This is just what I needed. I guess the other thing is to keep up with content and social media or those quick connections we make might just slowly fade out!

    • Exactly, try to focus on keeping the conversations going. And make the most of the audience you have even if its 10 people.

  38. Great post, psychology is secret wepon of internet marketer, especially in trading. It triggers many big wins.


  39. Really glad to read such detailed article.
    Thanks a lot Neil Patel for this awesome contribution

  40. Richard Benchimol :

    Great insight, thank you. I believe also that giving something for free builds trust. Glad to see that my psych classes will come in handy :). Though, I think that we all use some throughout our lives, without knowing it. Thanks again.
    Richard Benchimol
    Leads Indeed

  41. I’m a firm believer of psychology in every aspect of life, whether it’s marketing, exercise, attitude, happiness or productivity. There is a quote I remember after reading this “it’s not what you see in front of your eye matters but behind the eye. If you can play with what people will perceive, then you’re winner in today’s era of aggressive marketing. Another point I would like to mention is “Humour”. It’s a great way to sell or create awareness by taking marketing out of their mind. No matter how great your product is, but when they’re burdened with sales pitch, their rational brain comes into action which makes them take decisions depending upon what they think not what you’re making them think.

    Marcus Miller// Manager,

    • Thanks Marcus for adding your insight. Humour can break down stubborn personalities and you are right it’s a great option.

  42. As an ex-scientist I love the idea of applying scientific methods to understand why some marketing methods work and others don’t. I guess performance marketers do experiments every day, but it’s good to see someone formalise it as a way to approach successful marketing.

    • Using data to lead you can be almost like an educated guess. I always like to get data together and try any method I can find out.

  43. I also believe that giving something for free help us to builds trust. Though, I think that we all use some throughout our lives, without knowing it.


  44. Really glad to read such detailed article. It took me a long time to go through.
    Thankyou very much Neil Patel for this awesome contribution on Social Media Engagement.

    I guess it’ll help us a lot and I also believe that giving something for free help us to builds trust. Though, I think that we all use some throughout our lives, without knowing it.

  45. Ataib Ur Rehman :

    very good and interesting psychological techniques

  46. Relay nice article and this article change my think

  47. Hi Neil
    Again a very great article. Thanks for sharing.

  48. Once again happy to read your another post… Marketing without psychology is totally waste. I feel most of the professional marketers follow psychology to understand customers on Social Media. It is really a great method to create awareness about your business by taking marketing out of the box.

    Thank you Neil for such a blasting post..

  49. Great article Neil.
    Most people don’t think about using psychological tactics to maximize their social engagement.
    I agree with instadigit “Marketing without psychology is totally waste”

    Thanks Neil

  50. Anick Globensky-Bromow :

    I have used scarcity to drive my latest workshop campaign with limited available spots and we’ve sold out! It’s a very effective trigger I must say, thanks for sharing this!

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