Secrets of Social Media Revealed — in 1966


Flotsam and Jetsam drummer Craig Nielsen -- a social media influencer with a global fan base and wide-ranging interests.

It seems that lately, everybody has been talking about Klout scores, and targeting social media influencers (individuals with large networks) to build awareness for brands. Finding and persuading those with high Klout scores and identifying the influencers has become the “secret to social media success” according to many marketing writers.

According to the Harvard Business Review, however, the real secrets to social media success were defined almost 50 years ago by a New York psychologist and marketer named Ernest Dichter who pioneered the science of motivation research with techniques like focus groups.

One of Dichter’s claims to fame was the Exxon tiger and the slogan, “Put a tiger in your tank” to differentiate one brand of gasoline from another after his studies revealed that consumers responded well to the suggestion that a gasoline brand could provide fun, power, and freedom – no matter what kind of car they could actually afford to drive.

In 1966, Dichter published a report on a large study of word of mouth persuasion that identified four motivations for a person to share positive information about brands with their friends, family, and neighbors. The four factors he identified are:

  • Product-involvement (33%). That is, the experience is so novel and pleasurable that it must be shared. (“Love my new car”, “the iPad is the best purchase I’ve ever made”, “The lemon meringue fudge at The Remarkable Sweet Shop is  worth the 14-hour flight”)
  • Self-involvement (24%). Sharing knowledge or opinions is a way to gain attention, show connoisseurship, feel like a pioneer, or demonstrate our own judgment, knowledge, or inside information. (“The Leaky Cauldron staff got an advance look at Pottermore, and while we can’t reveal details, we can say that it is AMAZING”, “Tweeting live from the world premiere of…”, “I’ve known Rick Perry for 25 years, and if he enters the race…”)
  • Other-involvement(20%). “Other-involvement” is psychobabble for the desire to reach out and help, to express neighborliness, caring, and friendship. (“To fix the problem you’re having with…try it – I hope it helps”, “…half of every dollar spent on the site will go to tsunami victims”, “Donate now and make a difference for dogs like Buster…”, “Don’t waste your time standing in line for the overhyped food at…”)
  • Message-involvement (20%). The message is so humorous or informative or enjoyable that it deserves sharing. (“You HAVE to check out this video…”, “Did you see the iCloud demo yesterday…”, “Dishwashers harbor killer bugs…”)

Today, word of mouse — that is, where a positive brand experience is shared not just with a few coworkers, friends or family members, but with huge networks of online fans, followers, and connections — has supplanted word of mouth, but the principles remain the same. 

The examples I used to illustrate each of Dichter’s motivating factors for sharing brand experience were each taken from recent Facebook posts shared on my news feed.  My favorite is the one about the killer dishwashers, posted by one of my favorite rock stars, the delightful, personable, and humble drummer Craig Nielsen who linked to a British scientific paper on bacteria in the home.  It’s one of the things I love about social media:  you see a side of people you’d never otherwise see — who’d expect a heavy metal drummer my granddaughter adores to be as erudite and interesting as Nielsen has proved to be on a wide range of subjects? (Flotsam and Jetsam’s latest album, “The Cold” is playing on my iPod as I write this…the hauntingly beautiful  “Better Off Dead” is the perfect accompaniment to an early morning writing session.)

To me, these kinds of comments are the social media equivalent of the motivators that Dichter described. Of course, understanding the motivation for someone to speak positively about a brand, cause, or company is just the first half of the marketing process. You also need to understand what makes a listener believe what the original person is saying.

Which might bring us back to Klout scores and social media influence – or maybe not. Dichter said that listeners are primarily concerned with two things. One is that the speaker be credible with experience and background that is convincing. The second is that listeners are skeptical of the speaker’s motivation. They’re looking for bias – is so-and-so trying to help me, or is he trying to sell me something?

To me as a marketer, the implications of that last one – listener skepticism about the speaker’s motivation – means two things. First, when I’m at work, promoting our own brand, I have to emphasize facts instead of opinion, deliver a balanced perspective, and accurately represent my employer’s culture, values, and “brand persona”. And second, following the FTC disclosure rules about blogger and social media affiliation with a product or brand are good for anyone who wants to be taken seriously is more than consumer protection – it’s good marketing, too.

Photo Credit:  Krystal McAlister took this photo of music star Craig Nielsen (Flotsam and Jetsam) at the Jean Georges Steakhouse at Aria City Center, Las Vegas, during a dinner celebrating her high school graduation in June, 2010. 

About debmcalister

I'm a Dallas-based marketing consultant and writer, who specializes in helping start-up technology companies grow. I write (books, articles, and blogs) about marketing, technology, and social media. This blog is about all of those -- and the funny ways in which they interesect with everyday life.
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One Response to Secrets of Social Media Revealed — in 1966

  1. Deb, I love the article and the tie-in between social media and human psychology. An old law professor of mine used to always say “there is nothing new under the sun” and I have come to find that it true — “new things” are almost always reiterations of the same old principles in a new package!

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