Social Media Science

The majority of advice people give for handling social media from a business perspective is fluffy. By that I mean it’s not based on numbers or facts but on feelings. Businesses are expected to follow this advice, but what evidence is there to back it up? Well, enter Inbound Marketing University’s professor Dan Zarrella. He gives the scientific proof behind social media practices for business in his class “The Science of Social Media.” Integral to his theories was to understand psychologically why people share and how businesses can use that to their advantage so that people share their┬ácontent.

Social Media Science
Image from Science Advisory Board (


One reason people share is because people perform. This seems obvious, but people’s performances and actions in social media establish who they are and give them a reputation. The things they share will be a reflection of their character, so, as Dan Zarrella points out, they will want to share something that is unique, novel, and cool so that they seem unique, novel, and cool. If businesses want people to share their sites’ pages, they should try to publish content that gives people a good reputation, and that content should be (I think everyone can see where I’m going with this) unique, novel, and cool.

Social Exchange

Another reason people share content is for social exchange. Social exchange, according to George C. Homans, indicates, “the more valuable the sentiment or activity the members exchange with one another, the greater the average frequency of interaction of the members.” This goes back all the way to evolution. The more interactions the human species had, the more likely it was to survive. Now with social media this same principle applies. The more interactions a business has, the more likely its site and business are to survive. Interactions can come in various forms. Either they can be between the business and social media members by directly communicating to one another and providing them with content. Alternatively, interactions could occur between just the social media members themselves by sharing amongst one another the businesses’ posts. The more the better too, and in this case, both quality and quantity matter!

Social Proof and Imitation

Sharing is also the result of social proof and imitation. As Robert Cialdini reveals from these two concepts, “We view behavior as more correct…to the degree that we see others performing it.” People will share articles and webpages that people post just because they saw someone else doing it. It validates that what they are doing is right, so even though I stressed before that people want “unique, novel, and cool,” they also want something familiar.

How can you marry these two contradictions into a successful post that can be easily shared? Just give them new content with old structures. People want interesting stories they have never heard before, but they don’t want to read about something so far out of left field they don’t even know what the post is talking about in the first place. Give them insight to something new about some topic they already know. As an example, how many articles have you seen shared covering Facebook’s new privacy settings, new policies, new message scheduling, new timeline, new advertising methods, or anything else that is new to the site? Facebook is the topic that everyone is familiar with and cares about. Everything else that makes the story interesting and relevant to the audience is obviously the “new.” Put a new spin on something familiar and people should share your content to prove they are up-to-date on topics that everyone else is posting on the web (social proof!)

Haven’t gotten enough scientifically-based theories about why and how people share with social media that could help a business’s inbound marketing? Leave any comments or questions below and Katie will be happy to answer them!