Appealing to your audience’s sense of “social self” will produce optimal results

by | Jul 30, 2015 | Public Relations, Social Media

As more and more organizations look to reap meaningful results from social media—and tap its full word-of-mouth potential—understanding what drives people to share socially is vital to success. Social media is, well, social. And while it can be an amazing tool to organically grow the reach of your message, getting people to share online is contingent upon publishing content people want to be seen sharing. Honing a social strategy that regularly features this type of content requires understanding your audience’s sense of social self.

We all have a social self. It is the way we want to be seen online and is shaped by the content we are seen interacting with and sharing. If a piece of content doesn’t fit with our social self, the odds we’ll choose to share it are slim indeed. Following from that, then, is the need to understand what content validates your audience’s sense of social self.

It’s not just about the message and call to action, though those are important, it’s about creating and curating content your audience wants to be seen liking, sharing or commenting on. So, get out your personas and let’s take a look at what kind of content validates their sense of social self.


While we all love a post that makes us smile, many marketers feel pressure to stay on message, which translates into being serious for fear of making light of something that could cheapen the brand. (And, we’ve all seen examples of funny go awry.) While content does need to resonate with your community, if all posts were strict message-based content, your audience would honestly get bored.

Brands should mix it up and humor is a good way to inject something different into the community. I recommend the 60/40 rule, with 60% of content off-topic, but relevant to your community and 40% dedicated, on topic content. Look for tasteful ways to inject humor that your fans want to be personally connected with and you will find that overall reach and engagement will go up.


Inspiring content consistently does well because social media users want inspiring content to be part of their personal narrative. One way to inspire people is to celebrate success. Look for content that will inspire hope or other positive emotions.

User generated content or CSR initiatives can play a particularly impactful role here. For example, did your organization help with community outreach that made an impact? Does your product or service help customers achieve new heights? Think like a citizen journalist and feature content that’s impactful and inspirational. Or, help motivate your audience to make a difference in an area relevant to your mission. Petitions are a great example of content that inspires people to action.


Content that informs—and is easy to consume—does quite well in social media. After all, who doesn’t want to look smart? The key here is to share information that others will want to be seen sharing and that is easy to digest. Infographics are a great way to accomplish this goal as are videos. Just make sure that it can be consumed in 20 seconds or less as that is the average attention span for content of this nature.

Becoming a trusted source of information on a topic people care about will enhance trust with your audience, boost credibility and in turn make your properties a valued resource where people will continue to turn for information they want to share with their network. And at the end of the day, that’s the real magic: tapping into the fact that fans want to be the trusted source of information to their friends.

Be Data Driven

No two social communities are alike. As a result, it’s imperative to let data guide posting decisions. Use analytics to create the ‘just right’ mix of content types – humor, inspiration, etc.—as well as content delivery mechanisms – video, images, link posts, etc.—reating a content calendar that incorporates those elements most popular with your audience.

Inspire fresh, new ideas by regularly looking at what works for others in social media. What are people interacting with and sharing?  Social media is constantly evolving—including your own audience—so you should never stop experimenting with new content ideas. For example, try Meerkat, Periscope or RIFF as new ways to engage your audience and then carefully analyze engagement rates to determine if the experiment is worth repeating.

Sharing is the highest social media recommendation someone can make as they are taking your content and sharing it with their personal audience. To clear this high bar, organizations need to create content that validates people’s sense of social self and is seen as adding real value to their newsfeed and their friends’ newsfeeds. While no two people are exactly alike on or off Facebook, it’s no surprise that people are far more likely to engage with content that expresses a positive image of themselves.  With this lens in hand, social media can become a powerful tool for any organization looking to help build content that is a positive reflection of their audience, driving word-of-mouth and organization-impacting results.

Drew is the founder and CEO of ActionSprout.com where he helps nonprofits and political campaigns further their mission by engaging supporters in social media. Drew frequently shares his experience helping organizations build productive relationships with supporters online at the ActionSprout Blog.

Drew Bernard


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