A Behavioural Primer for Social Media Marketers

In a talk to MSc eMarketing students at Oxford Brookes University, Paul Fennemore defended that any Social Media strategist needs to master certain aspects of human behaviour if they are to make informed choices. This post explains, in very basic terms, 6 such key drivers: altruism, hedonism, homophily, memetics, narcissism and tribalism.

Social Media may be a relatively recent technological phenomenon, but the behavioural drivers that explain why and how the various platforms are used are old. So old, that you would be a fool to ignore them.

Here is a very brief explanation of 6 of those drivers – presented in alphabetical order – and how they apply to social media.


Definition: Unselfish devotion to the welfare of others

Application: Social network users readily share information with other users. They share information because they believe it may be helpful to the other users. This behaviour occurs even when the users do not know who benefits from the information being shared. [Example]



Definition: Belief that pleasure is the main – or only – good in life

Application: Hedonism can affect social media in two ways:
1) People use social media because doing so is an enjoyable activity. [Example]
2) People use social media because it is provides a novel way of accessing activities that give them pleasure, such as meeting people. [Example]



Definition: Tendency of human beings to associate with others similar to them. May be encapsulated in the saying that ‘birds of a feather flock together’.

Application: People tend to join social networks whose users share similar interests or beliefs. [Example]



Definition: the replication of ideas, habits and beliefs across individuals

Application: For a marketing message to go viral, it will need to exhibit the following characteristics: 1) be assimilated by a social media user; 2) be retained in that user’s memory; 3) be replicated by the user in a way that is observable by other users; 4) be transmitted to other users (who, in turn, assimilate, retain and further replicate the message). [Example]



Definition: Excessive fascination with oneself

Application: Social networks provide an outlet for individuals to engage in self-promotion. Specifically, research suggests that Facebook users are more likely to be extraverted and narcissistic. [Example]



Definition: A person’s strong feeling of identity and loyalty towards a specific group (the tribe), meaning that the person derives social value from participating in that community.

Application: Social media enables continued interactions between supporters of a brand, and between the consumers and the companies, thus increasing engagement. [Example]


What other key drivers of human behaviour would you add to this list?

PS – I am compiling a list of classical texts that any marketer should read. What are your suggestions?

10 thoughts on “A Behavioural Primer for Social Media Marketers

  1. Just this morning I read a post referring to a strategic management principle called 3 C’s. Although the post I read is only scratching the surface in my opinion, it touches on a subject I feel very strongly about. A social media strategy should be in line with the strategy of the company, aim to (help) fulfill strategic goals etcetera. Any text relating to basic strategic management is a good one. The article I mentioned is here: http://socialmediatoday.com/markwschaefer/446780/supercharge-your-social-media-strategy-getting-back-basicsOn a related note: I’m a trained process optimiser, and from that discipline, I like the ideas of Six Sigma and Lean. Principles we can take from that are for example putting responsibility on the work floor, rigorous analysis and constant improvement. Also, the ‘Andon cord’ is an interesting idea.


  2. Hey Ana,I like the post because i used most (not all) of the factors in my master thesis as being part of people’s motivation to continue to use Social Networking Sites. In my case this was only one but i validated my model. I would be willing to send this to you and the articles that were of most help to me and which are ‘classics’ (all marketing/branding articles with an emphasis on customer development and identification) in my opinion and the people that wrote them ;)My master is in Marketing but i am more an online branding guy with a passion for Startup marketing (On my Blog) and using Social Media (current state of the internet) to aid them in their customer development. If there ever is an opportunity to do an MBA, then it would be at LSE.Let me know what you think and on a personal note: you have the WHO and WHAT you do but i could not find the WHY you do what you do. WOuld love to read that to!Cheers,Stefanos Karakasis@SKarakasisStefanoskarakasis@gmail.com


  3. Woo-hoo. Thank you for the suggestions, Arjan.I do know the 3Cs and you are right – it is a  good read.But I must confess that I don’t really ‘know’ Six Sigma – I mean, I have a rough idea of what it is about, but not a good understanding. I’ll have to get to grips with it, now!And… I had never heard about the Andon cord! Thanks for that one.PS – I like Mark Schaefer’s writings – simple but useful, not afraid of being wrong or saying ‘I don’t know’. I’m really delighted he’s talking to our students mid April.


  4. @Stefanos: Really impressed with your dissertation – the reading list is quite something. Thank you!Let me have a proper read and I’ll get back to you. I did an MBA and I taught in business schools (+ LSE). Happy to chat about the benefits of various programmes, if you want to.I never thought about writing about the ‘Why’. Really liked the Hyatt’s piece.


  5. I love this post – and it’s timely. I’ve finally submitted by MC proposal and it’s around employee participation and the influence of learning during change in social media implementation. I would like a copy of whatever you put together please.I think ‘posterity’ may be one driver – that is a person’s desire to leave a mark in their generation. Social media makes such marks permanent to a great extent. You don’t need permission to publish your thoughts, your legacy – you can just do it.Do you have any research as evidence of these drivers? All ring true but just wondered if there is any actual research done.


  6. Posterity is a good one. I never saw any research on it… In a sense, it could be a variation of narcissism – as in, I have important things to say that others should hear, even after I am gone?! I’ll definitely look into it, though.Yes, I identified a number of (academic) papers looking at each of these issues. I provide some examples in the blog post, itself. But let me know what you are looking for and we will take it from there.Last but not least, congratulations on submitting the MC proposal. The first step!


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