Thoughts on the Psychology of Social Media

Written by Ron Evans

There is a lot of content on the web on “how to create stronger social media connections.” A simple Google or Bing search will show a ton of articles (when I checked for that search term, Google actually had 129 million results it thought relevant — even if it is only 1% correct, that’s a lot of articles!). I know that a lot of arts organizations struggle with best practices for social media. In preparation for my upcoming webinar with the National Arts marketing Project on July 10 on the psychology of social media, I thought it might be useful to get away from all of the technical aspects of using social media, and talk about the human side. The interaction side. The “what happens in the brain” side.

Why do people “like” you on Facebook or follow you on Twitter?

Do you know the answer? They like you or follow you for a variety of very human reasons:

  • They support the good work you are doing
  • You say interesting or helpful things
  • You are entertaining
  • They have a financial interest in you in some way
  • They want their friends to know they are connected to you

This is the same behavior we see with real friendships. Are you good friends with people who don’t have at least one of the qualities above? Likely not. So in this personal, social space, which isn’t like any other form of “marketing,” by now we know it’s bad to just “sell sell sell.” To explain, I like to make the connection that you should talk on social media like you talk to someone in an elevator. Let’s picture this scenario:

You’re in the elevator as I step in. We look at each other and smile and then look at the buttons or the floor level or the little sticker that says how many people can legally get in the elevator. Then I turn to you in one quick motion and yell “BUY TICKETS NOW!”

What would you do? If you haven’t already stabbed me in the neck with a pen, you’re turning into Bruce Willis in Die Hard and climbing out of the top of the elevator.

But, if I’d stepped into the elevator, commented that we were both going to the same floor, or asked about the weather to break the ice, I imagine a much different interaction. One where I might be able to tell you about my play I was going to rehearsal for. One where you would see me as a real person with feelings and interests. One that would save me from certain death by you and your writing utensil.

Now apply this to the social space and your Facebook or Twitter account for your arts group.

First of all, arts groups don’t get into elevators with people. People who work at arts groups get into elevators. Those people have passions that are interesting and are influential on patrons. Those are the people I want to follow. People don’t have relationships with organizations on social media, they have relationships with people. So I tell my social media clients to sign their posts by whoever is posting. To use first-person narrative. To be honest and transparent with who they are, and avoid speaking with an “institutional voice.”

As a practical example, here is an actual Facebook post I recently saw for the XYZ Ballet Company (names changed).

Come to our opening night performance of Romeo and Juliet this Saturday. Tickets are on sale now: 800-555-1212.

Who is speaking? The ballet company? Remember, ballet companies don’t talk, in elevators or on social media. People who work at ballet companies should be doing the talking. Sharing their real experiences. Their anticipation for a performance. With this in mind, how about this rewrite:

I can’t believe opening night is three days away. Everyone here is so excited; there is this feeling in the air. We’ve never done Romeo and Juliet before, and I’ve avoided the rehearsal so I can be surprised on opening night! If you still need a ticket, call me at 800-555-1212 and I’ll see what I can do to help you. Can’t wait! -Ron

It’s a story. It’s excitement. It’s transparent and real. It offers personalized help. It shows a real person, with a real name and signature. It implies that many tickets have been sold already but there still may be a chance for you to experience this one-time event of the first-time performance.

And it is much more effective.

I’m getting reports from clients that they are seeing double and even triple the numbers of likes, comments, shares, and retweets since implementing a personal voice instead of the institutional voice. For a live example of this style at work, see Opera Australia’s Facebook page at which is run by the incredible Anna Mcdougall. Anna is Opera Australia’s representative for the social media experience. She signs all posts. She signs all comments. And she gets personalized responses and a huge number of interactions. Major kudos to her online leadership and to Opera Australia’s stance to allow this rich interaction between patrons and staff member.

It is especially remarkable because I find that ballet, symphony, and opera companies have the hardest time making this marketing switch to having a personal voice — they are usually very entrenched in traditional-style marketing voice, and consider it unprofessional to have this level of openness. But why? The evidence seems to show that personal social media voice gets more interactions.

When you treat people like individuals instead of the “unknown public,” when you present a real person who is passionate about the art form who helps other people to become passionate too, wonderful things can happen. The psychology lesson is that people feel more comfortable interacting with real people vs. institutions in general, and they show you that by their likes, comments, shares, retweets, follows, etc.


About Ron Evans

Arts Marketing Consultant Arts Marketing Consultants
Sunnyvale, California

Ron Evans is a leading developer and researcher of arts marketing technology. His primary area of interest is the exploration of emerging technologies and their impact on arts patron behavior. He has a history in the field of social interactions using technology, including user interface design for arts and culture portals, videogame design/human interaction studies, mobile app development, and social media interaction. His firm,, assists arts and culture organizations to increase the audience’s enjoyment, understanding, and frequency of attendance. He is a frequent speaker at regional and national conferences, including the National Arts Marketing Project (NAMP), the Association for Performing Arts Service Organizations (APASO), and Arts Reach.

Comments 4

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  2. Pingback: Lisa Canning
  3. Great post! (as usual from ETA and friends). In the world of music education we suffer from a similar affliction – I like to call it ‘academy-speak’.  It’s not surprising that the ‘profession’ of music ed. exists only within El-Hi and ivory towers. Words like ‘pedagogy’ were enough to scare me as a university freshman in music school so I imagine it would be enough to turn off the average music enthusiast.

    As we developed we deliberately avoided any “academy-speak” as often as possible, and work hard to humanize the (online) learning process by letting members know they are part of a social ‘team’ who are there to help when needed.  The ‘open-ness’ is actually liberating and we think, will be a large reason why we’ll be successful in our endeavor.  

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