Motivation: When and why we share positive brand engagements

/ 18 August 2020

You’ve just downloaded a new app and have been asked to ‘invite your friends’, do you do it? You’ve been awarded a ‘badge’ for signing-in for the first time, have you achieved something worth sharing? How about if you want to raise awareness for a cause? What about if you’ve achieved something genuinely remarkable? 

The brand engagements we choose to share are dependent on a number of key motivational factors. In the same way some marketers simply wished their efforts would “go viral” for a while, asking people to share something without a proper understanding of human motivation, is little more than wishful thinking. 

Motivations at play

Have you noticed that during this pandemic, a lot of the people interviewed on news programmes appear against a backdrop of impressive book collections? A conscious or unconscious way of signalling they’re well read, well informed and qualified to weigh-in on whatever it may be. This is a form of ‘Trophy Shelf-ing’, which implicitly and subtly displays ‘achievements’ and is generally considered an ‘acceptable’ form of self promotion given the context. 

Proving our worth is of course an important part of our evolutionary development and self promotion is completely natural; it’s also therefore a common and powerful part of gamification mechanics and is used in all walks of life to motivate people. We like to achieve and we like to share what we have achieved.

Go too far however and people enter bragging territory, which can achieve the opposite of what was intended and be detrimental to how the person is perceived. Of course, ‘bragging’ is ok in certain circumstances. There are even ‘brag buttons’ in some games where people can share their high-scores for other players to see (and try to beat). This is perfectly acceptable in such a context because it’s relevant to the audience. 

Relevancy and context are very important here and impact the ‘Empathy Gap’; the extent to which we share in each others’ success. The Empathy Gap can be big, such as when sharing good fortune with people to whom it’s largely irrelevant, it can be small, such as sharing success with parents who are inherently invested in our happiness, and it can be lots of things inbetween. 

Along with success and achievement, humans are particularly prone to sharing information we believe will be useful to others, which also helps demonstrate our worth but in more practical ways. 

Brand Application 

Why is all of this important? Brands can greatly benefit from helping people to share positive engagement in natural ways. This of course applies to such things as positive reviews, but can also be more nuanced. 

Today, we tend to ‘broadcast’ more often than ever before, because we have the online channels by which to do so. We still have the same desires when it comes to sharing experiences, and some brands are incredibly proficient at understanding, applying and compounding engagement sharing motivations in ways that amplify their marketing. 

In the fitness nutrition industry for example, there are successful programmes that make particularly high achieving customers ‘brand ambassadors’. Ambassadors are given discount codes to share with their networks (be it friends, family or social media followers).  It’s understandable that someone working hard on a remarkable physique would want to share their achievement, but to do so could face accusations of ‘boasting’. By sharing a discount code for others to use, the approach is much more natural; “this is what I have achieved, this is what you can achieve too, and here’s a code to get you started”. Sharing motivations have been combined, along with other mechanisms such as scarcity (discount codes being somewhat exclusive), to achieve something far more effective than simply giving away vouchers via targeted ads. 

Brands that work with the grain of human behaviour, rather than going against it, tend to be a lot more successful. Have you ever been to a restaurant that has encouraged diners to share their experience by tweeting and using a hashtag? Some may well comply without incentive, but many more are likely to perform the desired reaction when motivations are compounded and there is true value on offer. For example, could vegan diners be encouraged to share their experiences with the highly-social vegan community? Could the restaurant provide additional details on the restaurant’s extensive vegan menu, and its efforts to more ethically source? Could the restaurant combine motivational factors?

Charities have long understood this approach. When people donate to a good cause online, they’re often asked to share that they’ve done so in an effort to encourage others to follow. We might quite like to show people we have done a good deed, but are unlikely to do so through fear of bragging, without the added motivation of increasing donations to a good cause. By taking such an approach however, everyone wins. 

Sharing positive experiences tend to enhance them, and brands of course love for customers to share their positive experiences. Facilitating this requires helping people narrow the ‘empathy gap’ and to share genuinely valuable information with others that might benefit. 

It’s a fine line to tread; people can see ‘humblebrags’ (brags in disguise). Equally, if done poorly, consumers instantly see through attempts to have them do marketing’s job. That is why legitimate value exchange, at every level, is so important. 

There has to be a level of relatedness between what is being shared and those that it is being shared with. There has to be a worthwhile exchange. If brands can help people share what they want to share, whilst giving their audiences something worthwhile, everyone wins. 

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