Social Psychology Fundamentals For Social Commerce

Social Psychology Fundamentals For Social Commerce

Guest Writer, Dana Dragomir

Social commerce is an essential emerging topic in online marketing these days. With social media becoming more and more embedded in the fabric of our lives, companies like Facebook are shifting their attention to monetizing their platforms not only from advertising dollars and data collection, but also from social commerce.

You may or may not know about Facebook’s upcoming “store” pages and “credit” functionalities. Soon, business will be able to create online commerce interfaces directly on Facebook, where users can purchase their products in Facebook credits.

This is useful for marketers not only because of the sheer number of people spending significant amounts of time on social media daily, but also because users buy more on social media than on e-commerce websites – shopping cart totals are 7-10% higher and users will make 20% more transactions per month.

Perhaps the most significant difference between e-commerce and social commerce though is its social nature because, at the end of the day, the focus should always be on the individual, and not the technology. Social commerce brings a whole new set of challenges and possibilities for online marketers, but a basic understanding of these 6 social psychology principles can help optimize your social sales!

  1. Affinity: We like what people we like like (get it?)

Affinity is the basic principle that we tend to agree with people that we like or find similar to ourselves. Because social media offers the possibility for users to connect with or follow like-minded individuals, the potential of this network is exponential, rippling outwards from one user to the other.

Friendsourcing, or asking your online social circles for product recommendations, is one example of this principle in action.

Another example would be using affinity networks, which involves asking your shoppers to share their experiences of your brand on their social networks. There are many tools that enable this “share with your network” functionality.

  1. Authority: the power of expertise

In life and online, we trust the knowledge of experts. If Jamie Oliver recommends a certain brand of cooking gear, we take his opinion as a cooking specialist almost as a guarantee of quality. It’s one of those mental shortcuts that save us a lot of brainpower when making decisions and the basic principle behind endorsements.

Brands can use this online in two ways. One would be to build a reputation as an authority in their domain. No endorsement needed – they are already seen as the experts!

A second way would be to use online influencers in their marketing strategy, giving their product or service “the stamp of approval”.

  1. Popularity: strength in numbers

Human beings are constantly looking towards their peers for feedback. The more people enjoyed something, the more likely we are to also enjoy it. Basic statistical proof, right?

Outside of the internet realm, an example of the popularity principle in action is the New York Times bestseller list for books. This principle creates a snowball effect where popularity begets more popularity for the books that are featured.

The most obvious example of this online is product or brand reviews. Ebay users rate the product they purchased as well as the quality of service they received from the vendor. Future users are significantly more likely to trust items or vendors with lots of positive reviews. A similar logic exists for social media pages with lots of followers, videos with lots of views, etc.

Asking your customers directly to like or share your social media content or to rate your company’s services online is a good way to harness the benefits of this social psychology fact.

  1. Reciprocity: paying it forward

Human beings are social creatures, and our survival on earth has always depended on our capacity for collaboration and empathy. One man that hunted a mammoth in prehistoric times could never have consumed the entire animal himself; however sharing his catch with his peers allowed him to build relationships so that they would, in turn, share their catches with him later.

In the same vein, we all love sharing a good deal with our friends today. We see the reciprocity principle in action especially on Group-Buy sites like Groupon, where each person’s participation contributes and enables the purchase as a whole. Another example would be Deal Feeds where users get and pass on information about the best deals online.

  1. Consistency

Traditionally, this principle states that human beings want consistency between their beliefs and their actions. Therefore, a person who believes that sugar is bad for their health will not consume a giant piece of cake. If they do, they will have to change their beliefs around sugar (“it’s not so bad”) in order to avoid mental inconsistencies.

Online, the Amazon wishlist plays on this very principle. If we put an item on the wishlist, we must want to buy it. Otherwise, there would be an inconsistency between our beliefs that the product is desirable and our behavior.

Another way to interpret this principle is in terms of a brand’s communications. Consistency goes hand in hand with predictability, and human beings like to be able to anticipate how any given situation will turn out. If you brand posts a lot on social media and then stops for 3 months, or if the brand voice is sometimes very serious and sometimes very informal, these are all red flags that tell a consumer that the company cannot be trusted to fulfill expectations.

  1. Scarcity

Evolutionarily speaking, human beings lived in a dangerous world where survival depended on acquiring scarce resources. In the more abundant western society that we live in, this has transformed into FOMO (fear of missing out).

Case in point: limited-time offers! How many of us have made a purchase simply because the sale was “today only”, or because there were only “two left in stock”, realizing just afterwards that we really didn’t need that $250 self-flushing cat litter box. Good for CatGenie though… I’m sure they made a killing that day!

Limited editions of items work the same way, as do limited access deals.

Ultimately, the most successful brands are the ones that understand that the screen is just a new interface for human beings; the people behind the screens have the same minds that work in the same ways they did tens of thousands of years ago. With an appreciation of psychology, brands can create better customer experiences and be more successful overall.


Dana Dragomir is a content marketer and social media strategist based in Toronto. She helps brands leverage digital relationships to reach, inform and impact their intended audiences. Passionate about all things social, technology or innovation-related, she is also an avid photographer and creative writer. Connect with her on LinkedIn!

Originally posted as part of Community Voices series for Social Media Week in Toronto 2016.