Archive for the ‘Social Psychology’ Category

The Psychology of Social Media In a Crisis

One of the large parts of professional Social Media management is the role of a crisis. When something urgent and negative happens, people feel emotionally compelled to share information without necessarily evaluating the truth of that information. This is particularly so when someone is 1) physically or effectively close to the disaster, 2) tending to think about themselves rather than thinking of others, and 3) experiencing negative emotions from reading the information. It may seem obvious, but it’s still important that it’s been studied and proven, that our tendency to share information during a crisis is based on self-centered emotional release rather than the benefit of others.

Earlier this year, my colleague at Social Media Beast wrote an article for businesses dealing with Social Media crises. These are truly perilous situations if handled incorrectly. Whatever legitimate negative publicity kicked the mess off is bad enough without the additional Social Media wildfire of rumor, speculation and trolling.

Though it’s hard for many to see it this way, these times of emotional frenzy can also be opportunities to test and strengthen your brand and place you top-of-mind if handled authentically and deftly.


Here are some key points from my colleague Katie’s article:

1) Have a plan. Obvious, but yet everyone gets caught flat-footed and plan-less.

2) Already have a structure in place that allows for consistent monitoring and rapid response.

3) Move quickly, but without defensiveness or any other attitude that would inflame the situation. Remember that, as we said above, triggering readers’ emotions will only cause more tweeting-sans-thinking.

4) Become a go-to resource for the kind of information and service that defuses tension.

5) Keep learning. Revise your plan so the next one is handled smoother.


After spending over 10 years in marketing, I’ve been personally involved in a number of situations where an angry customer became a product evangelist when the responsiveness and customer service were truly worthy.

Social Media Psychology: SM Is Worse For You Than You Thought

March 31, 2015 1 comment

For all the time we devote to social media, you would think that it would register some meaningful improvement to our lives. You would expect that social media would do something psychologically beneficial for us: elevate our mood, increase our energy, or help us get more out of the day.

But the more research that comes in, the more social media looks to be a wasteland of clickbait and sadness.

Social Media and Psychology: How to Kill Productivity and Happiness

According to a recent study in Computers in Human Behavior, personal social media use not only correlates inversely with productivity (we already knew this in our hearts), but correlates inversely with happiness as well. The correlation is true regardless of how good a multitasker you are, and regardless of how well you can focus your attention on a subject.

The study notes that to date, we have all kinds of research on how distraction can impede someone’s performance at a task. And though it seems obvious that personal social media use would be classified as a distraction, there is not a lot of present research on whether or not social media specifically impedes performance.

However, the psychology of social media is not just about efficiency. Maybe we are willing to give up some efficiency for something that makes us happy. We must, after all, be getting something out of all the time we spend on social media; if it’s not something tangible like efficiency, then it’s something intangible like happiness.

Except that’s wrong.

Social Media and Happiness: Less (of the Former) Is More (of the Latter)

The researchers also took happiness scale evaluations during their social media usage experiment. Social media lowers happiness, and it does so in two ways.

First, it lowers happiness directly. This largely has to do with self-comparison to one’s peers. As the report hypothesizes:

Many news stories published by popular media outlets are concerned with negative impacts on happiness from social media. One story in particular, entitled ‘‘Facebook: The Encyclopedia of Beauty?’’ discusses the rampant unhappiness that can be found in college-aged females living on campus. The story gives accounts of self-esteem issues and other negative effects from over-usage of social media.

Secondly, social media increases a sub-category of stressors that researchers our now labeling “technostress.” Technostress is defined by psychologists as “‘any negative impact on attitudes, thoughts, behaviors, or body physiology that is caused either directly or indirectly by technology.”

This is not something that’s only experienced by people who are uncomfortable with computers and devices. The article cites a University of Edinburgh study, which found that “the more Facebook friends a user has, the more likely you are to feel stressed out by the social media.” And there is already a very good foundation of research supporting the notion that increases in stress diminish happiness. So, if social media ads stress and stress diminishes happiness, then you can get the rest.

The study revealed that personal social media use lowered productivity by way of causing distraction. This finding is in line with what’s call Distraction-Conflict Theory, which says basically that distractions cause some of the information necessary for the primary task to fall out of short-term memory. This is no surprise to anyone who’s ever used social media.

What was a surprise was that the effect was just a dramatic among poor multitaskers as it was among people who rated themselves great multitaskers. As the report puts it, “This result lends support to the common rhetoric that people are not as good at multitasking as they think they are.”

In Summary

So, in three points, here’s what all this means for us:

1. Social media makes you less productive despite how good a multitasker you think you are.

2. Social media makes you unhappy in the long run, both directly and by adding stress.

3. We’re probably still going to spend all our time on Facebook and Twitter anyway…

That last point is not from the report, but we both know it’s true.



Testimonials: The Right Way and the Wrong Way

February 28, 2015 Leave a comment

Nothing supercharges lead generation and sales quite like social proof. One study published in the Wall Street Journal noted that social proof was more influential in changing behavior than the prospect of saving money.

Content Marketing Leaders Spill on Using Testimonials Effectively

Tim Paige of produces a fascinating podcast about digital marketing effectiveness called Conversion Cast. Earlier this month, he interviewed the Strategic Director of Orbit Media, Andy Crestodina. The subject of the episode was testimonials. Andy talked about a small business case study where the proper implementation of testimonials resulted in a 97% boost in leads.

Tim Paige, Producer of Conversion Cast

First, the wrong way (and what everybody tends to screw up). Whatever you do, do not put your testimonials on a dedicated testimonials page. It’s tantamount to hiding your best credibility indicators in a section of the site where no one ever visits. Think about it: when was the last time you ever clicked on a testimonials page?

Testimonials belong on the main pages of your site (products, about us, etc.). They should be woven into the content. As Crestodina puts it, they should be “pixels away from the claims” they justify.

Think about testimonials as the sources that you’re citing to back up your claims, like footnotes. Except that you don’t want to put them at the bottom. Better to place them along the side of the page, as well as in-line (block quotes), and also at the bottom. Just so long as they are visually tied the the claims that they back up.

Andy Crestodina, co-founder of Orbit Media

Crestodina also makes a point that you want to use a variety of formats. He refers to video testimonials in particular as the “atomic bomb of marketing.” They convey passion and sincerity through body language and inflection. So don’t simply settle for a bland quotation or a logo array.

KissMetrics Schools Us On the Psychology of Social Proof

In a blog article on social proof, KissMetrics offers some fascinating wisdom on implementing testimonials and social proof.

First, and maybe most interesting, testimonials can backfire if they’re phrased in a way that suggests that many people are doing something incorrectly. We refer to this as negative social proof. They site the example of the signage used in the Arizona Petrified Forest to reduce theft. Here’s what happened, in their own words:

Their findings were shocking. The sign with the negative social proof was not only unable to reduce theft, it actually increased the likelihood that people would steal the petrified wood from the forest! In this case, the sign read:

“Many past visitors have removed the petrified wood from the park, destroying the natural state of the Petrified Forest.”

The researchers found that this sort of sign encouraged more stealing (it tripled the amount of theft) because it was evidence that many other people were already stealing from the forest. Instead of discouraging people, it made them more confident that stealing was “okay.”

In our case, an example of a testimonial that would case the same problem would read like this:

“Like so many others, I have been writing testimonials incorrectly for years until I read this article.” –John Q. Wrongness

Here are some KissMetrics pointers for getting the most out of your social proof (testimonials in our case):

1. Include pictures next to your quotations.

This is based on a recent study published in the Psychonometric Bulletin and Review stating that pictures next to examples of social proof tend to inflate the subjective measure of truth.

2. Include testimonials from people who demographically match your buyer personas.

More research, this time from Current Directions is Psychological Science, that shows people tend to gravitate to, and be influenced by, people similar to themselves (duh).

3. Go for status.

All things being equal, we will tend to value the opinions of the more notable and influential people. Titles matter. The words of recognized industry leaders matter. So concentrate your efforts on gathering some marquee testimonials.

The Five “People-triggers” Discoveries That Most Changed My Life

August 29, 2014 1 comment

Screenshot 2014-08-29 15.31.58I’ve been writing the People-triggers blog since 2010.  After all that time, I’m not sure I’m any closer to understanding why we do what we do, and why we get out of bed in the morning.

Psychology feels like it’s nipping around the edges of this question. Like the moment anyone gets close to an insight, they stop studying, write a book and start trying to teach everyone how to stay motivated and influence others. In the 70’s, we were sure that Transactional Analysis was a scientific approach to relationships. In the 80’s, we were sure that we needed to praise our children regardless of result because self-esteem correlates with success.

Think of what we’re sure about today. Working from home achieves higher productivity. No wait, it kills collaboration. Group brainstorming produces better outcomes than individual reflection. No wait, it shouts down the introverts and encourages rule-by-volume.

In psychology, today’s bestseller is tomorrow’s bullshit.

That all being said, I’ve looked back at the readings and writings I’ve done over the past four plus years and I’ve found five discoveries-five core principles-that I’m willing to bet will stand the test of time. More than that, they changed my life because I was able to 1) become more effective in producing output, and 2) stop wasting energy worrying about certain things. So, here they are: Read more…

Swarm Intelligence and Capitalism

July 31, 2014 1 comment

Recently I revisited an article that I posted once upon a time on Swarm Theory (Decentralized Problem-Solving). This is the notion that a self-governed network of entities operating on simple heuristics (e.g. bees in a hive, ants in a colony) can solve certain problems more effectively than central authority. I received a comment from the CEO of a software company in Finland that harnesses Swarm Theory within specially designed social networks to solve problems.

As I was searching around for more information on Swarm Theory, I came across this quote on a blog: “SWARM OR HIVE INTELLIGENCE: Communism Without The Corruption! […] Individual Capitalism Vs. The Collective! One Thing Is Certain: Capitalism Cannot Be The End Result For Humanity Or We And Very Likely Earth Itself Are Doomed!”

Interesting perspective.

But at the same time, there’s an interesting point to be made: this quote has its logic exactly backwards. Sure, a leaderless structure like an ant colony brings to mind the visual idea of a commune. But Communism as we’ve experienced it (and Socialism for that matter) are associated with central planning, which is the opposite of Swarm Theory. If you want to look at the economic system that bears the closest resemblance to Swarm Theory, you’ll be looking at good old Capitalism.

The Invisible Hand = Early Crowdsourcing


Since Adam Smith described the “Invisible Hand” in 1776, arch-capitalists have ascribed a magic, almost religious quality to the economic distributions within a free market. As supply lowers, prices rise. How does the system know? How does wealth accumulate with those who are meeting a strong demand? How is investment capital finding its way to the most promising opportunities? Is it God’s will that it be so?

The “invisible hand” is an instance of Swarm Theory, nothing more. The motivation to provide value in exchange for monetary reward is a simple heuristic and economic participants (workers, owners, investors, etc) are the automatons who follow it. Therefore the strengths and weaknesses of the various Capitalist systems of the world can be understood by how effectively they replicate a basic swarm system.

In his book Business Stripped Bare, Richard Branson coins the term Gaia Capitalism to describe the more environmentally and globally aware form of Capitalism to which he subscribes. This promotes the idea that there are many manifestations of Capitalism that have varying degrees of concern for long-term thinking or preservation of common goods. Should a Capitalist system have rules? Should it be transparent? Should it reward individual actors? Do regulations always make it less efficient? We can understand these questions by understanding how they apply to swarm systems.

So let’s revisit the characteristics of an effective swarm system:

  1. It is self-organized
  2. Its actors follow simple heuristics, though different classes of actors may follow different instruction sets (foragers vs patrollers, etc.)
  3. Actors must act in a diverse fashion (i.e. bees don’t search for a new home be all flying in the same direction)
  4. There is a communication mechanism by which information is shared with all actors
  5. Actions must be self determined, without imitation, cohesion or fad-following

It also must be understood that the collective result will not be perfect, but it will be ever-improving. Just because bees agree on a location for a new hive doesn’t mean that the resulting location is perfect. The quality of the new location depends on the terrain that was explored (i.e. luck), and the system that has evolved to determine consensus. Notice that it does depend on the outsized reconnaissance skills of any one super-star bee.

Notice also that Swarm Theory works to solve the problems of the collective, e.g. how to propagate and defend an ant colony, or how to allocate wealth to the providers of value and quality investment. They do not exist for the purpose of enriching individual actors at the expense of others. To be sure, there are often status hierarchies within swarm systems, and individual actors are motivated to act by their own survival, but the nature and essence of the system is to propagate the entire community.

Answering Hard Questions on Capitalism


Now, assuming the analogy between a swarm system and a Capitalist one, and also that our goal is to make the most productive system that we can, lets draw some conclusions.

Should Capitalist systems have anti-trust laws, and how vehemently should those laws be enforced? Well, are swarms more effective when actors are acting diversely or in concert? Diversely. Acting in concert through collusion or anti-competitive measures weakens the system by limiting the diversity of opportunity. The dynamic becomes indistinguishable from central planning.

In healthy Capitalist systems, should all trades take place on transparent exchanges (i.e. removing the dark pools of investment banks). Well, are swarms more effective or less effective with transparent communication? They’re more effective. In fact, they depend on the systemic aggregation of collective information so all actors can make informed decisions. Keeping information secret for private advantage weakens the system by disallowing all the actors from making effective decisions.

Do central regulations always make a Capitalist system less efficient? This one is harder to demonstrate with analogy, and it also depends on the time frame that one is talking about. I interpret “regulations” as rules and safeguards. As part of its heuristic logic, a forager ant will not leave the colony to forage for food unless it come into contact with at least four patroller ants within the space of ten seconds. This lets the ant know that it’s safe to forage. It might be more efficient for the colony in the short term if the forager ant would search for food immediately, without this safety procedure. In the short term, the chances of running into food might be higher then the chances of running into an anteater. But the colony will pay a heavier cost (population count) every time this gamble doesn’t work out.

Yet, this procedure evolved organically. It was not enforced from a central authority. It’s hard to find analogies to central rule enforcement within natural swarm systems. These systems, by definition, have no central authorities. Instead, this might be a question for digital automatons in labs.

Still, we can see from this demonstration that the strongest, most effective Capitalist systems are not necessarily the ones that provide the greatest enrichment to individual members. They will more likely be the ones to harvest most effectively the wisdom of the swarm.

The Psychology of Enron

June 29, 2014 2 comments

Cover of

“Nil sapientiae odiosius acumine nimio. (Nothing is more hateful to wisdom than excessive cleverness.)” –Petrarch

One of the most striking scenes in Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind’s Enron expose The Smartest Guys in the Room details the courtroom testimony of Kenneth Lay and Jeff Skilling during their criminal trial. You would expect that the people responsible for scandal that defrauded thousands of stockholders and pension plan investors to do their fair share of finger pointing and legalistic arguing, but Lay and Skilling went further than that.

They seemed in a different reality altogether. It was though they actually still believed, even after the bankruptcy, that Enron was a fundamentally healthy company that was the victim of bad luck, a fickle press and the vindictiveness of Wall Street analysts. Far from trying to obfuscate and spin their criminal behavior, they seemed to believe — actually believe in their hearts — that they had done nothing wrong.

Now, Skilling and Lay never raised an insanity defense; they never contested the notion that they knew exactly what they were doing. They simply never saw any wrongfulness in their actions. Those actions involved hiding billions of dollars of debt from their balance sheet (The Enron SPE’s), personally profiting ownership stakes in Enron business partner companies (Again, the SPE’s), and lying  to stockholders about the very nature of their business (maintaining a facade as a “logistics” company while making most of its profits from energy future speculation).

Much of this denial of the belief of wrongdoing is reminiscent of the banking crash of 2008. Defendants seemed to believe in their hearts not only that they were following the law, but that they were in fact innovating new financial markets. The blindness to the big picture corruption of the sub-prime mortgage market and the disguising of bad debt is eerily reminiscent. In fact, some of the very vehicles that Enron used to hide its debt from shareholders (off-balance sheet SPE’s) factored heavily into the 2008 banking crisis.

I’m not interested in the moral question of what makes us elect unethical behavior. From this writer’s perspective, men are apes with iPhones. But I am interested in what goes on in our brain to make us believe we are acting ethically when in fact we are grossly transgressing boundaries that would be clear to any reasonable man. Read more…

Do We Become Smarter? – Entity vs Incremental Intelligence

May 28, 2014 5 comments
Dr. Carol Dweck, Stanford University

Dr. Carol Dweck, Stanford University

I’d like to introduce what is probably the most important concept I’ve every learned. In a way, I’m frustrated that I didn’t latch onto this insight until I was 35 years old, but by the same token, I’m relieved that I learned this in time to make better parenting decisions when the appropriate time comes.

Does Intelligence Remain Fixed?

Dr. Carol Dweck is a psychologist from Stanford University who has spent her life studying a key difference in the way people conceive of themselves and their respective abilities. Depending on a number of environmental factors, people tend to believe one of two distinct hypotheses about their own intelligence. Some people believe that intelligence is a fixed and uncontrollable trait (entity learning hypothesis). Other people believe that intelligence is a malleable, controllable ability to be cultivated (incremental learning hypothesis). This difference in mentality creates enormous performance, motivational and cognitive contrasts between the two groups.

In her research, Dweck tests grade school and middle school age children by evaluating their performance at tasks of increasing difficulty. The test groups feature a mix of kids who subscribe to either the entity (e.g. “People don’t generally become much smarter than they already are.”) or incremental (e.g. “I can make myself as smart as I want to be.”) hypotheses.

Before significant obstacles are introduced, both sets of children tend to perform equally well at tasks. In the face of obstacles, however, we start to see distinct behavioral changes. The entity hypothesis children (the ones who view intelligence as a fixed trait) will tend to back down from challenges. They tend to view task failures as personal limitations, and so running into an obstacle denotes a limit in their personal abilities. Faced with failure, the children adopt negative conditions, and blame their own personal inadequacy for the failure.

Interestingly, may of them take to diversionary and compensatory verbalizations about how much better they are in other areas, or the interesting things their family owns. Most notably, their problem-solving skills and strategies tend to crumble under initial failure. Future attempts to solve the difficult task regress to the strategies of younger age groups. Dweck calls this the “helpless” behavior pattern.

The incremental hypothesis children, on the other hand, (the ones who view intelligence as something they can improve) confront these same challenges head on and have a much higher success rate. They tend to attribute their success not to themselves but to their effort (e.g. “I will get this.” or “If you can do it once you can do it again.”). They have much more positive self-cognitions and their problem-solving abilities stay strong in the face of obstacles. Dweck calls this the “mastery-oriented” behavior pattern.

Intelligence Conception is Destiny

Helpless and mastery-oriented children develop different overarching goals that shape their development. Mastery-oriented children, who believe that their realm of mastery is expanded and improved through effort and stretching, develop learning-related goals. They seek to improve their competence. The children who exhibit helpless behaviors, on the other hand, develop validation-oriented goals. They would like to show their trait competence in its best light and receive a favorable judgement for it. One group becomes accomplishment-oriented, the other group becomes validation-oriented.

I remember reading about this research a year or two ago but it didn’t hit home until I read Josh Waitzkin‘s book The Art of Learning. Waitzkin is the chess prodigy on whom the book and movie Searching for Bobby Fischer is based. He talks about competing against grade school chess champions when he was starting out, and sensing an incredible difference between the kids who were praised for their effort and accomplishment and those who were praised for their innate talent and abilities. Those kids who felt like chess talent was a fixed, innate trait would buckle much more easily under pressure. When they encountered challenge, they perceived that challenge as a statement of their own personal deficiency, and would crumble.

Believing that intelligence is malleable, in addition to unlocking performance potential, might also actually be closer to the truth. We’ve all grown up believing that IQ tests measure our innate intelligence, but in fact the inventor of the IQ test, Alfred Binet, was an incremental theorist. He believed that an IQ measurement was a present snapshot of an evolving trait. It was society that then turned the instrument into a measurement of status and destiny.

Other Domains Beyond IQ

This insight couldn’t be more important to motivation, outlook, self-confidence, achievement, social intelligence, mentoring and parenting. Understanding the world in terms of growth as opposed to innate talent is like flipping an internal switch for achievement. The problem is that this hypothesis is so fundamental and developed so early in our childhood that it’s difficult to adjust when one becomes an adult.

Those of us who’ve learned incorrect theories of growth and achievement have to spend a lot of time rewiring out beliefs. We have to let go of the desire to show ourselves off and be recognized for our talent. We have to instead start with the assumption that accomplishment in anything is the fundamental result of massive, focused acquisition of skill. We then see that the chief virtues of success are discipline, persistence, objective evaluation, efficiency, deliberate goal-setting, and a fundamental understanding that obstacles are the gateway to mastery.

In the seventies, psychologists took notice of a correlation between self-esteem and achievement. Without understanding the causal relationship, they started encouraging parents to boost self-esteem however possible, believing that would lead to greater achievement in children. They invented the infamous “A for effort.” Everyone started receiving participation awards. Parents stopped keeping score at little league games. Kids were taught that they were special by virtue of their innate identity, and developed massive notions of entitlement as a result.

Dweck’s research helps us understand what we did wrong, and how to do better. Instead of self-esteem leading to accomplishment, it’s actually accomplishment that leads to self-esteem. Kids need to achieve. So it is harmful to remove the competition (the obstacles) and announce that “everyone is a winner.” We must instill competition, but we must attribute success and failure to the right things. When a child experiences an accomplishment, do we tell them how smart they are? How talented they are? How good-looking, charming, or funny they are?

Or rather, do we acknowledge how their hard work is paying off? How they worked effectively and grew as a result?

This is number one on my list of things that I wish I “would have known then.” I would have spent much less time asking whether or not I was talented enough to make my goals and pursuits worthwhile. I would have spent much more time asking myself how to most efficiently and effectively develop the skills and traits I needed in order to overcome the inevitable obstacles that came along. That seemingly slight change in mentality creates a night-and-day difference.