Secrets of Social Media Revealed 50 Years Ago

Here is an excerpt from an article written by David Aaker for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.

*     *     *
Almost 50 years ago Ernest Dichter, the father of motivation research, did a large study of word of mouth persuasion that revealed secrets of how to use social media to build brands and businesses. The study was reported in a 1966 article in HBR.

A major Dichter finding, very relevant today, was the identification of four motivations for a person to communicate about brands. The first (about 33% of the cases) is because of product-involvement. The experience is so novel and pleasurable that it must be shared. The second (about 24%) is self-involvement. Sharing knowledge or opinions is a way to gain attention, show connoisseurship, feel like a pioneer, have inside information, seek confirmation of a person’s own judgment, or assert superiority. The third (around 20%) is other-involvement. The speaker wants to reach out and help to express neighborliness, caring, and friendship. The fourth (around 20%) is message-involvement. The message is so humorous or informative that it deserves sharing.

Looking at the social media role in brand building, I suspect that these same four motivations explain why some brands have been successful in using social media. It suggests that, in the absence of exceptionally entertaining communication, in order to employ social media effectively a brand needs to deliver extraordinary functional, self-expressive, or social benefits. That is more likely to be the case when the brand is associated with an offering that is innovative and differentiated in a way that truly resonates with customers. It is unlikely to happen when the brand represents a me-too offering in an established category or subcategory. So it comes back to creating and leveraging innovation and differentiation.

A second finding was that listeners are primarily concerned with two conditions. One is that the speaker be credible with experience and background that is convincing. A person does not need to be an expert although that can help, people that have an intense interest in a subject resulting in relevant experience and access to relevant people and information will qualify as well. Another is that listeners also are skeptical of the speaker’s motivation. They want the speaker to be interested in the listener and his or her well-being without a bias. Is the speaker’s intention to sell a product or help me? What is the speaker’s relationship to me? An implication is that a firm promoting its own brand needs to be aware of its status and emphasize facts instead of opinion, represent the right culture and values, and have a balanced perspective.

*     *     *

It is amazing that the nearly forgotten theory and practice of word-of-mouth communication and influence from five decades and more ago can be so relevant today.

*     *     *

To read the complete article, please click here.

David Aaker is the Vice-Chairman of Prophet and the author of several books on marketing that offer breakthrough thinking of the highest quality. His latest is  Brand Relevance: Making Competitors Irrelevant. Be sure to visit the blog on branding. He is  currently in the process of completing a comprehensive interview that I expect to post in the near future.




Posted in

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.