The 4 Biggest Motivators for Social Media Marketing

Keeping tabs on how other companies are adopting technologies and leveraging changes in the marketplace to push their business forward can be highly instructive. It’s interesting to watch various trends take shape and gain momentum — and there’s no doubt that what’s hot right now is social media marketing.

When Oprah devotes an entire show to Twitter, there’s no denying the fact that social networking has hit the mainstream. Consequently, marketers are scrambling to find ways to leverage the various online communities to push their brands and make some money. While the motivation driving marketers to act quickly is obvious, they need to take a step back and take a broader look at what motivates their consumers and the various ways that social media can be leveraged to meet their marketing objectives.

Going Viral

So far, most media sites and high-profile e-commerce sites have jumped on the “social sharing” bandwagon, providing social networking buttons next to articles, promotions or products that allow readers to easily share the item with their network of choice. Scroll down to the bottom of any Wall Street Journal article, and you can then share the article with your network on LinkedIn, Facebook and others.

While this capability is important, it’s just the first step in leveraging social media marketing. It does nothing to tap into your existing channels or develop a virality that extends its reach.

Understanding motivation is critical. If an airline is going to give me 25,000 miles for signing up for a newsletter, then fine, I’ll probably do it. However, there’s no way I’m going to share my address book for that many miles — or any amount, for that matter. The airline has to find another motivator that reflects positively on me within my network — for example, a green promotion that provides carbon offsets to compensate for the environmental impact of business travel.

Social media can’t be treated like a traditional marketing channel; it’s essential to understand what motivates people to share.

The key to being successful with social media is the ability to create a viral campaign that capitalizes on the social motivators that get users to share in the first place. Just placing a social sharing link on a Web page or in an email doesn’t mean that a user will be prompted to share it. However, a company that figures out what makes its users tick and then taps into the right social motivator can propel its message into the far reaches of cyberspace.

Four Social Motivators

Whether people are online or offline, the motivators that spur people to share information fall into four buckets: Self-Expression, Status Achievement, Altruism and Self-Serving.


In the traditional direct marketing world, people are motivated by cash — or saving it in the form of coupons, discounts, etc. Within social media, the biggest motivator is often self-expression. That means finding a promotion that allows customers to express themselves, such as customizing a Nike shoe that they can share with their friends.

Status Achievement

Most people like to brag, and that tendency is multiplied by the Web. Creating a promotion that allows customers to improve their status amongst their peers is an effective way to get them to share with their network. For example, might reward loyal shoppers with early access to a new product release, and then encourage them to share this advanced access with their friends. Putting shoppers in a position of power among their peers is a big motivator.


In addition to bragging, people also like to do good — especially when it’s convenient. In the above-mentioned airline example, allowing consumers to share carbon offsets taps into a person’s altruistic nature. This promotion makes the consumer feel good, not only for helping to save the planet, but also for helping their friends feel good about joining the cause. In this scenario, consumers are motivated to share by the opportunity to do something good — not because of some physical reward they are going to get back in return.


While self-serving offers work really well in the offline world (coupons, discounts, etc.), this motivator is less potent in the realm of social networking. However, that’s not to say that it can’t be effective if done right. Combining a self serving-offer with one that taps into status achievement is one way to maximize results. For example, you can give a person a $100 gift certificate for forwarding a $20 coupon to 10 friends. The consumer wins big — a financial reward plus status among friends.

Planning the Campaign

Creating a campaign that leverages the motivator most appropriate for a company’s message and audience will go a long way toward helping to ensure its success. It’s impossible to run a successful business without knowing a good deal about its customers, so any information that helps a company figure out what motivates them is invaluable.

It’s important to find a solution that provides a means for measuring the effectiveness of a social media marketing program. Once a company knows who its biggest influencers are, it becomes possible to target them with appropriate messages and promotions. With any hot trend, marketing companies quickly offer solutions that help companies take advantage of the momentum, and it’s no different with social media. New technologies in the marketplace today allow marketers to integrate social media with proven channels like email marketing to create viral campaigns that can be tracked and optimized in real-time.

This may seem like a lot of work, but the return on investment will be worth the effort. Online audiences are savvy; they quickly see through misguided efforts to foster their allegiance. However, a well-designed social media marketing campaign that uses the right motivators can help a company create an army of brand advocates who will take its message to the trenches.

There’s no question that the marketing potential of social media is huge, but it would be folly to rush in without a cohesive plan. The end result could mean not only limiting its potential for success, but also damaging the company’s reputation in the process.

Sam Cece is CEO of StrongMail Systems, a provider of marketing and transactional email solutions designed to enable businesses to deliver more relevant, timely and cost-effective messages.

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