7 Social Media Marketing Lessons Learned from Hypnosis

For over a hundred years people from charlatans to respected academics have been studying the power and uses of hypnosis. Two forms have emerged recently as the most well-researched and effective: clinical hypno-therapy and stage hypnosis, in fact there are many therapists who dabble in entertaining stage hypnosis. As social media marketers, there are many lessons we can learn from the field of trance and suggestion, below are 7 of my favorite.

1. Suggestibility

Suggestibility is a measure of how inclined a person is to act on the suggestions of other people. Research has shown that there is a correlation between how suggestible a person is and how hypnotizeable a person is.
Stage hypnotists spend a lot of effort on identifying the most suggestible people in their audience to bring up on stage. They’ve developed a wide range of quick tests to highlight those people who will demonstrate their abilities to the rest of the crowd, making them more suggestible as well. Clinical practitioners also have tests and scales of suggestibility and hypnotizeability.
In social media it is somewhat difficult to administer traditional stage or clinical tests, but once we understand that people who comply with initial, small requests are likely to engage in later, larger requests we can begin to identify the most suggestible of our audience. Simply asking people to joining mailing lists, ReTweet links, or supply comments are rudimentary forms of suggestibility tests.

2. Social Requests

Experiments conducted on highly suggestible people in 1998 showed that subjects who were given non-hypnotic social requests to send a series of postcards to the experimenters did so more often than those who were given hypnotic suggestions. While the social request subjects said their actions felt more “planned and effort-ful” and less “compulsive,” this seems to indicate that simple social requests can be just as powerful with subjective people as full-on hypnosis.
As marketers we should remember this research when we are constructing our calls-to-action. We can achieve the same levels of compliance as professional hypnotists with well formed social requests, especially when accompanied by the other lessons in this post.

3. Expectancy Manipulation

Clinical studies, including ones done by University of Connecticut researcher Irving Kirsch have shown that by creating the expectations of suggestibility, subjects can be made more suggestible than they’d otherwise be. Experiments were done in which subjects were given baseline suggestibility tests, then shown “evidence” that they were highly suggestible. When the subjects retook the tests, they registered as far more suggestible than they were before. Expectancy manipulations like this have also been show to work for pain, blood pressure and nausea reduction as well as increasing the effect of placebo medications.
One of the most common motivations for sharing content on social media is that people want to increase their personal reputations. As marketers we can take advantage of this, by increasing the expectation that sharing our content will do wonders for our audience’s reputation. One example would be retelling stories of how other people who’ve shared your content got more followers or Facebook friends.

4. Authority

Stage hypnotists work hard to establish an image of authority or “prestige and faith.” They rely on their audience’s belief (and expectations) that they are gifted hypnotists who always get results. They are also very quick to eliminate non-responsive subjects who would erode their effective image.
Memetics researcher Francis Heylighen has pointed out that for an idea to spread it has to come from a source that is authoritative in some regard, so did WWII rumor-weapons experts.
In social media we should work to always appear authoritative, without saying so much our self often. Subtle indications of social proof like high subscriber or follower counts can help.

5. Psychological Barriers

Stage and clinical hypnotists engage typically have a speech they give to their subjects prior to hypnosis called a “preinduction talk.” The idea of the talk is to establish rapport, remove the fears, about hypnosis, and establish favorable expectations.
Developing rapport with your audience as a marketer is generally a long-term strategy, but the more you can align your own interests and motivations with your audience the better. To make your audience identify with you, you need to make it clear that you understand their problems and desires. It is also useful to ingratiate yourself with your audience by remaining humble and frequently commenting on their intelligence. Remarks like “you guys are smarter than I am, so I need your help,” satisfy both the identification and the ingratiation demands.
Our readers understand that every piece of content they share in social media will be viewable by their friends. If you’re asking them share something they might be embarrassed by, do your best to anticipate their social fears and assuage them before you ask them to share.

6. Direct Suggestions

In their 1956 book on hypnosis, Charles Edward Cooke and A.E. Van Vogt discuss how to structure therapeutic suggestions. They give three “rules” that can be applied to social media calls-to-action: “Be Positive,” “Be Specific,” and “Be Detailed.”
In explaining how to alleviate phobias through hypnosis, they explain that by saying “you are not afraid” you are creating a large mental image of “fear” with a small label “not.” Negation requires higher level mental processing to understand, so avoid calls-to-action like “don’t hesitate to ReTweet,” state everything in the positive form.
They also direct the hypnosis operator to be as specific and detailed as possible. For social media calls-to-action this means that we should say things like “ReTweet this article by clicking on this link.” Avoid vague calls to “share” content, describe the action you want your reader to take as specifically as possible.

7. Repetition

Most hypnotic subjects reach deeper levels of trance each time they are inducted by a practitioner and the suggestions they are given likewise increase in power through repetition.
As marketers, not only can we enhance the power of our calls-to-action by repeating them more than once in a single piece of content, but we can also build on their effectiveness across touches with our audience. Each time a person interacts with you, the effectiveness of the above techniques will increase.

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How to Use Novelty to Create Contagious Ideas

Every time I’ve looked at the contagiousness of ideas, be it online or off, one of the most frequent characteristics I come across is novelty. I’ve found that ReTweets tend to contain less common words than normal Tweets, and I’ve found that survey-takers highlight “news” as the most common type of content they share.

In 2007, researchers at the Hewlett-Packard’ s Information Dynamics Laboratory in Palo Alto studied social news site Digg and found that “novelty within groups decays with a stretched-exponential law, suggesting the existence of a natural time scale over which attention fades.”

And Free University of Brussels research professor Francis Heylighen lists “novelty” as a criteria for a successful meme, saying “New, unusual or unexpected ideas or perceptions tend to attract the attention, and thus arouse the cognitive energy which will facilitate their assimilation.”

In our everyday lives we are exposed to many more stimuli than we could ever hope to consciously digest, so our minds have evolved to include a sophisticated filtering mechanism by which our attention is drawn only to the important bits. This selective attention can be triggered by things like hearing our name over the noise of a loud party, or by a change in something familiar.

We’ve all had the experience of noticing something different about someone or something we see every day. Perhaps a co-worker got a hair cut, or construction on our daily commute changes it. Were it not for the difference, we would have never actively focused our attention on these things since they’re so common place.

I follow several thousand people on Twitter, I’m subscribed to a few hundred blogs and I get a hundred or so emails a day. I (like nearly every one else on the web) am exposed to lots of ideas every day, in fact, many more than I could ever become consciously aware of and ponder. Before I ever have a chance to spread one of these ideas, I have to be come aware of it. Remember my Hierarchy of Contagiousness?

If someone wants to get my attention as an individual, they’d do best to personalize the message to me, and use my name to trigger my selective attention. But, if they (like most marketers) want to get the attention of many individuals they need to rely on novelty.

Many of the other characteristics of contagiousness I’ve come across, such as social proof or scarcity, contain fairly obvious ways for marketers to use them to our advantage. But novelty isn’t quite so easy, we don’t always have an endless supply of breaking news at our disposal.

As an individual, I’ll consider an idea novel if I’ve never heard of it. It doesn’t have to something no one has ever heard before, just new to me. This opens up an entirely new set of possibilities for being novel without being breaking news.

In a 2002 study on attention and memory in advertising in the Management Science journal, researchers found that: “advertisements that were both original and familiar attracted the largest amount of attention to the advertised brand.” This means that we should use a tactic I like to call “new/old” to design novel content that is also intuitive for readers.

“New/old” is a structure where either new content is put into a old structure, or old content is put into a new structure. An example of the former is steam punk, where sci-fi gadgets are constructed from steam-age technology, and an example of the former the Newest Romeo and Juliet movie, where an old play was set in the modern day.

So if you have existing content or ideas, try fashioning them into a new structure, as the authors of Tough Love, a business book written as a screenplay have done. Conversely if you have an entirely new idea you’re trying to communicate, reach for a familiar structure.

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