Emotions and social media cover

Emotions and social media


The complexity of emotions

From the youngest of age, emotions are an integral part of our lives. Even though they are not easily described, or understood, we experience a variety of emotions in different situations. Our earliest emotional response is mostly triggered by nonverbal communication, such as a mother’s smile. As we get older, capable of complex rational thinking, we get a grasp of the complexity of emotions. However, they still influence our decisions and behavior. For example, something a person sees on social media can spark different emotions in different people. New studies suggest that we are capable of experiencing only four “basic” emotions:

  1. happiness
  2. sadness
  3. fear/surprise
  4. anger/disgust.

The remaining palette of emotions is derived from us being able to combine various emotions.

Given the complexity of our emotional states, it is no wonder that emotions influence almost all aspects of our everyday life, including consumer habits and behavior. Studies have repeatedly shown that people rely on emotions, rather than information, to make brand decisions. This is why marketing, especially advertising, focuses on emotional appeal. Emotional responses are what influences one’s intent to buy, rather than evidence. However, it can be argued that emotions are derived from evidence that an individual finds relevant in their consumer wants and needs. Since our consumer habits have transferred over to social media, it’s impossible to ignore how emotions influence our behavior on them.

The impact of social media on emotional health

As a large-scale experiment from 2014 has shown, emotional states can easily be transferred via emotional contagion over social media. Since Facebook’s algorithm filters what people can see on their news feed, based on reception and preferences, the study has shown that social media activity is greatly influenced by the emotional quality and directions of the content the people are exposed to. In other words, people tend to produce fewer amounts of positive content when positive expressions are reduced and vice versa. This is important for digital marketers as it clearly shows that, to drive desired behavior related to brands, certain emotions have to be emphasized throughout the communication process, and, since human emotions are fairly complex, to drive the desired behavior, the tone often has to be adjusted and that is often more challenging than it sounds.

For example – if your brand, for some reason, appeals to the fear of rejection, the tone of social media content has to produce emotional contagion in order to achieve desired results. Although various metrics reports are what determines if certain social media marketing campaigns are successful or not, it is emotional contagion, among others, that influences their behavioral patterns.

As an analysis of the IPA dataBANK has shown, campaigns with purely emotional content performed about twice as well (31% vs. 16%) as those with purely rational content. Facebook has publicly displayed just how important emotions are in February 2016 when a set of emotional responses were added to the well known “thumbs up” response. This has enabled users to interact with the content more deeply, making them more likely to interact with the content as this gives them a variety of emotional responses, which is a great thing for both Facebook and marketers as the thumbs up reaction was extremely limited when it comes to the emotional complexity of content being found on Facebook. If you want to know more about how Facebook’s reactions affect your content and page visibility, read our blog post here

Different emotions – different social media experience

But, not all emotions are equal, especially when it comes to social media, such as Facebook. A new study from Fanpage Karma shows how different emotions trigger different reactions from fans. The dominant emotion based on reactions per post is joy. In this case, likes are the dominant way of expression. Posts that trigger fear do have the highest percentage of shares of all emotions. Posts that make the fans angry do get commented. Sadness makes the last place when it comes to reactions. All in all, joy and happiness will create healthy long-lasting relations with the relevant public.

If you get to know your prospects, their needs, and emotions, you can choose the right emotional appeal, that will help them engage with your content and relate to your brand. Emotional intelligence plays an important role here. The capacity for understanding our own feelings and those of others can help us respond to the behavior, style of communication and actions of others. As mentioned above, positive emotions connect people and can bring change.

It is important to bring positive value to the audience and try to fulfill their intrinsic needs. Of course, there are some psychological „hacks“ that can be used, such as „playing“ with fear, or narrowing down the options and telling people what to do, but people like healthy emotions. 

How to leverage the power of emotions to improve your social media marketing

As we’ve previously mentioned, posts that trigger fear have the highest percentage of shares of all emotions. That’s why bad news spread so fast on social media – fear makes people share it with their Facebook friends, Twitter or Instagram followers. Whenever there is a plane crash or a terrorist attack, the news about it is often trending on social media in a matter of minutes. The same thing doesn’t happen with happy news (unfortunately). The firefighters saved a cat from the tree? Cute news, but not worthy of becoming viral. 

Does that mean your social media posts should spark fear within your target audience to get better results? No, absolutely not. You as a social media marketer should represent the brands that you work for in a way that communicates the key messages that get the right emotional response from followers, buyers, and customers. Every brand should have its own tone of voice defined, and use it as guidance in a social media strategy when preparing content for various channels.  

#1 Happiness

Most people use social media to relax or as a form of escapism from the real world. For some, the main motivation is maintaining and creating connections with other users, sharing and obtaining information and enjoyment.

Obviously, not every social media channel is the same, nor does each person has the same motives for using social media. For example, social media influencers use their social media channels to earn money. It’s their job to post content online, engage with their followers and track the results. Also, they won’t post the same content on LinkedIn as they will on Instagram. They adapt their messages accordingly, based on the social media channel and target audience. Brands who want to have a successful social media strategy could learn a thing or two from that. Most social media influencers became so powerful online due to the fact they spark happiness in people. They inspire their followers who relate to them because they share their interests or like their content. 

As a brand, or a social media marketer representing a certain brand online, you should leverage happiness with your social media strategy. Inspire your target audience with your content, amaze them with your witty copywriting, make their day using humor, invite them to comment, like and share – not by telling them to comment, like and share, but by communicating with them in a way that gets that kind of engagement naturally. If people on social media notice your brand who communicates with them by having their well-being in focus, it will spark positive emotions in them. Brands who make people feel good about themselves are more likely to create valuable relationships with them and turn them into customers. 

#2 Sadness 

Hear me out here. I’m not telling you to make your followers sad

Some researches show social media has different effects on people: young adults report the highest levels of perceived loneliness when using social media. Meanwhile, older people are less depressed and lonely when they’re active on social media. That’s why it’s so important to filter the content you consume online when you are on social media. Be mindful and aware of your online environments and how they might be affecting you. 

However, there is one very good mechanism that you can use on social media that evokes an emotional response from people – nostalgia. It helps people feel better by turning negative feelings into positive ones. Hubspot stated that nostalgia marketing is the advertising equivalent of comfort food: “Instead of anticipating the next great thing, nostalgia marketing urges us to focus on the things we already know are great.” Looking back on old memories can often make people sorrow, especially when they are already bombed with sad news every day. The beauty of nostalgia is that it is a good kind of sad – and that’s why it’s such a powerful tool for social media marketers. By reliving their fond, positive memories, people can often feel happy and if you can incorporate a blast from the past into your social media strategy, I have no doubts you’ll get the right emotional response on your content. 

#3 Fear

We don’t want to repeat ourselves too often, but fear is a powerful tool used by many, not just marketers, to achieve their goals. It is one of the few high arousal emotions that activate our nervous system. If you’re not sure how to use fear in social media strategy, just remember FOMO is one of the most used techniques out there. Fear of missing out, or FOMO, when used on social media can increase feelings of depression and loneliness. 

Social media can distort our perception of people’s lives. We see all the “highlights” of people’s lives and all the fun things they are doing, but we rarely see the “behind-the-scenes” mundane stuff like going to work, doing chores, having stressful days, etc…the things that everyone goes through.

From the perspective of a social media marketer, there are ways you can leverage FOMO without making people feel bad about themselves. Remember that episode of The Office when Michael Scott answers the question would he rather be feared or loved with: “Both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.” That isn’t a bad approach to social media campaigns either. Be so good with your content and communication that people will be afraid of how much they love your social media channels. Then, if you awoke a feeling in them that they are missing out if they aren’t buying your products or using your services, you’ll create the type of FOMO that won’t be perceived negatively. 

#4 Anger

Did you know anger is the most viral emotion on social media? To some, it might seem surprising, but honestly, I bet you see people online every day who use social media to vent their anger about various things, events, people, etc. Ever since we got a chance to express our emotions on social networks, Internet users have been using it to publicly declare their annoyance or displeasure. That’s why it’s essential to know how to control angry social media users when they come your way. 

If you’re a social media marketer, then you must have stumbled upon an angry follower at some point in time. Whether he was angry because he bought something from you that wasn’t working or if the service at your establishment wasn’t exquisite that day – that person decided to vent out on your Facebook page or Instagram profile. And now every other social media user can see that angry post as well. So it is up to you to deliver a quick, prompt and apologizing reply that will satisfy that person and the brand you are representing. That’s why social media customer service is so extremely important.

Knowing how to communicate with angry social media users is an important technique which requires that you must be responsive and responsible. Take the high road and always apologize for the bad experience someone had with your product or service, even if you think it’s their fault. Explain the situation, and offer a solution. It will help you build a supportive community of followers who will respect and stand by you. By communicating the right way, you have a chance to turn an angry customer into a happy customer. 


The majority of marketers wouldn’t consider themselves psychologists, yet the basic understanding of emotional intelligence and psychology is important if you want to be good in social media marketing. Learning how to leverage the right emotions on social media can help you boost your numbers, whether it’s the number of followers, the number of purchases or some other metrics you find important. Furthermore, it’s also crucial that you know how to contain a negative emotional response from social media users or turn it into a positive experience for them. After all, we are all human, not just some bots who write angry or sad comments online. Be mindful of that next time you are preparing your social media strategy.