This is my first article in a series of posts that will focus on applying social psychology to social media marketing. Little did I know it at the time, but spending 4 semesters in a social perceptions and behaviors lab in college DID come in useful! (I know, I was shocked too). I’m going to start with the Overjustification Effect
Overjustification Effect, simply put, is a description of what happens when someone offers an external incentive for a behavior already found to be intrinsically rewarding.
Lesson One: Overjustification Effect & Cognitive Evaluation Theory (CET):
Overjustification, or the undermining effect, occurs when an act that is initially driven by intrinsic motivation loses its behavioral grip as it is replaced by an additional, extrinsic motivator.
Take the example of a young child in grade school – his grades are slipping. The parents immediately recall the hyperbolous discourse surrounding positive reinforcement and tell their child, “Son, for every A you get in school, we’ll give you a dollar.”
Seems like a good deal for everyone involved right? The parents successfully motivate their child who, consequently, strives to achieve better results through the remainder of that rigorous second grade curriculum.
But what if the child already liked school – and thus was already motivated to succeed?
Sounds crazy, I know. But what if…? Well, social psychology would tell us that if the child initially enjoyed learning on its own merit, the subsequent external monetary reward would, while boosting performance in the short-term, also act to devalue the initial motivating factor – the child’s innate affinity for academia.
Now, I ‘m not going to protest the concept of positive reinforcement (surely, it beats corporal punishment) and I certainly can’t argue with years of successful marketing that tells us these types of external rewards (often in the form of deceptive or pseudo-monetary coupons, rebates, points, free samples, contest entries…etc) can influence behavior. I will, however, assert that any impact these endeavors have will be short term, and, when used within the social media landscape, are antithetical to the inherent functionality and opportunity afforded by these social platforms and the brand-consumer interactions they facilitate.
Case in point, Fan Woody. I’ve spoken out against this campaign before, so I won’t go into detail here, except as it illustrates my point and typifies an industry-wide failing. That is to say, TGI Friday’s created a fictional character (also an adversative notion when dealing with social media – which generally serves to augment the human-esque qualities in a brand, as opposed to extending its shadowy anonymity, seemingly embodied in the creation of fictitious characters like Woody), who proclaimed, “Become my fan and get a free burger!”
These sorts of brands propositions can yield a large influx of new fans – short-term, albeit deceptive & superficial, success. These new fans are not brand advocates. They are not invested in the organization. They signed up to get free shit.
I don’t think I need to ramble and rant about quality vs quantity here, but I will (I’ll keep it short, don’t worry).
When advising brands on how to manage a twitter account, the question of ROI always comes up, and it’s intricately linked to the management strategy, specifically, how you decide with whom you should follow and engage. The concern often regards numbers – “But I can only talk to X amount of people a day,” “There are a million people mentioning my brand, how do I determine which ones I should follow?” “How many followers should we aim to have at the end of the campaign?”
This is where I scoff pretentiously and say, you would rather have 1000 followers that are excited to interact with you and actively advocate for your brand, than have 10,000 followers who you garnered by giving away a free vacation to someone who used your hashtag. [Again, not trying to say these types of promotions don’t have their place – they do, and it’s usually when launching an account and should be designed to raise awareness. But that’s all – and that’s not usually necessary for big – household name – brands.]
So what about when you’re not launching a campaign or raising awareness for a new social media presence? What about the preexisting fans and followers – the ones who decided to interact with a brand on social platforms because they actually like the brand – the products, the philosophy, what it stands for? The ones social media is really all about.
Well, all that goes out the window when extrinsic drivers usurp those, valuable, authentic, sincere, innate motivators. A consumer can relate to a producer based on that organization’s brand, not overtly obvious tactics designed to influence purchasing behaviors. The consumers that relate to your brand are the ones that will advocate for you and are therefore the people to whom your efforts should cater, at least insofar as that you don’t abuse their patronage or dismiss their value in light of the appealing and alluring mega-growth (read: meaningless numbers) factor.
Based on the overjustification principal, I would go so far as to say that superficial external rewarding hinders the true potential that social media offers to brands. By actively devaluing the intrinsic motivation that drives consumers to fan or follow (or otherwise engage and interact with) brands (and their content) in the first place, there is a conscious sacrifice of quality for the sake of quantity. Artificial, manufactured growth via fast and easy methods in lieu of the organic growth achieved by brand evangelists who can, and do, influence their peers and legitimately impact consumer behaviors.
The idea of rewarding and incenting behavior probably predates any formal study marketing. However, in my opinion, gimmicky rewards have become so commonplace in social media marketing, too often are brands relying on them as long term strategies instead of for what they actually are, namely, conversation starters.
If I am going to follow a brand on twitter or fan one on Facebook, 9 times out of 10 it’s because I am already familiar with the brand and wish to augment my relationship with that brand by adding a social dimension. The benefits of such an enhanced association can include customer loyalty & CRM programs that may be partially comprised of para-monetary rewards. But when brands offer up nonsocial incentives, like TGI Friday’s now infamous Fan Woody campaign, as the basis for the interaction, yes – there is an instant and tangible ROI – but they lose out on what social platforms do best – connect brand lovers – active, consumers evangelists, with the brands they love and feel connected to.
So I beseech the marketing community – enough with the gimmicks. If you want real results, focus on enhancing the users experience with your brand, offer utility and content that allows the consumer to get the most out of their relationship with you, programs that have something to do with why these individuals are real life fans of your brand to being with.
This is what I’ve gleaned from my personal, professional, and academic experiences. But what about you? Do your experiences as a marketer speak differently? Do your experiences as a consumer reflect what I’ve discussed here?