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6 psychology principles for striking social media design

Good social media marketing doesn’t just depend on high-quality images and witty captions. There are psychological reasons that make someone click like, share, or even decide to make a purchase from your page.

Understanding these psychological drivers means that savvy marketers can use them to drive more engagement and activity on their social media posts. While the methods used are not obvious to the page visitor, they can spur users to take action without fully understanding why.

Try some of these psychological principles in your next social media posts.

1. The isolation effect

People are more likely to remember the one element of an image that is highlighted especially if it is against a uniform or unified collection of other elements. Think about a ball pool, filled with plastic balls which are all blue, with one yellow ball in the middle of the rest. Which is your eye drawn to? The yellow ball of course. This is just one example of the isolation effect and it can be used to great advantage if you want to highlight a particular product or item on your social media posts.

Placing your next top-selling item or featured product amid a collection of similar items will make it stand out all the more to your users. This can be a great way to focus attention on one specific product for a sale or a seasonal bargain. The item which stands out by looking different from the rest is far more likely to be remembered as it makes a stark contrast in comparison to the rest of the image.

The more the item stands out the more memorable it will be so sharply contrasting colors like black and white or blue and yellow will work best. This can also be achieved to some degree with shapes. A hexagon in a field of squares or a triangle amid a background of circles will make for eye-catching content, and if combined with the color principles to highlight the item even further the result can be very effective.

Fun fact: the isolation effect is also known as the Von Restorff Effect.

2. Serial Positioning

The human brain is wired to best remember the first or last item in a series or sequence. Marketers can use this to their advantage when designing social media posts for companies to advertise products or services, and this psychological design principle can work really well with specific formats.

Instagram, for example, allow scrolling posts, called carousel posts to be uploaded to a user’s feed. A series of slides can be made with appealing graphical elements to convey news, updates, or information to the page visitor. For ecommerce users or companies who wish to advertise their range of products carousel post work very well.

But if there are a couple of items that need to stand out above the rest, then serial positioning will help with focus. As the first and last items have the highest chance of being remembered, best-selling or high-profit items should be placed at the beginning and end of the sequence.

Serial positioning also works well with video content or live posts for companies or ecommerce businesses that are advertising goods or running promotions. Emphasis can be placed on the first and last products mentioned in the posts.

3. Hick’s Law

You may not have heard of it, but you will most certainly have experienced the effects of Hick’s Law at some point in your life. This law states that the time it takes to make a decision is impacted by the number and complexity of choices available. Or in simple terms, presenting too many choices or options will leave the user in a dilemma and possibly lead them to be overwhelmed and abandon making any decision at all.

Keeping options simple is far more likely to lead to outcomes. This is why many salespeople close a deal using an ‘alternate close’. They present 2 options, then ask the customer, “Which one works best for you? Option 1 or option 2” When faced with only 2 possible selections the customer is far more likely to choose one or the other, without having to deliberate over multiple possibilities.

Using Hick’s Law in social media posts can help content creators to make a better UX journey for the user, keeping things smooth and simple. It may help your follower decide whether to make a purchase from you or to click a link and send you their information. Minimising the number of available choices prevents confusion and indecision.

4. Cognitive Load

Information overload is never conducive to a good user experience or UX journey. Sharing too much information at once tends to mean that important points get lost. People can only memorize or process a finite amount of information at once, and if an abundance of facts or data is presented, the user will only retain fragmented pieces.

Thinking about cognitive load can be helpful for social media marketers who want to design clean and concise posts. This is why elements like bulleted lists work so well, delivering short, sharp bursts of information that cut through the noise and is easily retained. Graphics and words which are crammed together or attempt to convey too much information at the same time are likely to be ineffective as the cognitive load is too much.

As well as making posts look messy and poorly designed, the heavy cognitive load will result in users finding posts unclear or disorganized, making them scroll right past your content. As part of good UX design, the cognitive load will need to be minimized to make social media posts

5. Aesthetic Useability

Humans are visual creatures. Along with other senses like touch, or taste, experiencing the world visually is one of the primary ways that we interpret and understand the world around us. Millions of impulses are sent along our neural pathways every day and converted into thoughts, images, or decisions.

It is no coincidence that phrases like ‘seeing is believing’ are so common. Our visual interpretation of things causes us to form ideas about the subject or things we are looking at. That is why visual clarity and quality is so important in social media design from a UX and psychological standpoint.

If something looks good, users will perceive that it works better and more efficiently – even if it doesn’t. Read that again! As intelligent as we think we are, the truth is that we are swayed by things that look or appear aesthetically pleasing. This perception is used to its full extent on TV or internet ads with colors, lighting, and tones all combine to make a sumptuous visual which will entice us to buy – even if the item is a box of chocolates or a lawnmower.

Aesthetic useability is a psychological principle that can be easily used with social media content. Making posts look as rich and attractive as possible will increase the likelihood of clicks and shares, and will hold the users attention for longer.

6. Psychology of colors

Colors and their psychological effects are used so frequently in everyday life that we almost don’t notice. It is no coincidence that certain medical facilities or hospitals are usually painted a soothing blue, or a healing green. By the same token, when a warning is to be communicated or attention is needed, strong colors like yellows and reds are used to catch the user’s eye.

Color psychology is effective when used with social media content to support the message being shared, and depending on the effect desired, different colors will create different responses and emotions.

Here is a list of colors and the kind of feelings they can elicit.

Red is one of the strongest colors on the spectrum and is associated with passionate or strong confident feelings. It is a color which can convey good and bad emotions. On one end of the scale red represents love; think red love hearts or red roses, and on the other, it can show anger or hostility.

Orange is an extremely warm and welcoming color which is used frequently by restaurants or convivial establishments. Its is the color that inspires people to stay for longer with its feelings of cozy acceptance. It can also create a feeling of anticipation and excitement.

Historically, yellow has been used as a color of warning and information. Many road signs are designed with black lettering on a yellow background to draw the eye and alert drivers to potential hazards or problems. However, yellow also has an opposite meaning. Reminiscent of the sun and sunshine it conveys warmth, lightness and joy. It is a happy color and has been used more commonly in the last few years for social media profiles, content, and website design.

Green is the color of the outdoors and nature. Plants, trees, and grass are all green and the color represents the natural living world. It can represent calmness or feelings of fresh renewal, or it may indicate inexperience, quite literally; being green. It is also the color most closely associated with money. If you take a look online you will see that many financial or trading platforms often use green as their primary brand color.

The most calming color of all is blue, depending on the shade used it can be soothing and calming. Stronger blues are frequently used in corporate branding as they communicate feelings of trust and security. On the negative end, blue can be associated with melancholy or sadness. Hence the reason for expressions like ‘Monday morning blues’.

Majestic and inspirational, purple has been the color worn by royalty for centuries. It is also a mysterious color that has associations with magic and spirituality. It is also synonymous with extravagance, wealth and luxury along with self-reflection and growth.

The color of the earth. Brown is associated with solid stability, wood and soil are brown and the color represents strong and reliable foundations. Some well-known companies use brown as part of their branding. Organizations like delivery companies and security businesses often use brown to convey their dependability. Softer browns are used for companies like bakers or catering businesses.

Youth and freshness are represented by the color pink. As a feminine color it is commonly used by fashion websites and beauty businesses as part of their corporate branding. Stronger pinks have become popular to make a more dynamic and stronger pink that is used with younger, modern brands. On the negative side, pink can sometimes be seen as weak or even immature.

If pink is feminine then grey is undeniably masculine. Many male-orientated businesses and fashion houses use greys in their branding. It is a strong yet neutral color that suggests balance. Negative aspects of grey include grief and depression.

Cool and modern or mystery and mourning. The color black represents and means different things to different people. Many websites and platforms have embraced black in recent years adding optional ‘dark modes’ to their software. Black is a versatile color which can be used as a contrast to offset or enhance many other colors.

The polar opposite of black is white and the color traditionally reflected wholeness and purity. It is the color worn by brides on their wedding day. White brings clarity and simplicity and like black, it can be used as a contrast or a compliment to most other colors. Combining colors with white brings a clear and light feel and it is used in digital design for website and social media post backgrounds to highlight foreground elements clearly.

How to combine psychological design elements in social media posts

If this all seems like a lot of information to remember, don’t worry. If you examine your past social media feeds you will most likely see that you have been using many of the factors mentioned already. That is because we understand many of these psychological principles unconsciously and without thinking about them too deeply.

But if you look at your post and the design elements used, you will probably discover that you have used red to grab attention or highlight a sale, or maybe you have incorporated a bulleted list to quickly share important information with your followers.

If you outsource your post creation to a social media management company, then they will be aware of the graphic design and psychological UX principles too and use them to make your content really pop.

Combining these elements will make your posts stand out while generating a desired response or action in your users. Being aware of the effects of each principle means that you can use them to underpin your content.

Depending on what you want to post, the colors and components shown on your feed will generate different responses, and when used correctly, psychological principles help you gain a real advantage.

Psychological social media to improve brand presence

You may be questioning whether all this can help your social media presence or improve your reach and engagement. The answer is that is absolutely does. Studies which show how the human brain responds to stimuli and reacts to certain visual components reveal the response and interactions generated.

Research results that gain an understanding of the human psyche are responsible for many of the principles mentioned in this article. Principles that over the years have been used in psychology and educations, which now may be leveraged to formulate compelling and engaging social media content. Companies which have embraced the use of psychology within their broader marketing plan have seen positive results and better user engagement driven by the use of appealing factors.

Even if this seems like it may be unrealistic, it is important to remember that social media is closely aligned with our reward system. Regular social media users receive a dopamine hit from certain online activities and intelligent marketers understand how to use that in their campaigns.

Social media is powerful, it shapes identity and self-perception, especially among Millenial and Gen X users who grew up with social sharing as part of their development. Tapping into the channels and capitalising on the connections already present means that brands can drive a strong and tempting message when using the right psychological tactics.

Reach is broader, brand recognition is more prevalent, and companies can effectively support and align with the principles of their target customer base by promoting the right kind of social media content. Sharing posts that make full use of psychological principles drives deeper brand message with better penetration.

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