Psychology of Social Media – Brand Intimacy

Psychology of Social Media – Brand Intimacy

This is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart.

Actually, it is at the heart of my work.

The Psychology of Social Media.

When you read those words, you immediately think of “How people behave online“, “What makes people click on the Like or Share button?”, “What makes people Follow others?”, “What makes people Engage with content?”, “How are people affected through their everyday online engagement?”, etc.

Of course, the Psychology of Social Media is more than that and it is multi-dimensional.

It is a very interesting to see how people consume content and how brands prepare and present that content (type, time, frequency, colors, design, etc.).
Moreover, it is interesting to see how they turn consumers into customers by appealing to what affects their buying decisions – emotions. Brand Intimacy.

It is all based on Psychology.

Social Media engagement through the aforementioned reward-activating actions such as Like, Share, Follow, etc. releases dopamine – you know, the happy chemical in your brain directly connected to feelings of pleasure and reward – causing a sense of recognition, acknowledgement, connection, delight, gratification, etc. in people.

As explained in an Infographic by Digital Marketing Information World “we like on Social Media because we want to maintain relationships. We also create a reciprocity effect. We feel obliged to give back to people who have given to us, even in a small way”.

Why We Like, Comment, and Share On Social Media - Infographic
Infographic courtesy of:

We feel connected.
We feel a closeness.
We feel what is known as digital ambient intimacy.

What is digital ambient intimacy?

Digital Intimacy means being present, mindful and aware of your audience… having a sense of “ambient (or social) awareness”as social scientists name it, were there is a connection with and cognizance of the state of the other person through constant contact…in this case, via social media.

In their 2016 study “Ambient intimacy on Twitter”, Lin, R., Levordashka, A., & Utz, S. explain that:

Science writer Thompson (2008) used the term “ambient intimacy” to describe the phenomenon in which people feel a sense of closeness with strangers that they follow for a while on Twitter. From our perspective, ambient intimacy is not restricted to illusionary relationships, with a stranger or a celebrity; it might also play an important role in keeping existing relationships such as with former classmates or colleagues, from fading. Therefore, similar to the definition of ambient awareness, we conceptualize ambient intimacy as a feeling of closeness that is developed in a peripheral way (through constant and regular reception and/or interaction through social media).”

In his 2017 PSMag article “How Ambient Intimacy Became So Overwhelming” Kyle Chayka points out the congruent sides of this term:

“Ambient Intimacy”… “The two sides of the coinage are paradoxical: they balance out or push against each other insistently. “Intimacy” is close-up, emotional, connected symbolically to all of the aspects of ourselves we keep private. “Ambient” is ephemeral and diffuse, a word used to describe things that are hazy (see: ambient music).”

Today, digital intimacy has seen a growth in the level to which it happens as the information exchange in the digital world via social media has increased exponentially. Consequently that feeling of closeness has also been amplified.

But this is not only a person to person affect.

People experience this form of emotional connection with brands as well and base themselves on this bond (and feelings of trust and loyalty) to make buying decisions. As stated by Gerald Zaltman 95% of buying decisions are based on emotion (Harvard Business School)… which brings about the topic of Brand Intimacy.

What is Brand Intimacy?

Mario Natarelli author of “Brand Intimacy: A New Paradigm in Marketing” (with co-author Rina Plapler) defines Brand Intimacy as:

“…the science of how we bond with the brands we use and love. These bonds are reciprocal and are fueled by emotion. Brands that build stronger bonds create stronger business return and longevity.” (Forbes Interview by Kate Harrison)

Brand Intimacy analyzes the level of emotional connection between a brand and their consumers, which ultimately directs a consumer’s buying decision. The higher the level of ‘love’ for the brand, the stronger the consumer is set on buying from that specific brand and the less likely to change to another one.

Some of the key factors in the Brand Intimacy Model as stated in Natarelli’s (2018) article “The Principles Of Brand Intimacy” are:

Being a user: To be intimate with a brand, you need to have repeatedly tried it or be engaged with it. Think of this in terms of human relationships; you cannot be intimate with someone you don’t know.

Strong emotional connection: Emotional connection is at the heart of Brand Intimacy and aligns with all we’ve learned about decision making from neuroscience and behavioral science. To start an intimate brand relationship, a consumer must exhibit a strong emotional connection with a brand. Not everyone who has an emotional connection with a brand is necessarily intimate with it; however, everyone who is intimate with a brand has a strong emotional connection.

Archetypes: Six patterns or markers are consistently present, in part or in whole, among intimate relationships. They identify the nature and character of these relationships. A factor analysis from our quantitative research validated and refined the archetypes, which were discovered through our earlier qualitative work. We observed how people explained and defined their close brand relationships, and over and over the same types of words and experiences were used to explain the bond a person felt with a brand. The more we reviewed these, the more we realized these markers were among the most effective tools to leverage in building brand intimacy. The six archetypes are: fulfillment, identity, enhancement, ritual, nostalgia and indulgence.

Stages: These measure the depth and degree of intensity of intimate relationships. Each of our three stages (sharing, bonding and fusing) comprises a number of emotional and rational milestones that are achieved when brand relationships become more intimate. People might vacillate between two stages before moving forward; some stages, due to a variety of potential factors, might move faster or slower than others. These stages of brand intimacy are grounded in psychology and have been further corroborated by our quantitative research with consumers.

Brand Intimacy Quotient: This is a score out of 100 assigned to any brand that is part of our Brand Intimacy research. The score is a shorthand way to compare brands within and across categories, as well as to identify a brand’s performance in terms of generating brand intimacy. (For example, in our most recent study, Apple was the highest ranked intimate brand, with a score of 77.) The score is based on prevalence (the percent of intimate users a brand has), as well as degree of intensity of the stages.

Intimate Brands

Any brand of any size can apply the principles of brand intimacy to succeed. Essentially this involves building deeper and stronger bonds with stakeholders by leveraging emotion and reciprocity. This requires examining the bonds a brand currently has with its priority audiences and assessing their strength. It also requires a brand to be grounded in a strategy that enables it to forge powerful emotional connections and has design and communications that resonate with the right audiences and invite engagement. Managing a brand effectively and optimizing the marketing mix is key to ensure its channels and campaigns are aligned and relevant.

The MBLM Brand Intimacy Report (2019) shows how companies ranked in Brand Intimacy (U.S.A).

The top 10 out of almost 400 presented in the report are:

1. Disney
2. Apple
3. Amazon
4. Chevrolet
5. Netflix
6. Harley-Davidson
7. PlayStation
8. Youtibe
9. Ford
10. Chick-fil-A

Download the report here
Check out the Ranking tools here

As stated in HubSpot’s analysis of the Brand Intimacy report (2018) the advantages presented in Revenue and Profit based on Brand Intimacy are:

• Provides greater price resilience (as consumers move from non-intimate to highly intimate (fusing), so does their willingness to pay a premium for the brand. They are willing to pay 20% more for brand)
• Centers on emotion, which drives behavior and willingness to purchase
• Encompasses latest advances in neuroscience and the science of decision-making
• Measures and details our emotional connections with the brands we use and love
• Customer-centric and based on reciprocity
• Leverages technology to establish an ecosystem for building bonds

see more here

However, where does a brand start to understand all this?

Natarelli suggests 10 steps to assessing Brand Intimacy in a 2018 Marketing Journal interview by Christian Sarkar:

• Examine the bonds your brand builds

• Articulate and motivate through your brand essence

• Align your brand and your cultural values

• Design and communicate for today’s aesthetic sensibilities

• Manage your brand and foster your marketing community like an operating system

• Drive your brand to inform and please customers in every interaction

• Use the proliferation of devices and platforms as an ally

• See your brand as a community and yourself as the activities coordinator

• Don’t let the deluge of data drown out the signal from the noise

• Create and sustain ultimate brand relationships

As established, brand intimacy is essential to the appeal that brands have on consumers, their preference for their products or services and consequently their purchase. Many factors play a role in establishing this bond. No matter how big or small the brand is, companies are becoming more and more aware of the need to focus on being more consumer oriented and creating and nurturing these connections, aiming for a maximized return.

In conclusion, and as said by Meghan Keaney Anderson (HubSpot VP of Marketing):

“We feel close with the companies and technologies that have become engrained in the way we live our lives.”

Would love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comment section!

Good vibes only and have a great day!

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  2 comments for “Psychology of Social Media – Brand Intimacy

  1. Sabrina Cadini
    June 28, 2019 at 12:51 am

    What a fantastic post, Natasha! Filled with extensive research and information.
    I enjoyed reading about brand intimacy, and I agree that it is necessary to create and nurture the relationship with the customers, to create the perfect customer experience


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