Seven ways to persuade and stay popular simultaneously on social media

What it takes to be popular and persuade simultaneously on social media sites (I often don’t take this advice…lol, and likely suffer because of it!):

1. Be direct if your statement doesn’t matter or is harmlessly snarky, but be indirect if you want to deal with anything of substance:

People like “authenticity” when it doesn’t matter, or when it is a universally held value – “I love my mom and I’m not ashamed!” People love that stuff. But people often just don’t like direct substance. Say something like, “I am a Liberal Republican Green Party advocate and I’m not ashamed!” and you will narrow your audience, and even make some likeminded folks think, “oh that guy is too harsh (…and maybe a little crazy – what’s a liberal republican green…what?)” Potentially divisive statements are too, well first too divisive, too worrisome, too unsafe and too stressful. When people are being pummeled with media 24/7 it makes sense that they would like the constant blows to be soft and fuzzy.

 2. Employ narrative or semiotic/symbolic messaging:

I think people feel like facts or real debate is like a sharp object – difficult to handle and only effective for cutting really. If you want to persuade those who might disagree with whatever you’re saying, you need to hide the proverbial needles in stuffed animals and candy (I, of course, am not promoting putting needles in candy – it is simply an allegory. A horrible allegory! lol – but I suppose it does the job). Hollywood has used this trick … since I’ve been alive. Why? Because it’s so darn effective. If your goal is general popularity and potential persuasion then symbols, narrative, humor or tissue-box stories and the like with a message will keep people from hitting the “unfriend” button…most of the time. If you want to narrow your audience to just supporters, give them hard facts.

3. Use cultural tropes:

Even if you hate “The Big Bang Theory,” saying “Penny,” knock-knock-knock, “Penny,” knock-knock-knock, “Penny,” or even better, find a GIF of that little trope, and all of the sudden you’re speaking the symbolic language of popular culture. Paul did this in the Bible with false Gods in Athens, we can do the same with cultural touchstones (note: the “Penny” knock… is actually an outdated trope – but I’m a bit outdated – hopefully it illustrates the point though).

4. Be relational and co-create with your audience:

Welcome people into co-creating your message with you and be open with them, and they will potentially open up to you and join you in your message/cause/brand/blog/whatever. Even though Millennials and digitally savvy folks often have hundreds, if not thousands of “friends,” they often still feel lonely. They want to connect and feel connected. Really that’s what you want to, so make your content relational in any way possible – from the style of your writing and producing to taking the time to respond to posts and more.

5. Connect your message to a cause:

There are universal values that all of humanity seems to share – things like, “it is good to feed hungry people” or “it is good to end slavery,” or many other moral causes. If you can connect your message/brand to a cause like one of these people will be more likely to support you because you support the cause. This also creates an emotional connection that goes much deeper than the surface relationships that are most common in this age. People crave that depth, they crave meaning – if you can give them meaning and depth, they will support you if at all possible.

6. Make them feel smart for agreeing with you/affirm your audience:

Note: this is usually accomplished through narrative means. People generally like feeling smart. They likely have a life that gives them little affirmation and a decent amount of critical input. So pat them on the back in any way you can. Like all of the great brands – Apple chief among them – if someone feels like their decision to read your content/buy your thing/believe your proposition/etc., if they feel like that decision was a great choice, like they both differentiated themselves from people who are not quite as smart (didn’t make the choice yet) and connected themselves with people who are smart like them now, you’ll gain loyalty and often advocacy.

 7. Give stuff away – and yes, your content is often a gift: 

This method hits several of the above points: it is positive, it is relational (when I give you something you naturally want to give something back) and it affirms your readers/customers/whatever. If you’ve got the backing to actually give stuff away that goes even further to “add value” to your message/brand/whatever, but your content in itself is a gift if you actually create something original that solves some sort of problem in your reader/consumer/whatever’s life. Solving a problem could be something as simple as providing a new insight, or something as complex as providing instructions for something…complex. Solving a problem could also be simply providing a relationship or pseudo relationship for your reader. Any way you can add value to your readership will at the least make you valuable to them to the level of your gift, and at most will greatly increase your perceived value (and of course we can totally miss the mark too, thinking we’re adding value when we’re not…hopefully this blog post doesn’t fit in the miss category!)

Well, that’s it for now. I hope I was able to give you at least a nugget or two that you consider valuable. You made it to the end – I commend you! In this world of 140 character statements, memes and the like reading an article to the end really shows that you’re a deep thinker. Thank you for joining with me in co-creating knowledge here on my blog. What are your thoughts about what it takes to be popular and persuasive using social media? Hopefully we can build a community of powerful content creators here who can help each other along the bumpy road to relevance in this ever-changing digital world. Every time you click on one of my stories a portion of the proceeds goes to an amazing cause – so thank you again for the clicks if nothing else! 😉

(Did that work? – I actually meant everything except the clicks for a cause part, this blog has no ads (yet) and thus is not monetized/no proceeds – I was trying to illustrate just a little. Again, I really appreciate your readership and really would like to hear your thoughts about what it takes to be popular and persuasive using social media! Thanks!)

Finch works as a professor and student media adviser at Lee University. He writes about digital media, journalism and the intersection of media and faith. All rights reserved. shot 3 Mike

2 thoughts on “Seven ways to persuade and stay popular simultaneously on social media

  1. Hi Mike, I like your list because it shows how the difference in the way I think from other people.
    1. I hate it when someone gives me a gift to set me up to give them something. I hate manipulation in general. We have a NYC sales group who sold us special sidewalk salt 7 years ago. They keep trying to send me a stupid little gift and then remind me of it every time they try to sell me more salt.
    2. Narrative I do like and use (see #1)
    3. I am almost ALWAYS direct. I’m married to someone who uses indirect constantly and we drove each other crazy until we figured it out. I might have said, “Do you want to go out to dinner tonight?” and she would hear it as indirectly saying, “I want to go out to dinner tonight, would that be ok?” She would ask me if I wanted to go out to dinner and I’d directly say, “No” and she’d think I was doing a power play to over rule her.

    So if you are saying that millennials are mostly indirect people then I’m going to have to adjust to not have them think I’m crazy or overly prickly.

    Question, do those same millennials dislike it when I ASK them direct questions so I have facts with which to work. Indirect people drive me crazy when they won’t be specific enough for me to know what they mean.

    4. This is a pretty good list, Mike. Did you make it up yourself? If so that is quite impressive. What else do you have?

    5. Psalm 145:4 speaks of one generation telling the story to the next. But Acts 13:36 says that David served his own generation. So the question I wrestle with often is when to let it go and let the next generation speak to itself while I go have fun.

    • Hi!

      You make a good point about the “guilt gifts” that some places employ – that’s not really what I was talking about. I think you can push valuable content on people (as they can take it or leave it) but actual gifts need to be “opportunities” – things they discover or that you only share with certain opinion leaders, etc. This generation sees through guilt giving, but if they perceive that you are trying to sort of…show them you have something valuable and invite (so it is their choice) them to enjoy it with you – then they will appreciate it (and you will have developed relationship too).

      As for the always direct – this is a choice really, and sometimes an effective one, but generally this narrows the population of your following/those who “like” whatever you’re saying to those who agree. But if you can tell a story, or share a symbolic reality that communicates your point, but doesn’t say it outright, then you will not scare away those who don’t agree with you already. They might not agree with you after your message either, but they won’t feel the “us and them” reaction that is so pervasive these days.

      Millennials are really just like any other generation – and they generally appreciate authenticity more though. My answer for interpersonal relating (not so much online unless it is backed with an interpersonal relationship already) is show that you authentically care, and then just see the person as a person. Online with a “public” you are dealing with a mass audience that you are trying to persuade into a parasocial relationship with you (like people relating to TV characters). You have to be narrative and symbolic with your relatedness because really it is a mass audience. Individually you can really show empathy and concern – and that is a fantastic culture bridge!

      For your last thought, I’m not sure exactly what you mean. If I was trying to tell my story to the next generation my job would be twofold – work to find culture symbols that cross generational boundaries (anything from movie illustrations to actual symbols to music, etc.) and, with the humility of a non-native speaker, try to speak their language. Then I would work to show relevance – how does this “add value” to them? Why should they care? If you can show them that what you are sharing has value and show the effort to speak in their language, and really still show that you care – then the message will be more powerful. For anyone else reading this – pray too! 🙂

      And yes – this list is original. Some of it comes from all of the reading I have done in this area, but some of it is purely original. Thanks for the compliment!

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