Social Psychology Expert Nathalie Nahai Explains Why we Share

In the third session of our series on the psychology of sharing, we (virtually) sat down with Nathalie Nahai, acclaimed web psychologist, author and speaker to pick her brain on how advances in technology might be changing the nature of sharing—or might not be. Author of Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion, Nahai helps businesses apply scientific rigour to their website design, content marketing and products.

In addition to working with companies like Google, eBay, and Harvard Business Review, Nathalie also lectures internationally on the digital application of behavioural sciences and co-hosts the Guardian’s Tech Weekly podcast. We connected with Nathalie via Google Hangout, on a Friday afternoon in London (Friday morning in Austin).

Spredfast: How is video, via social networks, influencing the way businesses market now? Is it increasing our creativity? Is it more or less human?

Nathalie: Video is one of the richest media we have for communicating persuasively with others. Online, a lot of the non-verbal cues we rely on to make sense of an interaction (such as facial expressions, intonation, gestures) get stripped out, so by using video we bring a lot of these elements back into play.

When they're done well, videos can enable us to connect on a more intimate, immediate and emotional level with our customers, which is why they can be a powerful tool for humanising your brand.

Of course, with the increasing demands that are being placed on our attention, it's harder than ever to actually grab, hold, and convert people's attention into useful engagement. So brands who are doing this well are indeed having to find new, provocative and creative ways in which produce video content that works.

S: How can brands and media companies balance being emotional without being opportunistic?

N: It’s a tricky one! A couple of rules of thumb: the first is, whatever your brand values are, make sure you present them through everything you do. If you are a brand that is continuously provocative and people are expecting that, then it’s okay for you to be provocative (although hopefully not distasteful) within your content. But if someone expects your brand to be traditional, and you put out content that’s not quite in line with that expectation, that’s when you get a huge backlash. When someone dies, any brand that seems to be profiting from that will be seen in poor taste.

The other rule of thumb is if you’re providing your users with value, give them something fun or informative, that’s going to make them feel like they’re getting something in return, as opposed to it just abusing their emotion and being click-baity.

S: VR is taking storytelling to the next level, with developers aiming to create a fully immersive experience. How do you envisage this impacting our daily lives?

N: It's hard to say at this stage how pervasive the adoption and impact of VR will be across the various aspects of our lives. There are clear use cases for VR in pornography, gaming, and medical domains, but logistics such as price points and ease-of-use will determine how quickly and widely VR is adopted by society at large.

From a psychological perspective, some initial research suggests that VR can be used to significantly increase empathy as well as pro-social and pro-environmental behaviours, and in the medical world the use of VR games such as SnowWorld have been used effectively to reduce pain sustained from burn injuries, so there is huge potential for good.

S: As humans, have we become desensitized to advertising or does video hold hope for a fresher approach?

N: Generally speaking, we do adapt and become desensitized to adverts over time, with the novelty of the medium wearing off as we habituate to it. Video and VR currently provide the most naturalistic approximation to real-life interaction, so as long as the content and overall experience are engaging, they're still the most psychologically persuasive approaches we have available to us.

S: Much like your formula for a killer headline, is there is a formula in attracting customers to view videos?

N: That's an excellent question - there's no formula as such, but there are a few key ingredients you can use to attract people to view a video. (1) If you're not using auto-play, make sure you use an attention-grabbing thumbnail that will trigger people's curiosity. (2) If it does autoplay, consider using captions, as videos will often start with the sound off (especially if they're embedded on a social platform).

(3) In terms of content, make it emotional, disrupt people's expectations (this can be done through 'pattern interruption'), and (4) test the length so as to ensure you're not losing people before your call to action.

S: Can you tell me more about pattern interruption and the process of disrupting people’s expectations?

N: Pattern interruption is when someone is watching a video and they think they know what’s going to happen next, and then their expectation is subverted. A great example is recently I watched a GEICO advert, where two women walk into a lift with a bald man and then the advert says, “we now fast forward to the end of this ad.” When they walk out, the women are bald, so you think, “What the hell just happened?” The pattern was interrupted, your expectation was just interrupted, and that creates a curiosity of what happened—the brain wants to figure out what just happened. If you have someone’s curiosity, you have their attention.

I think the thing I can point toward in terms of trends would be the way in which people are starting to fracture and fragment in terms of what their needs are online, as well as the increasing desire for things to be encrypted, and the increasing desire for privacy. If there are more ad blockers and people are (for good reasons) hiding their communication through encrypted channels, it’ll be much harder for advertisers and brands to understand what their customer is thinking and how to target them. It will become a recalibration of the power balance between those brands and their customers: the brands will have to show their customers that they can trust them in order to be able to become more intimate with them—sort of like the old-fashioned model of dating.

As a consequence of that, I think different media types are going to be favored, especially video. It’s an emotionally and psychology rich medium, and a medium that’s able to speak to a much wider audience. The universal quality video has won’t be as affected by personalization as other media. The reason it’s less affected is because you can tap into universal principles, things like storytelling around hope or loss or jealousy or pain—there are certain universal elements that bind us all and are shared throughout any human experience.

Interested in hearing more from Nathalie? Catch her live at our Summit Europe in June, or check out her website.

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Jaime Netzer is Spredfast's Senior Content Marketing Manager, leading content operations. A Lawrence, Kansas native, she traded seasons for breakfast tacos seven years ago and hasn't looked back since. Also a fiction writer and journalist, Jaime tweets semi-regularly and reads constantly.