Why Surprise Is Your Secret Weapon in Social Media Marketing

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

There are a lot of potential “secret weapons” you could have in social media marketing. Maybe you’re using a platform that your competitors haven’t found yet, or a tool that cuts your effort in half , or maybe you have a posting rhythm that seems to get more engagements than other variants.

All these things are helpful, but there’s one emotional factor that can boost your campaign’s effectiveness more than any of these incremental improvements: surprise. Surprising your readers adds a number of benefits to your campaign, if you know how to do it right.

So why is surprise so effective, and how can you use it to your advantage?

Surprise: The Intensifier

It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that surprise, as an emotion, functions as a psychological amplifier. It’s why surprising punchlines tend to make jokes funnier. It’s why an innocent-looking mannequin can suddenly seem intensely frightening. It’s why we’re angrier at people who take us off guard than those whose actions function as more of a slow burn.

Emotional intensity is valuable for anything you’re trying to accomplish; whatever your goals are for your target audience, more intense is better. If you want them to feel sad, make them feel depressed. If you want them to laugh, cripple them with laughter.

Dopamine and Bonding

Surprise releases dopamine in the brain, which is usually a good thing; dopamine is a feel-good chemical that’s released when eating, embracing, having sex, or engaging in some other pleasurable activity. On the darker side, it’s associated with addiction — but you probably won’t have to worry about people getting addicted to your brand. Instead, you can focus on making your customers experience “feel good” sensations when they engage with your brand.

Along these lines, dopamine is associated with bond formation. Usually, this is relegated to friends or relatives, but experiencing regular releases of dopamine when engaging with a particular brand could help solidify relationships between brands and their audiences.

Novelty and Memory

Do you ever get home from your daily commute and have absolutely no recollection of making it? That’s because our brains are better at forming memories of novel experiences, rather than predictable ones. Your commute doesn’t change much from day to day, so there’s no point for your brain to take up valuable space in remembering it.

Instead, completely novel experiences — like ones that take you by surprise — are more likely to be stored. This means that any content or posts you produce will be more likely to be remembered by your target audience than ones with predictable messages.

Competitive Differentiation

If you want your marketing campaign to be successful, you need to find a way to differentiate it from everything else like it. If your audience can’t distinguish between your brand and those of your competitors, your messaging won’t stand out, and their buying decision will come down to a coin toss.

The way to make your business stand out is by giving your users things they wouldn’t expect; surprise them with facts, information, and types of entertainment they aren’t getting from other pockets of your industry. It will pay off with more engagements and higher brand recognition.

The Urge to Share

People who experience surprise are more likely to share that experience with others, which makes surprise a wonderful tool if your social following is inactive. Think about the last time you heard a hilarious joke you didn’t see coming — didn’t you want to share it with someone else, almost immediately?

And the last time you heard a shocking statistic — you probably made a mental note to discuss it with someone later. Surprise is contagious, which means if you’re able to surprise your followers effectively, you’ll have higher rates of sharing and further distribution for your content.

Practical Tips for Surprising Your Followers

All this sounds nice, but what steps can you actually take to surprise your followers? I recommend pursuing three main areas, or types of surprises:

· Offer new information. Your first option is to offer information your audience doesn’t know, doesn’t suspect, and hasn’t heard before. For example, you may reveal information in a new study that confirms kale is actually bad for your health. In this type of surprise, you’ll need to be sure that your information is actually valid; if you’re found to sensationalize information of questionable accuracy, your audience members will lose trust in your brand.

· Play off type. You could also surprise your readers by doing something unexpected, or playing against your usual brand “type.” For example, Wendy’s recently started making fun of its followers and commenters on Twitter. The extremity of this strategy makes it questionable to imitate, but there’s no denying the surprise people felt when reading these jokes was a major determining factor in the campaign’s success.

· Add a twist. Finally, take something “usual” and add a twist to it. It could be a surprise ending to a viral video, or a conventional post format that you flip on its head. I’m intentionally vague with this area because there are so many different directions you can take it.

Surprises are valuable marketing tools, so long as you don’t use them as gimmicks. Going for cheap surprises, or using surprises too often could leave your followers feeling manipulated or exhausted. But if used sparingly and strategically, surprises can easily take your campaign to new heights of engagement.




CEO of EmailAnalytics (emailanalytics.com), a productivity tool that visualizes team email activity, and measures email response time. Check out the free trial!

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Jayson DeMers

Jayson DeMers

CEO of EmailAnalytics (emailanalytics.com), a productivity tool that visualizes team email activity, and measures email response time. Check out the free trial!

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