The 6 Pillars Of Social Commerce: Understanding The Psychology Of Engagement

In the age of social networking, relevant engagement counts for everything.


Social media is about social science, not technology. As such, its value is not realized in the Likenomics of relationship status nor in the scores individuals earn by engaging in social networks. The value of social media comes down to people, relationships, and the meaningful actions between them.


The exchange of social currencies contribute to one’s capital within each network. Through conversations, what we share, and the content we create, consume, and curate, we individually invest in the commerce of information and the relationships that naturally unfold. It is in how these relationships take shape that is both in and out of your control. This is why, in the age of social networking, relevant engagement counts for everything.

One of the greatest myths in new media is that social networks facilitate conversations about you that would not otherwise take place if your organization weren’t present. As such, some business leaders believe that creating a presence in social networks eventually erodes the control of the brand, risking the governance they’ve theoretically held on to so triumphantly over the years. So, if that logic holds, by not engaging in social networks or by sharing only one dimension of your business online, you can control what people think and say. Well, this always seems to come as a surprise to those who think otherwise, but the truth is that new media did not “invent” conversations, experiences, or opinions. It seems imprudent and perhaps commonsensical to say, but the truth is actually the contrary to popular belief.

The control you think you lose by opening up to online engagement actually gives you a sense of control. While we are measured by our actions and words. We are also measured by our inaction and silence. Once you understand what people say and don’t say, how they connect, what they share, how they discover and make decisions, and who influences them and who they influence, a blueprint for engagement emerges. People will always talk with or without you. The questions you have to answer are, “What do you want them to say and What do you want them to do?”

The A.R.T. of Engagement

In social media and online engagement, the social sciences of psychology, anthropology, communication, economics, human geography, et al., are essential in building meaningful relationships and influencing mutually beneficial behavior. This means that you as a CMO, a new media or creative strategist, or an engineer of user experiences, must first articulate and ultimately design what it is you want the user experience to emulate or evoke.


I refer to the concept of social architecture as the A.R.T. of Engagement where actions, reactions, and transactions become the fabric of holistic and connected experiences. It’s not as easy as deploying campaigns and landing pages. The click path, the outcomes, and the stated value must be optimized, efficient, and worthy of sharing. This is where social science, and in particular, psychology comes in. Unlike the traditional web, social media is a very emotional landscape where people are at the center of their own egosystem. You must design an experience that captivates the mind or feeds likely emotions to affect desirable behavior in a given context.

The Psychology of Social Commerce

The importance of social psychology can not be overstated. This branch of psychology deals with how people think about influence and how individuals relate to one another. In Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and every other network, the social economy within each is defined by how people earn and spend social capital. Based on the commerce of actions, words, and intentions (or actions, reactions, and transactions), individuals contribute to their stature not only within each network, but among those to whom they’re connected. The same is true for organizations. You earn the relationships and the resulting stature that you deserve.

I recently stumbled across a rather interesting infographic that visually communicates the psychology of social commerce. The graphic was inspired by a series of studies that identified six universal heuristics that shoppers use to make decisions. Referred to as “thinslicing,” consumers tend to ignore most information available and instead “slice off” a few relevant information or behavioral cues that are often social to make intuitive decisions.

Heuristic Number 1: Social Proof–Follow the Crowd


During the new customer journey (aka the decision-making cycle), a consumer may find themselves at a point of indecision. When consumers are uncertain of what to do next, social proof kicks in to see what others are doing or have done.

To influence decisions, wish lists, popularity lists, social sharing, reviews, and social recommendations become paramount.

Heuristic Number 2: Authority– The Guiding Light


Authority in social media is not only related to commerce, but it is the very source of how interest graphs take shape. During the dynamic customer journey, authorities rise as the sherpas to guide in effective decision making. Authorities have invested their time, resources, and activity in earning a position of influence, and their reward for doing so is a community of loyalists who place trust in their recommendations.

In Edelman’s recent Trust Barometer report, academics and experts topped the list for trust and credibility (66%), followed by a technical expert at a company (66%).

Heuristic Number 3: Scarcity–Less Is More

A function of supply and demand, greater value is assigned to the resources that are, or perceived to be, less available. Driven by the fear of loss or the stature of self-expression, consumers are driven by the ability to participate as members in exclusive deals. Part affinity, part elitism, consumers have expressed over and over that the ability to have early or select access to offers and promotions is a top reason to connect in social media.


Heuristic Number 4: Liking–Builds Bonds and Trust

There’s an old saying in business, people do business with people they like. And, nothing is truer than that statement in social media. Revisiting the Edelman Trust Barometer, the third most trusted person is someone like yourself/peers (65%). We have a natural inclination to emulate those we like, admire, and find attractive as these attributes also contribute to the “guilt by association” impression of self-identity.

Heuristic Number 5: Consistency


When faced with uncertainty, consumers tend not to take risks. Rather, they prefer to stay consistent with beliefs or past behavior. When these do not line up in the decision-making cycle, consumers tend to feel cognitive dissonance or true psychological discomfort.

Heuristic Number 6: Reciprocity–Pay It Forward

Perhaps the greatest asset in social capital is that of benevolence. It’s easy to get caught up in a cycle of paying it backward, where we expect to be paid or rewarded for our goods, services, or actions. However, those who invest in helping others or those who pay it forward will earn something greater than a reaction, they will earn a repository of reciprocity. As human beings, we have an innate desire to repay favors to maintain a balance of social fairness whether or not those favors were invited.

If ignorance is bliss, awareness is awakening. The psychology of social commerce reveals the emotional elements that stimulate the human network. It is the understanding of the 6 pillars of social commerce that facilitates the development of a more cohesive and connected online experience for customers. More importantly, by investing in the value, productivity, and efficiency of consumer decision making and not just the outcome, businesses can not only earn reciprocity and goodwill, but also earn social capital as a result…and, that’s priceless.

About the author

Brian Solis is global innovation evangelist at Salesforce. He’s also a digital anthropologist, best-selling author, and keynote speaker