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[ A guest post by Bob Hand ]

It happens all the time. One moment, you’re checking social media to see what your family and friends are up to, and the next you are browsing an online store or entering your personal details for a chance to win a contest or sweepstakes. Upon reflection, this can be a frustrating experience. It seems impossible to escape the incessant marketing that seems omnipresent in the modern age.

However, this habit is not your fault; marketers have a wide range of tools to grab your attention, and they employ them all the time. More often than not, these tricks prey on vulnerabilities in human psychology, allowing businesses to advertise to consumers without us realizing it. Here are the five tricks that marketers use to get your attention on social media:

They Follow Their Customers

Have you ever wondered why major corporate brands have a strong presence on a couple social networks but are totally absent from others? The answer is simple: They only invest time and effort on sites that cater to their target audience. For example, Twitter has a disproportionately high number of young users, as well as users with college degrees. If the target audience of a business is well-educated millennials, that business is more likely to engage with potential customers on that network. This ensures that they can gain the maximum amount of influence from marketing efforts.

Not Just Ads — Content that Educates and Entertains

Most consumers probably don’t seek out the Starbucks blog for political commentary or Coca-Cola’s Twitter account for pop music — but these are proving to be highly effective avenues of marketing for both corporate giants. In what is probably the most beneficial attempt at spreading brand recognition, many brands seek to engage in discussions about topics that are relevant to their audience or industry.

When done properly, this gives consumers valuable content that they truly benefit from, whether it be from educational or entertainment value. This includes blogs, tutorials, videos, and even music. A great example of this can be found in Amway’s official blog, which offers lessons in business ownership. In these efforts, the company’s marketing takes a backseat to an earnest attempt to engage in a broader discussion about their industry. In the marketing world, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

Hyper-Personalized Content

You know those annoying automatically generated Facebook videos that your parents constantly share, featuring profile photos of friends and family? At their core, these serve as advertisements for Facebook — hyper-personalized content in action. Hyper-personalized content may be as simple as product or content recommendations based on internet activity, to something as complex as a video with your specific name and title in it. Regardless of where they are or what time it is, marketers with training in Adobe Creative Cloud can create hyper-personalized content designed to target very specific groups of people, or even specific individuals. This appeals to our basic psychological desire to be recognized by others. It may seem excessive, but it has proven to be an effective strategy.

Marketing Images Simulate Movement

Most images that advertisers share on social media have something in common: They simulate movement. And no, I’m not just talking about GIFs. As noted in a lesson on basic design principles from Penn Foster, images must have dynamic tension in order to attract our attention. For marketers to create this tension, a basic understanding of the tendencies of human perception is needed. Due to our innate sense of gravity, we have a habit of reading things from top to bottom. This same sense has also led to people generally preferring images that seem “anchored” or “stable”, which is why horizontal and vertical lines are more appealing than diagonal ones; they better simulate movement, which naturally attracts our attention.

Brands Buy Followers

Easily the shadiest of these strategies, brands have been known to buy “ghost followers” on social media to bolster their credibility. Celebrities are notorious for engaging in this practice. This works on the concept of social proof — the psychological phenomenon when people assume that the actions of others reflects the correct behavior. In other words, it is the human tendency to follow the flock. When a brand’s follower count or engagement rate is high, we are naturally more likely to engage with the brand as well.

These are a few of the tricks of trade when it comes to marketing on social media. After learning about these strategies, you should hopefully be able to reclaim your time spent on the internet. Critically analyze content on social media, and interact (or choose not to interact) with brands with greater awareness.