Rather than using social media for marketing, brands can use social media to build communities.


Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok and the other social platforms provide an opportunity to market our brand and raise the profile of our products. Yet, in our haste to capitalise on this opportunity, we often fail to ask an important question. Is our marketing on social media really achieving the results we want or is it raising aversion to our brand?

Our marketing budgets are often skewed towards advertising and marketing on social media platforms; however, our marketing could have the opposite result of what we want if we are not careful.

How is this possible?

It comes down to the neuroscience of social media.


Neuroscience is a multidisciplinary study of physiology, anatomy, development biology, and other areas to understand the biological basis of individuals' learning, memory, behaviour, and perception. 

One of the findings of neuroscience is because we are social beings, we are fiercely protective of our social spaces [1]. When unexpected marketing or sales intrudes into our social spaces, we often have strong reactions against them.

One of the important findings from the research of Dr Matthew Lieberman in his book Social Why our brains are wired to connect is we have a profound physical need to belong. When this belonging is not met or broken, we can feel pain in the same way we feel physical pain.

Consequently, we will fiercely protect ourselves from the threat or perceived threat to our social connections including the threat of marketing or sales.


Social media is, by its definition, social. It is where people gather in opted-in groups to connect in ways that are unconnected to financial transactions [2]. Because of our need and desire for social connection we are fiercely protective of these connections. When our engagements in our social groups are interrupted by sales and marketing messaging, they are perceived as a threat to this connection and there can be an instinctive reaction against these messages. 

There is another factor that operates in these settings, which is the bias of loss aversion. Marketers may be convinced they are providing a benefit to their potential customers, and therefore the benefit justifies marketing on social media.

However, this justification does not consider people's bias towards loss aversion. Psychologically, we are more predisposed to avoid a loss than to take advantage of a gain or a potential positive [3].

What this means when we are engaged in social settings or on social media, is that we are biased towards protecting the social connection more than we are towards accepting an advantage offered by a product.

The advantage is perceived as a threat to our continued connection, which means we will reject it.  When we are in social mode, we are also wired to achieve and maintain harmony. Brand advertising and engaging with brands over a product is perceived as creating disharmony in a social setting. Again, we will reject the advertising to maintain the harmony of our social connections.


For sales and marketing interactions to be successful, they need to achieve two things. They need to meet customers where they are and to coordinate those moments of meeting with times the customer is primed and ready to take in the information about the product, they are selling [4].

As discussed, when a customer is in a social situation, they are not ready or primed to take in the information because of the bias towards loss aversion and the desire to maintain harmony.

Successful sales require successful persuasion, and to persuade effectively; we need to:

  1. Get the person's attention
  2. Gain the person's trust
  3. Provide them with an action they can take [5]

The result of persuasion is conversion. The result of social media is community.

If marketers and brands do not understand this essential difference and try to use social media to drive conversions and sales, they risk damaging their brand and product by turning people against them.

How can brands and marketers meet this challenge without damaging their brands?


Based on the results of neuroscience, brands need to stop using social media for marketing purposes. This can be a difficult proposition for marketers to accept. After all, marketers will tend to point to the number of likes on Facebook, for example, as evidence their marketing is having an impact.  

However, studies have shown no first-order benefits arising to brands simply from the number of likes they are receiving [6]. Hence, care needs to be taken in drawing assumptions from the number of likes.


Rather than using social media for marketing, brands can use social media to build communities, particularly communities, for customer care.

To build communities effectively, brands need to engage staff skilled in social media. Marketing by training and experience focuses on promotions, conversions, and sales funnel thinking. Customer care requires different skills, particularly when building communities rather than seeking conversions.

Organisations and effective brands understand the difference between a community looking for belonging and market segments ripe for conversion. These communities are usually built outside of the marketing division of the organisation [7].

It is important to remember that when building customer communities, it is not simply throwing the group together; to build a community; you must provide relevant and valuable information to the customer base. For example, Lenovo developed the LenovoX community, which people joined to hear about rising trends, innovative tech, and information from significant influencers. There was no marketing or discussion of Lenovo's products specifically. This is one example of a brand using a community successfully.

By adapting and using the findings of neuroscience and creating niche communities, brands can build their profile effectively using social media.