5 Triggers of Social Media Engagement – Expanded

Last Updated: January 16, 2020

In an effort to bridge a gap from brand to consumer AND from strategy to tactics, I developed these five engagement triggers with generous help from Sharon McIntyre, Patti Derbyshire and Ginger Grant from Mount Royal University. As this work is being further developed in order to be packaged and distributed to MRU and other universities.

PS: I know some of you reading this are Patti’s students… some of the examples below should help you with your projects:

Trigger 01: Win

The Win trigger activates our natural, built-in mechanism for competition. Stemming back to natural selection, the lizard brain, we developed certain impulses which unconsciously drive the way we feel, think and behave. Given the right incentive (a mate, promotion at work… refrigerator?) and the right challenge, we automatically zone into this state of mind. Harnessed with care, the WIN trigger can foster engagement and deepen relationships with your customers.

Things to think about:

  • Get to really know your audience, so you can present them with the right incentive (carrot) and with just the right challenge (maze difficulty).
  • The incentive should be proportional to the challenge, meaning that very few people will jump through hoops to win 15% off a doughnut, but most will run through a wall to get a month long all expenses paid vacation to British Virgin Islands.
  • When considering the incentive, think about appealing to your audience’s emotional side. Consider wants and aspirations, rather then needs and requirements.


IKEA – Facebook Photo Tagging to win furniture. Click here.

Trigger 02: Give

To paraphrase one of Scott Stratten’s arguments, think of a bank account. You would get laughed out of the bank if you were to open a brand new account with no money and then request to withdraw $10,000. Before you can withdraw, you must first invest and the GIVE trigger allows you to do just that. Another feature of our natural programming is that we tend to respond in kind. (If your neighbor shovels your driveway out of his own goodwill every winter, you would be much more inclined to help them with their lawn in the summer). This fluid relationship is at the core of this engagement trigger.

Things to think about:

  • Think about how you can use your professional experience, knowledge and resources to create content that will be of value to your target audience.
  • Be aware of choosing a proper channel of communication, by researching where the ideal audience gathers their information and how they interact with it.
  • Consider enabling your content to be easily shared, so your audience can help carry on the message to their own social circles.
  • Make sure there are no strings attached. We are all so very tired (and turned off by) of giving our contact information in order to access a piece of content. most people would rather take the time to look elsewhere.


Target – Their social media presence, especially on Facebook. Click here.

Trigger 03: Transform

Originally Vote, this trigger stems back to the birth of decision making and has evolved into a multitude of variations over the years, spanning from Democracy to… American Idol. The key idea with the transform trigger is to invite your audience into a decision making process. We (the audience) want to feel that we are heard, our voice counts for something and that it will make a difference in an outcome we are emotionally invested in. This emotional drive is why there are die-hard fans of sport clubs, specific UFC fighters or competing American Idols.

Things to think about:

  • Make the outcome count, REALLY count. If you want your audience to become emotionally involved, then you have to make it worth their while.
  • The outcome should be relevant, valuable and meaningful for your specific audience.
  • During and after the process, reward and involve the audience wherever possible.


Threadless – Their original approach of having members vote on shirts to be printed is brilliant. Click here.

Trigger 04: Share

Sharing comes down to our deep, innate desires to be perceived a certain way and to live in line with our identity. For example, if you wish to be perceived as highly successful, you may be inclined to buy a luxury car. As much as we may think we have control over those drives… they really have a deeply rooted influence over us. This same drive entices us to share certain things with our friends and social networks. We want to share the things (information, pictures, links, e-mails, etc) that are in line with the way we wish to be seen by our friends and social circles.

Things to think about:

  • When planning to activate the share trigger, set your aim for your networks’ network
  • Explore the technicalities of each social channel in order to make your content more shareable
  • When building content, think about if it will be a single-use piece OR of users can come back to it repeatedly.


VW The Force video and VW Academy

Trigger 05: Co-Create

Co-Creation is the ultimate test of brand integrity in the eyes of your audience. In a sense, you are opening the doors to the very inner workings of your business to your best customers and in turn inviting them in to help you create. This state of full transparency is rarely achieved, but when it is… the results can be astounding. This trigger attracts brand zealots and evangelists to a common cause like moths to a lamp. Great examples span from a band opening up a video shoot to its fans to Doritos playing a customer-created commercial at the SuperBowl. Done poorly, it can create a terrible PR disaster (Look up Chevy Tahoe ads on YouTube).

Things to think about:

  • Think about how much control you’re willing to relinquish to allow co-creation to happen?
  • You may not be aware that there are already fans of your business / services / product. How would you find out?
  • Reach out to your ideal audience and invite them in for an exclusive “preview” or fan-only workshop. Key here is exclusive.
  • Of course, follow through with the process and lead your audience to the outcome promised at the outset


Guy Kawasaki’s Book Cover Design using Crowdspring, ElectroLux’s Design Lab or Muji

Thanks for checking out the expanded version of the 5 Triggers!

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