21 Traffic Triggers for Social Media Marketing

What does it take to have a huge web traffic breakthrough?

In order to produce a single piece of content that brings in dramatic amounts of traffic, you should aim to fulfill an existing psychological need. Aiming at root needs can be more powerful than simply stimulating desire, because you need people to feel compelled to share.

For example, you’ll see plenty of advice telling you to praise Apple or bash George Bush if you want to get on the Digg home page. But why not dig a little deeper?

Try examining the underlying needs that are being addressed by popular content. Then develop something unique that strikes a subconscious chord and satisfies a genetically-programmed craving that gets people talking, linking, bookmarking and Digging.

Here’s an alphabetized checklist of 21 psychological triggers that you can consult when trying to craft breakthrough content that spreads throughout the social media landscape and brings in big traffic. You’ll find more great insight into human psychology over at Changing Minds.


Beautiful design, photography, illustration, music… all have a tendency to attract attention and prompt sharing. True beauty is rare, which triggers the scarcity principle that creates desire and discussion.


The need to belong is fundamental. Content that demonstrates that the author belongs in the same group with the target audience is highly influential, and the fear of not belonging often prompts a bandwagon effect.


Certainty has to do with our need to understand, predict and control, even if it’s ultimately an illusion. Breakthrough content can either reassure people about an uncertain situation, thereby restoring normalcy, or it can challenge existing notions and create unsettling confusion that you cure with a unique solution.


In order to feel happy, we need new challenges that push us, but not so much that we cannot adapt. Challenge your audience, but make sure that you don’t go to the point where they are overwhelmed and discouraged.


We hear all the time that people need closure. However, many very persuasive people know that withholding closure is a masterful way of getting what you want. Finding a way to create a huge cliffhanger could create huge buzz.


No one likes to think of themselves as a conformist, but conformity is a huge psychological need that ties in directly to belonging. Letting people know that both you and they “fit in” can cause a strong connection with your content.


Society considers inconsistent people as “confused,” “irresponsible,” and often “incapable,” despite the fact that Ermerson wisely said “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” How did the “John Kerry is a flip-flopper” meme gain so much traction and ruin his chances for election?


The need for control is huge, and you can actually benefit from increasing a reader’s perceived sense of it. Deliver new choices, or give up control of something yourself and hand it over to the audience. Think about Darren Rowse’s group writing projects… relinquishment of control to his readers resulted in massive attention for him.


Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it can lead to killer content. Fascinate readers with content that sparks questions in their minds and overwhelms them with possibilities, and there’s a good chance they’ll want to add to the conversation and spread the word.


Self-esteem determines how we regard ourselves, and we look internally and externally for cues that determine our level of esteem. Content that makes people feel good about themselves is always popular. And while it can be tricky, strategically catering to the esteem needs of prominent bloggers can result in beneficial traffic effects as well.


We all try to explain things to others to demonstrate our expertise, but think about satisfying others by explaining something about them. Resolving self-doubt with beneficial explanations of behavior can trigger feelings of belonging and conformity to those who might feel otherwise.


There’s a reason why the Bible’s Golden Rule of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is also a powerful rule of secular society. People have strong reactions to unfairness, so identifying an injustice or rectifying one will get people’s attention.


While we don’t always take very good care of ourselves, our own health is a fundamental root need. There’s a reason why health is an industry unto itself, but if you can credibly create content that uniquely addresses health issues, people will take notice.


Content that either facilitates or challenges a reader’s identity—their concept of who they are and who they want to be—has an opportunity to gain major traction. Steve Pavlina knew what he was doing when he started writing personal development content for “smart people”.


Novelty is much more than something trivial; it’s actually a fundamental human need that literally makes life worth living. Novel content seems to drive most of the traffic on the web, but realize that anything that breaks up routine, alleviates boredom and challenges people will be greatly appreciated.


Predictability is highly related to control, and yet acts as the enemy of novelty. Doing something unpredictable is a great way to be remarkable, but many people don’t realize that if you go too far and make people uncomfortable, you’re alienating people by damaging their sense of control and consistency.


Repeat after me: People need repetition, especially to learn. If you’re developing exceptional tutorial content that you hope will get you noticed, your results will improve when people effectively absorb your lessons. Repeat key points to aid the reader and leave them with a positive impression that prompts them to spread the word.


Challenge someone’s physical or psychological security and safety, and they’ll drop everything and focus on the threat. Some people, groups or governments maintain constant fear with vague threats to safety, but you’ll be better served by catching attention with the threat and then providing a real solution that alleviates the fear, if possible.


The very pinnacle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is self-actualization. Inspiring people to achieve the ultimate person they want to be takes the need for identity to its transformative conclusion.


Writers and other content creators who can communicate with clarity provide people with the understanding they need to make sense of life. Find a way to get to the very heart of a complex matter in a simple, straight-forward manner, and people will happily point others your way.


Information marketing is the ultimate win-win situation, because people love to be supplied with the resources they need to be a winner in business, relationships, and life. If you provide the means for others to improve themselves and their situations, the natural result will be a vast improvement in your own situation as well. Wake up every morning thinking about how you can deliver insane value to others, and I guarantee you’ll find success.

P.S. One thing you need to keep in mind is to never write about marketing if you want to get on Digg. This post hit the Digg home page today, and the editors turned away from their new PlayStations long enough to immediately pull down the post. It seems that discussing psychology is akin to spam these days, but debating whether iTunes sales are dropping is crucial discourse.

I should have just said nice things about Apple. 😉

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Reader Comments (43)

  1. says

    Nice list as always Brian. There is something about psychological triggers that just makes me want to do something 😉

  2. says

    Make a video that takes advantage of any of those triggers and you have a sure winner! People love videos these days. My very first screencast got over 500 views already, and I haven’t even tried to promote it yet! There’s a definite need for screencasts.

  3. says

    Great list, Brian. Perfect blend of philosophy and pragmatics.

    As for videos passing up text in popularity… I suppose it has to happen. But darn it, some of us will always love words more.

  4. says

    Great list post and title as always.

    I’m a total sucker for Conspiracy, Celebrity, Stupidity, Crime, Danger/Disaster, Humor, Taboo & Anomaly.

  5. says

    Love the list.
    How about “Drama” like a good designer gone bad story [sorry couldn’t resist], or “Gossip” – just mention what Paris Hilton ate for lunch and you’ve got big traffic…both of those fulfill some kind of need, although I’m not sure what it is :)

  6. says

    Great list. You’ve accomplished one of the goals listed as I’m very curious right now. These are some really great tips and most can be applied to any niche.

  7. says

    The reason it was dugg down is because it came off as a pure marketing piece with a misleading title.

    It really should have been renamed. Think about that before claiming that we share the opinion that “discussing psychology is akin to spam”. Properly name your articles.

    By the way – those aren’t necessarily traffic triggers, they’re interest triggers.

    Excellent points, but, again – you need to know your audience. :/

  8. says

    You’re not my audience Ronin, my subscribers are. I don’t stop people from submitting my posts to Digg, but it’s not a top priority.

    There’s nothing misleading about the title. Interest=traffic if properly executed. And I generally do just fine with titles.

  9. says


    I saw the post about iTunes sales dropping and thought the exact same thing. Digg is proving to be just the microcosm of society it claims to be.

  10. Blake says

    I don’t get it. Why would a “pure marketing piece” get knocked off digg if people mark it as valuable?

    When people say “pure marketing piece” they usually mean worthless self-promotional fluff, not an essay on marketing psychology.


    And frankly yeah, it’s a little presumptuous to imagine most people write headlines in view of digg’s editorial standards (whatever they are).

    I love digg but this is just odd.

  11. says

    Well, the one thing we can conclude from this article hitting Digg and then being banned from the front page is that the human editors of Digg are complete (how can I say this nicely) morons.

    I mean, come on. If they can’t differentiate between spam or obviously fallacious titles/content and interesting good articles, there’s a problem here.

    Sure, this is linkbait. But what on Digg isn’t? And linkbait is not necessarily bad – it can be, but it can also just be linkbait because it’s so freakishly good/interesting/wonderful.

    Dumb, dumb, dumb move on Digg’s part.

  12. says

    You say “Beautiful design, photography, illustration, music… all have a tendency to attract attention” but I ask: how?

    They don’t promote traffic themselves or get things started but do keep viewers coming back. So, if I have a site with great design, photography, music, etc.; how do I get the ball rolling if know one knows about it?

  13. says

    To clarify, Emerson did not say “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” but rather, that a “FOOLISH consistency” is. In other words, don’t be consistent for consistency’s sake, but be consistent when it makes sense to do so, such as when running for office or branding a product. DON’T be consistent when you have to be dishonest to do so. Therefore, don’t patronize (underestimate) an audience that values consistency in your writing/branding.

  14. says

    Everything in bold words is true. Curiosity tends to make people pause and invest time and effort to know a thing. For me, one great important traffic trigger for social media marketing is the ability of one person, product, company to help solve people’s problems.

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