How understanding brain science can improve your social content

public relations

In a media landscape where we’re bombarded with literally billions of sensory messages each second, it can be a struggle to break through the noise and capture your consumer’s attention. One way to increase the odds that your posts will stand out is to leverage attention triggers our brains are hard wired to respond to. Recent advances in neurology and psychology have uncovered brain functions that can help inform our decisions as communicators and influence how we shape our messages for maximum efficiency.

What’s happening under the hood?

To keep our systems from hitting sensory overload, we rely on our Reticular Activating System (RAS) to serve as a filter for what gets through and registers our attention, and what data will be ignored. Thanks to our evolutionary roots, the RAS is geared to flag data that could indicate danger as a high priority. Motion is one of the flags that has survived thousands of years of human development as a potential cue for danger, and while we’re no longer constantly on the lookout for a potential predator, our brain’s preference for moving images can come in handy when developing content for digital means.


Odds are that as you loaded this page, your eyes immediately scrolled down to this GIF as your RAS sensed motion.

How do we use RAS triggers to our advantage?

For brands, using motion in social media content development can lead to a big jump in reach and engagement. Changes to the Facebook news feed algorithm in December of 2014 placed even more emphasis on video content. Messages accompanied by video are much more likely to be shared, and receive more likes and comments. In a blog post from January of this year, Facebook revealed insights that more than 50 percent of active users view at least one video on Facebook a day. Recently, Instagram made updates that allow their videos to play in a continuous loop, mirroring a functionality that helped rocket Vine onto the scene.

If you have an important announcement or promotion to share with your fans, consider sharing it in a quick Instagram or Vine. These messages can be shared across networks like Twitter or Facebook, and with native advertising on both of those platforms, you no longer need to rely on broadcast providers to serve video ad content. In fact, traditional broadcasters like NBC have had their hands slapped when including advertisements in their Facebook video content that were not approved by the social giant.

When budgets or resources take video off the table, consider the GIF. No longer relegated to sophomoric memes, GIFs have evolved into the next wave in motion advertising, the “cinemagraph.” Cinemagraphs are simply moving GIF files where the motion is isolated to just a few areas of the frame. The result is subtle, and often beautifully hypnotic.

Luxury goods, lifestyle and travel companies,  high-fashion clothing and wine and spirit brands such as Ecco Domanihave used cinemagraphs in their digital campaigns.

If either video or moving images like GIFs or cinemagraphs are out of reach, still images can also be used to manipulate the motion bias of the RAS. Implied motion through image blur can activate mirror reflexes in your neurons that stimulate the senses in a way that is similar to if the motion were real.

Messages accompanied by video are much more likely to be shared, and receive more likes and comments.

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