The simple science of effective social media posts

science symbol and text of social media posts


Keeping social media posts simple

We seem to spend our lives looking for ways to make things easier. ‘Life hacking’ has become a national pastime. But why is it that many marketers actually make their communications more difficult to engage with, not easier?

The answer may be a lot easier than you think. It is the reason that studies have proven that stocks with easily-pronounced names significantly outperform stocks with names that are harder to recognize and remember. The same reason that messages written in standard fonts, like Arial, always engage at a higher level than those written in brush scripts.

It turns out that people prefer things that are easy to think about rather than things that are difficult to think about!

In the words of Steve Jobs: “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Now think about the sheer volume of decisions that we all need to make on daily basis, just when we are online. In a 2012 study, Google revealed that site visitors judge a website’s design within 50 milliseconds. That’s 50/1000 of 1 second. Faster than ‘the blink of an eye’ – and that’s after they have taken the time to actually visit the site!

But what about the process of getting their attention in the first place? A 2013 study by Microsoft Corporation found that people generally lose concentration after seven to eight seconds, highlighting the effects of an increasingly digitalized lifestyle on the brain.

The implication of this is that you only have 7-8 seconds of your audience’s attention to convince them to absorb your marketing messages. And given that your message will be increasingly consumed on a small device, you’ve really got to maximize your ‘Attention Arsenal’.

The science of ‘Cognitive Fluency’, for brands

Cognitive fluency’ is how we feel about taking in new information. It’s the subjective experience of the ease or difficulty of completing a mental task and every single time we need to weigh up information, our ‘cognitive fluency’ impacts the decisions we make. From big investment decisions, right down to how we interact with that latest social media post that has just landed on our timeline.

And if you think about it, your social media posts are the perfect platform to really showcase the cognitive fluency of your brand. You don’t have to design anything and you don’t have to build anything. You have a flexible combination of words and pictures to simplify your message and ensure that is ‘cognitively fluent’ enough to grab the attention of your audience during that crucial 7-8 second window.

The 7-second test

So, here’s a small test. When you have finished writing your next social media post, imagine that you are holding a text highlighter. Now take that highlighter to all of the main messages that are vying for your audiences attention. They may include features like this:

  • Your profile title
  • Message/ Keyword 1
  • Hashtag
  • Message/ Keyword 2
  • Shortened link
  • Keyword 3
  • Hashtag
  • Image
  • Call to action

And your post may look something like this:

social media post

Every part of your post’s anatomy must scream for attention. So make sure that you pass the ‘7-second test’ by always using simple and familiar language.

If you are using hashtags, then use familiar language. Your keywords should be familiar and entirely relevant to the rest of the post content. Use tools like Hashtagify or Audiense to figure out what hashtags will work best for your target audience.

social media post bad hashtag

Pringles did a good job of keeping this Facebook post simple, but missed the mark with the long and complicated hashtag at the end. A quick search shows very few results for this hashtag and while it may have worked as a trending topic on Twitter, the same doesn’t apply to Facebook.

On the other hand, the use of #ootd – which stands for ‘outfit of the day’ – by clothing brand Zaful shows how you can keep hashtags short and sweet while also directly targeting your target audience.

Your image speaks a thousand visual words, so it’s important to make every one of them count too.

Take a look at these two tweets from Coca Cola. Despite the one above featuring a world-famous athlete who has almost two million followers, it was out-performed by the post below because it is more visually engaging.

And if you are shortening a link, then apply the same rules of cognitive fluency to it and make sure that your brand name is front and foremost on it. Branded short links can become your social media post’s Call To Action.

The post below shows how avoiding short links like and replacing them with a custom short link simplifies and streamlines a brand’s message:

Shortened links that do not include a recognizable brand name will risk rendering as ‘cognitively inarticulate’ and will lose a valuable, fleeting opportunity to drive click-throughs to your desired destination. And surely that’s the ultimate purpose of many B2B or B2C social media posts, right?

So start with your next post and put the work into making your brand more cognitively fluent. You will steal the limelight every time.


star trawlerGuest author: Killian Flanagan, Star Trawler
Killian Flanagan is a Brand Strategist and Content Marketer, who also runs a digital production company Star Trawler.
He specializes in building brands online, in particular working with businesses that are in the early stages of their development in Europe and USA.

Further reading:

This article is about:

  • Cognitive Fluency
  • Social media posts
  • Social media marketing
  • Getting attention online
  • Making your brand stand out

Main image by Ramón Salinero via Unsplash

Originally Posted: December 06th, 2017.
Post Updated: November 26th, 2021.

This post has been written by a guest author who will be the best source for any questions you may have about the content. If you're interested in writing a guest post for Rebrandly please email angelo[@]Rebrandlydotcom with a description of your background and for a copy of our guest-posting guidelines.