It’s common knowledge that a great teacher will build positivity into a group in a way that encourages individual contributions. A talented social media professional will do the same, yet marketing rarely looks to the psychology of learning when seeking to encourage sharing and interaction. As a social media writer for clients like the amazingly talented Dorie Clark—author of Reinventing You, Stand Out, and Entrepreneurial You, all of which I highly recommend—I often draw on what I learned from my years of classroom teaching and psychology studies, when interacting on social. If you seek to build a community that is positive, expressive, and eager to share, the following tips from learning psychology can prove powerful.

The most important words aren’t always “thank you!”: Gratitude is vital on social media and elsewhere, but as many classroom teachers are aware, specificity is everything. In the classroom, a global statement like, “Good job!” is less effective than a specific one, such as, “I’m impressed with how quietly you’re reading today,” or, “It’s great that your concentration is improving.” Anyone can say “Good job!” whereas specific thanks proves genuine appreciation and is more effective as positive reinforcement. In other words, when students specifically know what they’ve achieved, they are more likely to produce more of the same—and that’s because specific praise truly proves our worth. (Check out this article from Intervention Central, which summarizes the research that underpins the psychology in this article.)

So, on social media, when you truly want to honor people, it can help to be specific in your thanks—not just global. “Thank you!” holds less weight and warmth than, “Thank you for sharing that quote so thoughtfully!” or, “Thank you for those kind words!” When people go the extra mile, they love to know that their kindness has been appreciated. It’s up to us to honor this and help them feel good about themselves and our brands.

Appreciate intention: When I was training to be a teacher, I learned that praising intention can be even more important than praising achievement. If a student has never raised their hand to answer a question, the first time they do it, regardless of whether their answer is right, you praise them for contributing. (“How great to see you putting up your hand, A!”) Again, what you praise, you encourage. Praise is reinforcement. A’s hand, in other words, will likely go up again.

What this means for social media is that acknowledging people for interacting is as vital as validating constructive responses. “Thank you for tweeting this, Amina! Great to hear from you,” encourages Amina’s contributions, whereas launching in with, “I’d actually recommend doing A or B instead because…,” dismisses intention. We must learn not to shut people down, but instead, before all else, encourage their positive intentions. How can we expect people to contribute and share on behalf of our brands, if we fail to encourage their efforts? Likewise, when people do share on our brand’s behalf, appreciative energy encourages this to continue. Again, praise is reinforcement—and as good teachers know too well, reinforcement increases great behavior.

Personal can resonate more deeply than official: It is a well-known fact that people often find it harder to open up when interacting with a brand. I’m a fan of Buffer on Twitter, not least because their team does a great job at responding personally. The company’s team members sign interactive tweets with their names, demonstrating that a real person is behind the message—and they use language warmly, too. Generally, the more personally receiving you can be of others, the more they will feel able to connect.

In the classroom, I remember a student throwing her arms around me once when I had given her a D on her essay, even though she had been striving so hard for a C—and needed this grade in order to pursue the career of her dreams. I wanted to give her more than a D, because I could see her tremendous efforts at improvement, but in the UK, teachers are required at GCSE level to stick firmly to the syllabus when grading coursework. Next to the D, I wrote, “N, the important thing to notice, rather than the grade, is that I truly believe you areimproving with your writing and arein line for a C. The GCSE syllabus might not see it yet, but I do. In the margins, I’ve noted a few of the places where you are close to achieving a C—and I’ve shown you why that’s so.”

When N hugged me, she held me tight and thanked me over and over. “You wrote me that note because you knew,” she said. “You knew I needed to hear that.” And even though it was Friday and everyone else had gone, she stayed there, in tears, and kept on thanking me.

All I’d done was write a few words. The power lay in the fact that I meant them. 

We don’t just want to be personally acknowledged for our struggles and achievements. We need to be acknowledged—and often. When we see good, it helps if we say so, even when it’s not required of us. And when we see folks struggling, we can reach out, sincerely, in ways that don’t lower our professional boundaries. Words often feel better than “likes” because words are personal, and a like is easy and global. Just a momentary, “I’m sorry to hear you’ve been having a hard day!” or, “I totally hear you, X, and am wishing you the very best,” can make a difference to a fellow human being.

Social media provides a rich opportunity to let folks know that we see them, actually and personally. If we seize that opportunity, and are kind, it can only help us, and our brands, to grow.

—Star Williams

Image: Bethan via Creative Commons

Originally published at


  • Star Williams

    Fiction author, blogger, LGBTQIA+ educator, screenwriter,

    Chuckle Duck

    Star Williams is an award-winning fiction writer, as well as a report writer, blogger, and screenwriter, who identifies as queer and non-binary. Star, who uses they/them pronouns—and, under a pen name, is a bestselling author—has published work in magazines and journals ranging from Cosmopolitan to Narrative. Star also writes content and copy for private clients. Coming from a teaching and psychology background, Star has also taught young people in a variety of settings, including in the U.K., where Star is originally from. Somehow, even though they've been in Massachusetts for 15+ years, they still have the accent. Star is a humor blogger at Chuckle Duck. Find out more at