Understanding the Intersection between Social Psychology and Public Relations Strategies

By Gabby Aberson

Social psychology provides a guide for public relations professionals to effectively and authentically reach audiences. Using psychology to implement public relations is extremely effective because it can help to understand human behavior and attitudes. When public relations professionals understand their publics and the attitudes, behaviors, and opinions that their publics hold, it facilitates effective communication. 


Storytelling in public relations aims to encourage people to form a positive attitude towards a thing, object, person, or idea. Psychology demonstrates that attitudes may result from personality; however, sometimes it is a little bit more complicated than just personality. The formation of attitudes can happen extremely quickly because people’s minds create psychological shortcuts to reduce cognitive overload. People tend to make quick judgments about things because it is evolutionary sound to assess the environment and categorize it as quickly as possible. As a society, quick judgments allow people to choose from the masses pool of stimuli of what is best for them. 

Most people learn attitudes through family, friends, and significant others. Public relations professionals want audiences to form positive attitudes about clients or the company they are representing. 


As public relations professionals, we need to remind ourselves to appeal to emotion. If we want persuasion to occur, we need people to feel a human connection. Marketing professionals have taught us that appealing to emotion and using visual storytelling are both effective ways to communicate to our audiences. Visual storytelling is compelling because people tend to remember more of what they see versus what they read. Furthermore, public relations professionals can learn from what psychologists know and use visual storytelling with compelling imagery and a narrative arc to help audiences connect to their emotions. There are two different routes to assisting consumers to form an attitude about a company or product; one of these routes is effectively based, which is emotional appeals. Therefore, the power of a certain emotion will create an attitude towards a company or product. If a company does something bad, a negative connotation will overpower any previous positive image that they have created for themselves, so it will be hard to regain a positive association. This whole idea can be proven when we look at cancel culture. People are so strongly tied to their emotional views, which can directly affect people’s decisions. For instance, when Chick-fil-A was holding homophobic beliefs, many people boycotted and developed a strongly negative view of the company. Therefore, Chick-fil-A lost a lot of its customers. Furthermore, when friends and family foster these negative views about a company, it can influence our view of that company. People frequently learn their attitudes through family and friends, which can help public relations professionals understand the importance of word-of-mouth marketing. According to a study by McKinsey and Co, word-of-mouth marketing drives up to 50% of purchase decisions. Looking at Chick-fil-A, it is easy to see that word-of-mouth has a tremendous impact on reputation.

Authenticity and Credibility 

Audiences are much more likely to be persuaded if messages come from a credible source. An alternative route to forming an attitude, aside from emotional appeal, is cognitively based. Cognitively based attitudes rely on rational arguments instead of emotions. Some people tend to lean towards emotionally based arguments to form an opinion, while others lean towards rational, fact-based arguments. It is important to understand that these facts should come from a credible source. Not only should the messages come from a credible source, but it is important to offer a compelling consumer proposition backed by an authentic brand story. Rather than investing in national-scale advertising, brands are building authenticity and credibility through communicating with a community instead of at an audience. 

Most communication-related ethical issues involve credibility. As public relations professionals, we must remember to be transparent and truthful. Furthermore, public relations professionals should build trust in everything they do. Trust is extremely fragile so that it can be broken easily; it takes a lot of time and effort to rebuild trust. Find comfort in the fact that transparency is a key factor in establishing a trusting relationship with your audience. 

Final Thoughts 

Social psychology helps a wide range of different professionals understand their audiences. In specific, public relations can utilize psychology when implementing strategies to connect with a community. Public relations focuses on building mutually beneficial relationships, so turning to psychology is extremely important because it allows public relations professionals to understand and effectively engage with target audiences.