How to set an ego trap

I’ve been thinking lately about what I call the social media ego trap.  In a nutshell, social technologies use game mechanics to get users hooked on participation.  People often get addicted to ego-stroking system feedback, until they can temper their usage (addiction?) in terms of utility vs. serendipity.

But what if you’ve got something to sell?  What if you want to set an “ego trap” yourself?

Let me show you a few traps that have already been sprung, maybe we can learn something from them.

Andy Sernovitz is a word-of-mouth marketing genius.  He also set a perfect ego trap to promote a marketing workshop for his company, Gaspedal.  Andy recruited a network of bloggers to promote his event.  For free.  Who fell into the trap?  Stowe BoydSusan BrattonTara HuntSteve Hall.  And 28 others.  If you look at the related posts, all of these bloggers are promoting Andy’s “special event” that’s “limited to 50 people” and “not usually offered to individuals” and “this low of a price.”  (If this seems silly, you need to click through the links and read the offer in context.)  Damn, I wish I’d thought of this idea.

So why did it work?  The offer was simple.  It was personalized.  Andy is credible; he’s one of the founders of WOMMA.  It was positioned as a scarce resource that bloggers could offer their readers, with a discount.  By the way, I’ve heard Andy speak – his seminar is well worth the price.  (Be sure to use a discount though!)

Dave Balter happens to be a word-of-mouth guru as well.  Coincidentally, he and Andy don’t get along very well – maybe it’s an ego issue?  (I digress.)  Dave set a great ego trap recently to promote his new book, The Word of Mouth Manual: Volume II.  Dave recruited a network of bloggers to promote his book.  For free.  Who fell into the trap?  Rohit BhargavaTom PetersJohn MooreJohn Jantsch. And 15 others. (Yes, there were 20 bloggers total.)  If you look at the related posts, almost all of these bloggers are promoting Dave’s book talking about how they’re in a select group of 20 people.  Those posts aren’t about you – they’re about how important the bloggers themselves are.  “Look, I’m in a hand-selected group of 20 bloggers who are going to promote this book for free on Dave Balter’s behalf.  I am special.”  (If this seems silly, you need to click through the links and read the posts in context.

So why did it work?  The offer was limited.  It was relevant to the bloggers and their readers.  I haven’t read the book and probably won’t, because I prefer to read hard/soft covers, not PDFs.  But don’t let me stop you from downloading the book for free and gaining some knowledge.  You can even join the special 20 (now 28) by creating a unique URL to promote the book on your own site.

One last example:  The Power 150.  Originally a hand coded list by marketer Todd Andrlik, it was purchased by Ad Age.  Todd set an unwitting ego trap by ranking “the top marketing blogs in America.”  Who fell into the trap?  Many, many bloggers – including Todd himself.  At one point, he appealed to his own readers to help boost his ranking on the list.  Today the list ranks 826 blogs.  Presumably, the other 676 just aren’t as powerful.

Why did it work?  Game mechanics – competition and a somewhat objective comparison scale (except for “Todd Points.”  I may lose some of my 12 after this post.)

OK, let’s review.  Here’s how to set an effective “ego trap” with your own offer:

  • Keep it simple.
  • Make it scarce.
  • Personalize it.
  • Use numbers.
  • Appeal to the head…and the heart.

Steve Rubel sums it up:  “I actually like the thrill of the chase and serendipity. I want to be first. This is something that has fueled the egos of reporters for years – partly because it sells. Heck, count me in.”

The old saying tells us, “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”  Let’s update that for today’s world and recognize that the way to a blogger’s keyboard is through their ego.