The Motivation of Popularity

I wonder how many people live under the weight of their oppressive personal inboxes. Work provides enough email to deal with in one day, and ‘going home’ to another mountain of messages creates digital exhaustion, at least for me. The truth is, though, I do it to myself. I can’t count the number of online services or commerce sites I’ve signed up for, and almost every business who gets my email address delivers a follow-up message on the heels of our interaction. Boom: subscribed.

Earlier this year I went on an unsubscribe binge. Beyond utility bill notifications, I determined to cut the excess fat – and I did a pretty good job.

During that process, though, a certain email stopped me in the tracks of my shotgun approach. Here it is:

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Of course, my marketing mind stopped to analyze why their message curbed my binge. And the truth is that I crave popularity. (And you do to.)

It’s a really smart approach: the message leads by telling me how popular my review of a bed and breakfast is. The specific number really drives the idea home: “54 people want my advice? Wow.

Of course they included a big button asking me to give them more content, but my perception of what clicking that button gets me – and the cost of time it will take – is now primed with a picture of people wanting my advice.

Their subsequent messages played the same tune – refreshing consistency in a sea of sensationalized headlines:

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As I thought more about these emails, I was reminded of a message I received from MapMyRun (around the same time) that had the opposite affect on me:

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The difference is important: Trip Advisor is telling me how popular I am, and MapMyRun is reminding me of things that I should be doing that I’m not. Who knows, though, MapMyRun might have found a sweet spot in motivating their user base.

My hunch is that our human craving for popularity will win out as a motivator in the long run.