On Bartending, Clapping, and the Influence of Crowds in Social Media Marketing

Have you ever seen a tip jar with no money in it? Probably not. When I was a bartender in college I learned a simple trick to getting more tips. It's called "salting" the tip jar. At the beginning of the shift, with an empty tip jar, smart bartenders put a few dollars of their own money into the jar.

But I didn't understand why this worked until I read Influence by Dr. Robert Cialdini. In this landmark book on the psychology of persuasion, Cialdini explains a critical concept in the art of getting people to do what you want them to do. The concept is called social proof. Put simply, human behavior is often driven by simply observing the decisions others make and making the same choice.

By putting a few dollars of my own money in the tip jar, I was creating the social proof necessary to generate more tips.

Social proof and clapping
Research from Uppsala University in Sweden found that audience members at a performance are more likely to clap if a greater percentage of the audience is clapping.  For example, when 50% of the audience was clapping, individuals were 10 times more likely to begin clapping than if 5% was clapping.

Call it peer pressure if you want. The fact is that we make decisions every day, often unconsciously, based on what we observe the crowd doing. If you start clapping, I'm more likely to clap too. But social proof can be used for more than generating tips and louder applause. It' a powerful concept to understand when measuring social media engagement.

Applause Rate
Avinash Kaushik, Digital Marketing Evangelist at Google and author of Web Analytics 2.0, has a metric he calls "Applause Rate." It's simple. If you want to know what people like, measure the amount of clapping. From Avinash's excellent blog post on the matter, here's how to measure Applause Rate:

  • On Twitter: Applause Rate = # of Favorite Clicks Per Post
  • On Facebook: Applause Rate = # of Likes Per Post
  • On Google+: Applause Rate = # of +1s Per Post

The rich get richer
Engagement metrics on social media may not impress your CEO, but you and I know it's important. More clapping (Likes, Favorites, +1's) creates the viral effect that makes social media so powerful. But what can be learned from understanding social proof in social media? How important is it to "salt" your social media channels as you would a tip jar?

The lesson is clear. More social media sharing leads to more social media sharing. Our brains are hard wired to be more likely to "Like" something if there is almost 5,000 others that have already done so.


How to prime the social media pump
There are a number of things you can do to get the social sharing party started. Here are four effective ways:

  1. Create outstanding content, Let's start here. Make sure the content is worth clapping about. Entertain, inform, and inspire your audience and you'll get a standing ovation.
  2. Get employees involved. Put the process in place to encourage your employees to share the content you are building on social channels.
  3. Contact customers, prospects and partners. If you have an email list or just know individuals that would share your content, take the time to email them. Better yet, tag them on social channels and send them a link to your content.
  4. Use social advertising. Paying for traffic from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others is a guaranteed way to get some attention for your content.

Use your understanding of social proof to drive engagement on social channels. Or, at least remember to toss a few dollars in the tip jar the next time you work the evening shift at the local pub.

Bonus tip:  If you put a $5 or $10 bill in the tip jar, your average tip amount goes up. It's social proof magic. And, if you find this post worthy of your applause, please prime the social pump for this article by using the social sharing buttons at the top of this post. Tour.png
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