Why do some people sit for hours at slot machines, their sweaty little fingers dropping quarter after quarter, eyes glazed over as pineapples, gold coins and 7s spin in circles?
It’s the allure of the random payout. Gambling would be much less fun (though much more lucrative) if you knew exactly when you would hit. It’s the not knowing that keeps us coming back for more.
Random payouts are the same reason we sit for hours staring at TweetDeck and Facebook, our sweaty little fingers scrolling down hundreds of random updates, eyes glazed over as RTs, likes and quotes spin in circles. Social media addiction is a lot like gambling addiction, but instead of betting money, we bet little bits of our time and attention.
We blog, we tweet, we RSS other people’s content. Nothing happens. Then BOOM, someone RTs or comments on our post (Cool! I won 5 bucks!), or we find a killer video that totally reshapes the way we look at our business or ourselves (Holy %&#$, I just won 5 million bucks!). It’s not the size of the payout that matters most, it’s the randomness that hooks us.
“The addictive qualities of gambling can be understood from both a behavioral and neurological perspective. Gambling is a form of “operant conditioning learning” in which a voluntary action becomes linked with a specific outcome. The random reinforcement provided by gambling is actually the strongest form of conditioning, well ahead of a consistent reward. When a payoff is not expected every time the conditioned behavior is much more resistant to erasure than when a payoff is always expected. Losses or no-returns are still consistent with the action-reward relationship.” treatment4addiction.com
I’ve tried to limit my own time online, yet I still check my iPhone like a trained monkey. Every time, I put another quarter in to see if anyone has commented on my latest post, or followed me on Twitter yada yada yada.
So how can content marketers feed that natural compulsion in a positive, helpful way? How do you give people what they really want, which isn’t just more information and data, but surprising and happy discoveries that change how they look at their world?
1. Make your content unpredictable. Vary it up. Find inspiration and curate from a variety of sources. Tie in unexpected points-of-view and insight to what you do. Look outside your industry to see how other people solve the same problems that your readers have. (Read David Kord Murray’s Borrowing Brilliance for more ideas on this)
2. We all crave recognition and acknowledgement. Follow and comment on your readers’ and prospects’ blogs, tweets and Facebook updates. You know how nice it feels when someone takes the time to comment on or share your ideas. They feel the same way!
3. It works the other way around too. Make sure to reply to your readers’ comments. There’s a warm and fuzzy feeling we get when a blog’s author takes the time to respond to our own points-of-view, especially when they have 38 other comments to respond to as well.
What do you think? What other ways can we treat our readers to that fix of the random payout?