One of candidate Obama’s first disclosures about how he was going to fix Washington was on a visit to Google in 2007 where he told a cheering audience that he was a data connoisseur. “I am a big believer in reason and facts and evidence and science and feedback,” the future president said.
The audience loved him and so did Dan Siroka, a software programmer sitting in the audience who went on to join the Obama campaign in charge of getting prospective voters to divulge their emails so the campaign could e-blast them with electoral propaganda. Mr. Obama’s effort was rewarded both in the 2007 election and again in 2011, lauded for his campaign Internet savvy and the millions of Obama’s army of Internet millennials he enlisted as voters.
Mr. Siroka has gone on to found a company, Optimizely, https://www.optimizely.com/ that advises other clients on getting prospective customers to divulge their contact information. He is the 21st century version Vance Packard’s classic book “The Hidden Persuaders,” advertisers who have the ability to get people to do what they want them to do. The digital version is called optimization–a process that keeps testing design tweaks to see how they perform so people will keep clicking and saying yes.
Why is optimization so successful?
As Robert Cialdini, the social psychologist famously says, there are six principles of human influence that guide our “click-whirr” subconscious response to stimuli. For example, give a reason why you want to cut ahead of someone in line and 32 percent of people will let you in, no questions asked.
Want someone to click through your website, optimizers suggest doing these three things:
1. Create a 3-minute video that’s introduced by a “magnetic headline,” such as “Find your perfect mate at a party, social gathering, sports event, or church outing.”
2. Chase it with an information gap (humans find information gaps intolerable and will do anything to fill them in, such as “here’s a trick that works every time, and you won’t believe how simple it is….”)
3. Tell them to click the play button on the video to see how the trick works after which the video unspools only to stall at the midpoint with a virtual tollbooth that asks for their email in order to continue. and presto.
According to optimizers, you’re simply following these principles of human behavior and optimization that shows people will follow click-whirr responses once they have begun to invest time and effort with a product or platform as long as it serves their values and they are capable of performing the functions asked, especially when wrapped in the six principles of human influence adapted to the digital platform.
Can it go too far? For sure, the boundary between optimal and sub-optimal is a blurred if not moving line; hence the need for constant A/B testing.
Want to apologize for something? Optimizers have a solution. Just use a data-based version of “because,” such as “I used a private server for my email instead of just the government server because I didn’t want to carry around two devices.” Did it work? You be the judge.
But to be successful with A/B testing, just keep trying. And you’re in good company. Mark Zuckerberg just announced he was going to begin hosting news content directly on Facebook because the old way linking Facebook to the publisher’s own website takes too long. Facebook’s optimizers found that it took eight seconds to go to a content provider’s website, open the web browser, load, and then read the content. That was too long, they found, especially on a mobile device. When it comes to catching the roving eyeballs of readers, milliseconds matter. Hence, Facebook will host content directly on Facebook and begin talking with publishers about other technical ways to hasten the delivery of their articles.
What’s the takeaway? If you know what the endgame is and you know the processes being used to get you there, then it’s up to you to proceed, or, keep clicking and in the end, give up your email…or not.