If you’ve been around the internet for more than a day, you know that Social Media can mean big traffic for your online business.
In fact, most of you use social media immediately after publishing a new article on your website. It’s the first thing you do. You craft a nice tweet, a Facebook post, or a pin, and you announce to the world that you’ve just published a new masterpiece.
And then you sit back and wait for the traffic to come rolling in.
Sometimes you get a few bites. Folks stop by. They read your masterpiece. They view your brand. They’re exposed to your products or services. Bazinga!
And other times, you get bupkiss. Nada. Zilch…or close to it.
Here’s the problem: No matter how big or small your social media presence is, your one personal, individual share is only going to have a limited potential. It will always have a glass ceiling. It will have an anchor attached to it quickly dragging it to the bottom of people’s social media streams.
The solution is simple: Get others to share your content out to their networks and reignite that spark afresh with every new share.
But how do you do that? How do you influence others to take that kind of action on your behalf? How do you get your site’s visitors to market your content for you?
At face value, the solution seems obvious. Put some shiny social media share buttons on your site and add as many different networks as possible. If you add 20 different social share networks, then you’ll have something there for every single visitor no matter where they like to hang out on social media.
The real solution is found in a fascinating psychological principle, the Paradox of Choice.
There’s a common idea that seems to float around regarding decision making. Most folks believe that more options will result in more people taking action which will also lead to higher user satisfaction.
Here’s how the logic generally plays out: Imagine that you run a business that sells jam. You currently offer 6 flavors. You decide that if you expand your offering to 24 flavors then the increased options will result in more people being able to find a flavor that they really enjoy. And that, in turn, will result in more sales.
Increasingly the scientific/academic community, as well as the marketing world, have been churning out studies that prove emphatically that more options always leads to fewer actions. And conversely, fewer options always lead to more actions being taken.
In fact, Sheena S. Iyenger, one of the folks who helped to popularize the paradox of choice, ran an experiment using the exact concept I mentioned above. She set up a ‘Free Sample’ table at a grocery store. During one phase of the experiment, she offered 6 flavors. At another, she offered 24. When 24 flavors were offered, only 3% of samplers made a purchase. When 6 flavors were presented, 30% of shoppers made a purchase.
When fewer options were offered, it resulted in 10x the number of sales!
Less is more.
This is the paradox of choice. And it is indeed quite a paradox. It stands to reason that more options are a great thing. They provide the ability to appeal to a larger group of people.
But nearly every case study and experiment people do indicates that the exact opposite is true.
The Psychology of the Paradox of Choice
Barry Schwartz, in his TED talk, recounts some information that a colleague shared with him. His colleague was granted access to data from Vanguard, a huge investment firm that manages accounts for millions of employees.
When they examined that data, they found an interesting trend. For every 10 mutual funds that folks were offered to choose from in their company 401K plans, 2% fewer people participated. This means that companies that only offered 5 funds to choose from had 10% more participation than those with 50.
Why? Because with 50 funds to choose from, it’s so damn hard to decide which fund to choose, that you’ll just put it off until tomorrow…and of course tomorrow never comes. -Barry Schwartz
Mr. Schwartz goes on to joke that these folks will be eating dog food in retirement because the decisions were simply too debilitating.
One common manifestation of this anxiety is in the form of buyer’s remorse. Consider purchasing a new TV. 50 years ago, if you saved up enough money, you’d go to the store and there were only a couple of models from which to choose. You purchased the one you could afford, and you were happy.
Even though choice was limited, so also were expectations. And if, for some reason, you weren’t happy with the TV, who’s fault was it? It was the world’s fault or the TV manufacturer’s fault. It certainly wasn’t your fault.
Now try to purchase a new TV today. You can shop around at Sears, Best Buy, online stores like Amazon or Tiger Direct. You can examine different resolutions, different screen sizes, different smart-app configurations, different sale prices, different contrast ratios, and on and on and on. You literally have thousands of models from which to choose.
And if, for some reason you aren’t happy with the TV, who’s fault is it? It’s yours. You had hundreds of options from which to choose. You should have been able to find the one that was a perfect match for you.
And that indeed is often the expectation with increased choices. Perfection. And when expectations are not delivered, satisfaction is decimated.
Research also shows that an excess of choices often leads us to be less, not more, satisfied once we actually decide. There’s often that nagging feeling we could have done better. -Alina Tugend
This also overlaps with the concept of FOMO, the fear of missing out. When a myriad of choices are presented, it leads to a fear of not selecting the one that is the best choice. In many cases, this can lead to what has come to be called action paralysis where users simply choose not to choose.
Practical Marketing Applications for the Paradox of Choice
Not only has this psychological principle been explored by psychologists and academics, but increasingly marketers are finding powerful ways to implement this tool into their strategies. And they’re seeing shocking results!
This core concept is used to increase landing page conversions. It’s used to increase email subscribers. And, of course, returning to our original conundrum, it’s used to increase shares of content onto social media.In theory, the Paradox of Choice is incredibly fascinating. In practice, it’s beyond powerful.Click To Tweet
Landing Pages & Attention Ratios
Landing pages provide a great framework to explore how this works to increase sales and conversions. Smart marketers know that the most successful landing pages are the ones with only one call to action.
When a user arrives at a well-optimized landing page, they should have only 3 options in front of them:
- Buy the product
- Continue scrolling, reading more information until they’ve learned enough to want to buy the product.
- If they’re not going to buy the product, they need to close the browser or manually navigate to another web page.
If you’re building a landing page on an existing website, you want to remove all navigation from that landing page. You don’t want a user to click through and read your blog. You want them to buy your product. You don’t want a user to click through and check out your about page. You want them to buy your product.
Over at Unbounce, they refer to this as the attention ratio:
The ratio of links on a landing page to the number of campaign conversion goals. In an optimized campaign, your attention ratio should be 1:1. Because every campaign has one goal, every corresponding landing page should have only one call to action – one place to click.
A great example of how not to do this can be found over at Ling’s Cars. I double dog dare you to click through and check out their homepage…but do so at your own peril!
While looking at their home page, answer this simple question: What is their primary call to action? What is it that really draws you in and makes you want to click on it?
Here’s my answer to that question: My eyes are bleeding and I couldn’t close that tab in my browser fast enough.When you emphasize everything, you emphasize nothing at all. Click To Tweet
Over at Ling’s cars, everything is emphasized using animated GIF’s, bright colors, and even sound effects. But this doesn’t make the elements stand out. It does the opposite. It causes everything to have the same visual weight and, therefore, nothing stands out over anything else. The end result is a chaotic mess with no clear calls to action.
Less is more.
Email Subscribers & Non-Choices
At this point, it should be pretty easy to see why you don’t want to dilute that attention ratio. If you have one primary goal, then that should be the largest and most obvious (if not the only) call to action on a page.
Don’t give the users an easy way out. Make it difficult for them to walk away.
This is what I call a non-choice. Let me explain.
Marketer’s use this tactic with amazing results on email popup subscription forms. You’re reading through an article and suddenly you’re interrupted with a beautiful popup offering a free resource to help grow your business.
At the bottom of the popup are two buttons. The first says something like, “Yes! I want to grow my business.” The second says something like, “No. I don’t want to grow my business.”
Psychologically, that’s powerful. You cleared the screen of all available distractions and brought the user to have to choose between only two options, and you’ve made one of those options a non-option. It creates a sense of tension inside of a user to consciously click on a button expressing that they don’t want to do something like grow their business.
This non-choice actively engages users and compels them to face a positive consequence or a negative one. Joanna Wiebe, author of Copy Hackers, puts it like this, “Every choice has a consequence. Put the consequence on the page. Make the prospect aware of the consequence so they make a more informed decision.“
Dustin, one of our co-founders, hates popup email forms. So do I. Let’s be honest, they can be somewhat annoying.
But one day he got it in his head that he should ignore his own personal biases and do some actual testing. So he installed one on his blog and watched what happened.
He meticulously measured his signup quantity (how many people were signing up) and quality (how many of those people were opening the emails, clicking links, etc.). What he found out was surprising.
His signup rate went up by almost 300% over night and his engagement rate declined but only negligibly. The decline in opens was less than 3% and the click-rate remained the same, all of which is fractional compared to the increased signups.
Social Media & The Power of Less
Now let’s circle the wagons and head back to our original conundrum: getting people to share content from your website.
First, get rid of the easy way out. For example, having a Facebook Like button is a waste of space. It allows the user to take action on something that has almost zero value in terms of traffic and social proof. Once they’ve taken that action, the users are no longer interested in taking the far more valuable action– actually sharing the page to their stream.
Smashing Magazine saw an immediate increase in Facebook shares as soon as they got rid of their like button.
We removed FB buttons and traffic from Facebook increased. Reason: instead of "liking" articles, readers share it on their timeleine.
— Smashing Magazine (@smashingmag) May 22, 2012
This is the reason why Social Warfare never has and never will offer a Facebook Like button. We want shares, not likes, and so should you!
Second, reduce the number of social network share buttons that are available for your visitors to use. Less is more. This is the Paradox of Choice in a nutshell.
I know you think that more networks equate to more people being able to use their preferred social outlet, but as you’re about to see, the opposite is true. Remember, this is a paradox, after all.
Over at QuickSprout, an incredibly popular marketing blog, Neil Patel put this theory to the test. When he increased from 3 share buttons to 5, he saw a drastic decrease in social shares.
On Quick Sprout, I only offer three social sharing options… Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus. I recently did a test where I offered five options, in which I added LinkedIn and Pinterest. The end result was a decrease in social sharing by 29%. -Neil Patel
QuickSprout now only offers 2 share buttons!
This is also the current trend for many incredibly popular social websites. Along with QuickSprout, Upworthy, Mashable and SocialTriggers all only offer 2 social share buttons. The Verge offers 4, but they set their most popular network to be twice as wide as the others and first in the list.
Instead of plastering your site with as many share buttons as you can possibly fit on the page, take some time to discover your target audience. Find out where the majority of your users are hanging out in the online world and hone your focus on only those networks. We’ve made it easy for you to determine which social networks are performing best for you, to take advantage of it!
Because if you haven’t realized it by now, the more share buttons that you present to your users equates to more social shares that you’re leaving on the table.
Third, test, test and test some more. There are an infinite number of ways that you can configure your website’s social shares, email subscription forms, and landing pages. There are so many choices that it can be somewhat debilitating. Sound familiar?
To overcome this, gather as much information as you can. Study and get to know your target audience. Experiment with different site configurations. Dig into your analytics and metrics. Find out what’s working, what isn’t working, and what can be improved.
So why does our Social Warfare plugin offer 10 (and growing) different network options? Because one person may find their audience on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Another may find their audience on Facebook, StumbleUpon, and Yummly. Your job is to find your audience.
Oh, and in case I forgot to mention it…
Less is more.
That’s the Paradox of Choice!