The paradox of scarcity on the social Web
Maybe it’s more a paradigm shift than a paradox, but scarcity as a persuasion technique seems to have lost some of its luster in our social networking age.
At least where exclusivity in wielding social influence is concerned.
This observation began with something I experienced on Twitter the other day.
I was checking out new followers to decide if I should follow back. I was pleased to see one of them is a former associate who I haven’t heard from in a long time. What a great opportunity to reconnect!
That opportunity was thwarted when I tried to follow back. I was notified that the account is locked, the tweets are protected, and my follow is pending approval. I’ll take a pass.
It seems to me this approach is anti-social. It runs counter to the fundamental idea behind social networking. The message it sends is “I don’t trust you and what I have to share is so awesome, you have to qualify to see it.”
That might work for selling luxury items, but it doesn’t make sense on social networks.
What does work on social media is accessibility, sharing, connecting and responding. Trust and generosity are the underlying values enabling that.
The paradox of scarcity is that its power lies in limiting those things in order to create desire for them.
I have an ongoing story arc in my own home that illustrates this paradox.
A tale of two kitties and social influence
I have two feline housemates that allow me to share living space with them. If you are a cat owner, you know what I mean.
One is a Russian Blue named Bela. A characteristic of that breed is they are very shy, untrusting and only bond with one human. I didn’t learn this until I brought him home.
I’ve had him more than 10 years and most of my friends and family have never seen him. At the first sign of a stranger he hides in the basement. My mom refers to him as my imaginary cat, since she’s come to doubt his existence.
Because of his limited access, he has succeeded in generating curiosity and desire to see him and experience his presence. He is anti-social, but esteemed from a distance.
My other cat is a Siamese named Uma. A characteristic of that breed is they are very talkative and social. She makes her presence known in every situation, constantly underfoot, demanding attention and engaging in every conversation despite the language barrier.
Because she has greater trust, she is accessible to everybody. She connects with a wide variety of people in far greater numbers than Bela.
Social success belongs to connectors
Connectors are critical to spreading word-of-mouth epidemics on social networks. Malcolm Gladwell describes them as:
- Gregarious and intensely social with a knack for making friends
- Knowing a lot of people
- Knowing a variety of people from different worlds and subcultures
Bela, with his limited access, will never have the social influence or reach Uma does.
Another example of this is Amanda Palmer, performance artist, musician and social media innovator. In a recent TED Talk she told her story of building a tribe through connection and extraordinary trust. It’s a great message. What do you think?
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