Motivators

Referrals are like sneezing in public Referrals are like sneezing in public

Suppose we have a product of some kind: website, app, physical item, service, or just about anything that has some value for others. Any product has to be marketed to the customers. There are many ways of marketing a product, but the best way is by referrals, which happens when existing customers tell their friends about the product (and, ideally, even try to convince them to use the product), or in other words share it. If only enough customers would share our product, we wouldn't need any other marketing - no paying for ads, no running door-to-door or calling people... Yes, that would be a dream come true. Alas, only a small percentage of customers share any given product (this percentage is called a "sharing rate").

The good new is that it is possible to control this sharing rate and increase it. It doesn't work for every product, and it's not easy, but it's possible.

The key to increasing the sharing rate is to understand WHY would a customer WANT to share the product. The answer depends on the product, the story behind the product, and the customer type, but there are plenty of well-established "motivators" - reasons for sharing products.

The following list should contain all such motivators (not counting illegal or unethical ones, of course):

  1. Ability to use
  2. Added pleasure
  3. Added safety and comfort
  4. Added practical value
  5. Cost distribution
  6. Network effect
  7. Bragging about achievement
  8. Bragging about stuff
  9. Revealing insiders info
  10. Following the herd
  11. Fear of shaming (or shame)
  12. Being an altruist
  13. Promoting a cause
  14. Helping the product makers
  15. Gifts
  16. Fun and entertainment
  17. Wow emotion
  18. "Aww" emotion
  19. Feeling inspired
  20. Feeling proud
  21. Feeling nostalgic
  22. Being (aesthetically) pleased
  23. Venting frustration
  24. Gloating
  25. Feeling sad
  26. Parasitic sharing with recipients
  27. Parasitic sharing with bystanders
  28. Breaking artificial barrier
  29. Getting goodies in return

1. Ability to use:

The product is useless to you unless you use it with someone else, preferrably someone you know and trust.
Ability to use

Examples:

  • WhatsApp (and other instant messengers)WhatsApp (and other instant messengers)
  • Battleship (and other mandatory multi-player games)Battleship (and other mandatory multi-player games)
  • Google Docs (and other collaboration tools)Google Docs (and other collaboration tools)

Pros:

  • The most powerful motivator
  • Doesn't require much implementation

Cons:

  • Suitable only for certain kinds of products
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2. Added pleasure:

You can use the product by yourself, but it's so much more pleasant to use it with someone else.
Added pleasure

Examples:

  • movie theatersmovie theaters
  • chess, cards, and other optionally multi-player gameschess, cards, and other optionally multi-player games

Pros:

  • Powerful motivator
  • can be applied to a wide variety of products

Cons:

  • May require much creative thinking and implementation effort
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3. Added safety and comfort:

You invite friends to use the product together, because it feels safer than doing it alone. Applies to products, which take users outside of their comfort zone or are genuinely unsafe for solo use.
Added safety and comfort

Examples:

  • Pokemon Go, networking conferencesPokemon Go, networking conferences

Pros:

  • Powerful motivator
  • Doesn't require much implementation

Cons:

  • Suitable only for certain kinds of products
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4. Added practical value:

You get more direct value from the product if you use it with someone else. For best results, that someone else should also get some value from the fact that you shared the product.

Examples:

  • airlines (sharing itinerary with family/friends, so they know when you're coming)

Pros:

  • Powerful motivator
  • can be applied to a wide variety of products

Cons:

  • May require much creative thinking and implementation effort
  • may feel a bit selfish, decreasing sharing rate
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5. Cost distribution:

The product becomes cheaper if you use it together with someone else (or, better yet, a group).

Examples:

  • Group tours, charter flights, cruises, rental cars, multi-guest hotel rooms

Pros:

  • Doesn't require much implementation
  • Can be applied to almost any product, although in most cases feels forced

Cons:

  • Often feels selfish, makes people hesitate to share
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6. Network effect:

The product becomes more useful (valuable to the user) as more and more people use it, but this added value is usually very small and difficult to feel directly or immediately, which makes this motivator less effective than the previous ones.
Network effect

Examples:

  • Facebook (and other social networks)Facebook (and other social networks)
  • Ancestry.com (the more people use it, the more results you get)Ancestry.com (the more people use it, the more results you get)

Pros:

  • Doesn't require much implementation

Cons:

  • Suitable only for certain kinds of products
  • not very powerful
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7. Bragging about achievement:

We love telling others about something we achieved, like winning a contest, breaking a record, performing a challenging task, and so on. If a product allows you to make such an achievment and you actually do it, then, at that precise moment, you are very likely to share your accomplishment, and, thereby, the product as well.
Bragging about achievement

Examples:

Pros:

  • Powerful motivator
  • can be applied to a wide variety of products

Cons:

  • Some people (though not many) think sharing achievements shows a lack of modesty
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8. Bragging about stuff:

Similar to the previous motivator, except that here the main "achievement" is the ability to buy something fancy, high-end, or markedly rare. Come on, be honest, if you own something cool, don't you feel a desire to boast about it, to show it off? No? Hmm, good for you, I guess...
Bragging about stuff

Examples:

  • Apple (I swear, I saw a guy boasting about his new iPhone by taking a picture of it with his old iPhone and posting it to Facebook)Apple (I swear, I saw a guy boasting about his new iPhone by taking a picture of it with his old iPhone and posting it to Facebook)
  • Porsche and other fancy cars
  • jewelry

Pros:

  • Doesn't require much implementation (for a suitable product, at least)

Cons:

  • Applies mostly to exceptional products (although exceptionality is often a matter of branding)
  • Many people see such sharing as pure vanity
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9. Revealing insiders info:

We love sharing information, especially something that few people know about, because it makes us look (and feel) smarter, and who doesn't want that.
Revealing insiders info

Examples:

  • Kryivka - a secret, hidden restaurant in Ukraine, which you can find only if instructed by someone who's been there (yes, it works, that's how I found it)

Pros:

  • Can be applied to a wide variety of products (surely, insider info can be found for most products)

Cons:

  • Requires a great deal of creative effort to craft the info (perhaps even on a regular basis)
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10. Following the herd:

We are highly social creatures and thus often succumb to peer pressure (this is also unflatteringly termed "herd behavior"), sometimes even without a good reason. One time I took a wrong turn on an intersection, because all the cars in front of me just happened to take that turn. I didn't even think, I just followed them. Took me 10 minutes to circle back to the highway. So yes, it happens.
Following the herd

Examples:

  • IMDB or any site with a large share/like counter (note that "likes" work as "shares" on Facebook)

Pros:

  • Easy to implement (sharing counters are provided by many frameworks)

Cons:

  • Relatively easy to resist the sharing temptation. This motivator should augment others rather than being a primary one
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11. Fear of shaming (or shame):

A much more powerful (and a bit controversial) form of peer pressure (see above). You share the product not because you want to, but because you fear what people (including yourself) might think of you if you don't. This should be used only on products or campaigns with a noble goal, otherwise the product is likely to be severely criticized. That being said, some soft and subtle forms of shaming can work, however weakly, on a much wider variety of products. Look at the picture above, for example. It's probably the cleverest subtle shaming message I've ever seen. You may not even realize you are being shamed into liking that cafe online. But you do.
Fear of shaming (or shame)

Examples:

  • Ice Bucket ChallengeIce Bucket Challenge

Pros:

  • Very powerful, although only for very specific products
  • easy to implement

Cons:

  • Controversial even for noblest causes (even IBC received some bad press)
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12. Being an altruist:

Who doesn't like to help others, to alleviate their pain? A few sociopaths here and there, maybe. If someone describes a personal problem and you know of a product that solves this problem, won't you at least tell them about this product? Of course you will.

Examples:

Pros:

  • Should apply to any product (if a product doesn't solve any problem or pain, then what's the point?)

Cons:

  • Not very effective, since we usually help people only when explicitly asked. Should augment other motivators rather than being the primary one
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13. Promoting a cause:

Similar to the previous motivator, but you share the product not because it helps people directly, but rather because this promotes a cause (social, ideological, political, etc.) that is important to you, and you believe that promoting this cause will help many people in the long run.

Examples:

  • Ice Bucket ChallengeIce Bucket Challenge

Pros:

  • Can be applied to a wide variety of products, e.g. by participating in charitable campaigns

Cons:

  • Not very effective - many people hesitate to expose polarizing positions like that (even environment is a partisan issue these days...)
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14. Helping the product makers:

Similar to the previous motivator (or, in a way, to social pressure), except that here it's not about the product itself or the cause behind it. No, here it's personal. Suppose your close friend asks you to like or share her new business page on Facebook. Wouldn't you do it simply as a personal favor, even if you don't care about the page itself? No?! Wait, you'd rather strain a friendship because you don't want to push one stupid button? You're joking.
Helping the product makers

Examples:

Pros:

  • Applies to any product
  • Very easy to implement (just ask)

Cons:

  • Limited effectiveness - only a small subset of people will be compelled to share (though not necessarily just close friends)
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15. Gifts:

This might be more of a combination of other motivators (altruism and social pressure, perhaps) than a separate motivator, but it does deserve a separate entry. Suppose you get you little nephew a "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" DVD for birthday, because you simply couldn't think of anything better. Well, you just shared a product. Perhaps your nephew will get hooked and buy a lot of SW toys later on.
Gifts

Examples:

  • Seth Godin's "Purple Cow"Seth Godin's "Purple Cow"

Pros:

  • Relatively easy to implement (e.g. add a convincing message suggesting to get another product as a present)

Cons:

  • Low yield sharing, because you only share it with a few people at best
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16. Fun and entertainment:

The product, or something about it, is so hillarious that you simply must share it (or at least like it, which is a form of sharing too, at least on Facebook). Broadly speaking, any strong and "active" emotion motivates us to share things. Any form of entertainment can also do the trick, but for best results the product should be funny as hell.
Fun and entertainment

Examples:

Pros:

  • Can be applied to almost any product (see examples if you don't believe that)

Cons:

  • Requires a significant creative effort
  • humor is subjective and may cause backlash if not used carefully
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17. Wow emotion:

The product, or something about it, is so cool or amazing that you simply must share it (or at least like it, which is a form of sharing too, at least on Facebook). As said above, any strong and "active" emotion motivates us to share things.
Wow emotion

Examples:

Pros:

Cons:

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18. "Aww" emotion:

The product, or something about it, generates an "aww" feeling. Not as powerful as fun or awe (see above), but still, not to be dismissed. It's no accident that Facebook added the "aww" emotion to its "reactions".
"Aww" emotion

Examples:

Pros:

Cons:

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19. Feeling inspired:

The product, or something about it, generates an uplifting feeling that makes you want to do something (starting with sharing the product).
Feeling inspired

Examples:

Pros:

Cons:

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20. Feeling proud:

The product, or something about it, makes you proud of someone or something (except yourself - that would be "bragging" as described above). Most notably, this happens when you are being proud of you child's accomplishment. But more abstract scenarios, such as being proud of your country can work too.

Examples:

Pros:

Cons:

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21. Feeling nostalgic:

The product, or something about it, makes you feel nostalgia. Typically this happens when you see something from your childhood.
Feeling nostalgic

Examples:

Pros:

Cons:

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22. Being (aesthetically) pleased:

The product, or something about it, is so beautiful that you want to share it. This is similar to "wow" in some way, but usually requires a different implementation.
Being (aesthetically) pleased

Examples:

Pros:

Cons:

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23. Venting frustration:

An emotional motivator (like the ones above) doesn't have to be based on a "positive" emotion. You can also share a product because it made you angry or indignant, and you simply must tell others about it (some unflatterignly call it "butt-hurting"). The catch is that the product must not be objectively bad, otherwise the criticism will probably make it too unpopular. This mostly works well with controversial products, especially those that have something to do with poilitics.
Venting frustration

Examples:

Pros:

Cons:

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24. Gloating:

You share a product (usually a piece of media) out of spite, to frustrate opponents or even to provoke a desirable reaction.
Gloating

Examples:

Pros:

Cons:

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25. Feeling sad:

The product, or something about it, makes you sad. Now, sadness is a passive emotion and had rarely induced sharing until February 2016, when Facebook introduced a "sad" reaction to posts, which, like all reactions on Facebook, works as sharing, so now sadness can work as a motivator too, albeit a weak one.
Feeling sad

Examples:

Pros:

Cons:

  • Only relevant on Facebook and even there is not very effective
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26. Parasitic sharing with recipients:

You share the product with people you know simply by using the product, often without even realizing that you're sharing it.
Parasitic sharing with recipients

Examples:

Pros:

Cons:

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27. Parasitic sharing with bystanders:

You share the product (without meaning to) by exposing it or its promotional material (e.g. logo) in public. This is different from the previous motivator, because here you "share" it with people you don't know and there is a very small chance they will notice the sharing. On the other hand, you "share" it with a lot of people, so it may still work, especially in terms of brand recognition.
Parasitic sharing with bystanders

Examples:

  • Pokemon Go (playing in public places makes people curious about it)Pokemon Go (playing in public places makes people curious about it)

Pros:

  • With some effort can be applied to almost any product (as a last resort give away free t-shirts with product's logo on them)

Cons:

  • May cost money (depends on the implementation)
  • not very effective, because most people don't notice the sharing and those who do don't know you enough to trust your endorsement
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28. Breaking artificial barrier:

The product maker requires you to share the product as a pre-condition for using it, even though the product itself could be used without sharing just as well.

Examples:

  • Tagged - (almost) can't register without sharing it firstTagged - (almost) can't register without sharing it first

Pros:

  • Suitable for any product
  • very easy to implement

Cons:

  • Easily turns people off, decreasing conversion rate
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29. Getting goodies in return:

You get some sort of a "bribe" for sharing the product, in a form of points, freebies, bonuses, or even actual cash.
Getting goodies in return

Examples:

Pros:

  • Suitable for any product
  • very easy to implement

Cons:

  • Relatively expensive
  • May not be very effective or good for the image, because many people don't want to appear selfish and greedy.
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