Don't worry, this won't be a long read. You wouldn't read it if it was, anyway.
At least this is what the trend shows: our attention span is getting shorter when we're online, making content creators' job harder.
While we can't compete with all the distraction coming from Facebook, Instagram, Candy Crush and who knows what else, constantly nudging your pocket like a little child hungry for attention, not all is lost.
As an entrepreneur, you might face the same problem. But there's one thing in your hands that Candy Crush is lacking: real value.
But how can you fight for a moment of attention in this messy jungle to let people see your worth? Should you join the club of addictive apps or there's another way?
Listen to our newest podcast episode to find out!
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Shane Melaugh: Hello and welcome to Episode 26 of the ActiveGrowth Podcast. In today's episode we start off with bad news. Bad news for your business and also bad news for you personally, and perhaps even bad news for humanity as a whole. However, don't despair, we're not just spreading doom and gloom here, we do also talks about solutions. So stick through the story in the beginning and the introduction which has to do with people's attention spans and what's happening with our attention which is right now not a good thing. It's not looking good but it's something that as entrepreneurs, we have to be aware of. We have to be aware of it because whether we like it or not, we are in the attention game, we have to get people's attention.
Shane Melaugh: Most business outcomes, if we talk about getting more traffic, building an online audience, getting click throughs, getting conversions, all of this can only happen if people pay attention to you and your business in the first place. Like I said, right we've got some bad news about that. We'll also talk about the solutions that we can put in place. Let's get right into the episode without further ado, except one more thing. You can go to activegrowth.com/twenty-six to get to the show notes for this episode where you will find links to everything we talk about and you can also ask questions, leave a comment, leave a voice message and all that good stuff. That is activegrowth.com/twenty-six. And with that, let's go.
Shane Melaugh: I'm Shane Melaugh.
Hanne Vervaeck: And I'm Hanne Vervaeck
Shane Melaugh: And I want to start by asking you to imagine this scene. There's a lab rat and I mean, a literal lab rat in a cage in a lab somewhere and it has some wires coming out of its skull and in its little cage there are only there are only two things. On the one side of the cage, there's a little dish with food and on the other side of the cage there is a switch and we're watching this rat and what it does is, it presses the switch and then it pauses for a few moments then it presses the switch again it pauses for a few more moments, it presses the switch again and so on. This just keeps going and going. The rat hits this switch every few seconds. This goes on for minutes, goes on for hours.
Shane Melaugh: Sometime the evening comes along and the lab techs are shutting off the lights in the lab and going home and the rat's still in that cage and it's still pressing the switch every few seconds. It leaves its food untouched. This keeps going on, it just keeps going until eventually the rat dies of starvation. The rat dies of starvation in a little cage right next to a tray of food.
Hanne Vervaeck: What's that switch doing?
Shane Melaugh: What that switch is doing ... What I'm describing here, this is a real experiment that has been run and this set-up is one version of what's called a skinner box. Skinner box is named after the behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner and there are many, many versions of this. The one I described, is the most extreme and to answer your question, what's happening is that the rat has these electrodes hooked up directly in its brain and these electrodes when it hits the switch, it stimulates the dopamine releasing pleasure centers in the rat's brain directly. It just hits those areas of the brain that make you feel good basically directly with a slight electrical current.
Shane Melaugh: Basically, it has a switch that makes it feel good and this is the same kind of reward response in the brain that you would get from eating food or from mating or from other things that basically the rat would be evolutionarily rewarded to do. Instead of having to eat food or mate, it can just hit the switch. That's what's happening and in this particular experiment, like I described before what actually happens is that the rat will basically hit this switch to get the stimulation as much as it can for as long as it can until it drops dead. Okay, why are we talking about this? Why are we talking about skinner boxes and rats? And what does this have to do with being an entrepreneur?
Hanne Vervaeck: Why do we start with such a morbid introduction? Is the real question.
Shane Melaugh: Yes, it's pretty morbid but actually the topic we're talking about is also a little bit morbid and you can see the reason for yourself. There's actually a very practical thing you can do although I ask you not to do it. Just think about it. If you get your phone right now and you open the app store or the Google Play Store then what you think and what you're presented with, what these tools tell you is that here is a list of games that you can play on your phone, a list of different apps that give you news or information or entertainment or whatever but really, you are not looking at a list of games and apps, you're looking at a list of skinner boxes.
Shane Melaugh: This is the thing, we are all aware of the great technological revolution that was the internet and specifically the internet becoming a household thing and us having basically constant uninterrupted access to the internet. Huge thing. But after this, there has been another, probably equally large revolution in the tech space and for most of us, this has flown under the radar. This revolution has been the return of behavioral psychology in this space. B.F. Skinner, that was like '60s or '70s and that was a big deal at the time and then it fell out of favor again for various reasons and behavioral psychology has made a huge comeback obviously with other people often under different names such as neuro-marketing.
Shane Melaugh: The revolution is this, we are learning how to use things like game theory and these devices, mostly smart phones and how to use interactions and colors and sounds and so on to essentially by-pass the person and stimulate the brain directly. What we're doing with these apps is we're finding the next best thing to inserting wires directly into people's brains. We're finding the next best thing, we're finding how can we use the way you interact with this tool, the way it interacts with you, with sites and sounds and vibrations and so on, how can we use all this? How can we set up these little games of rewards and feedback that will stimulate those same areas in your brain as directly as possible? I'm saying that this is about by-passing the person.
Shane Melaugh: If you think about yourself as the person you basically think about your prefrontal cortex. The part of your brain that makes long-term plans and decisions and we're getting past that and just hitting those buttons in your brain that release these pleasure responses.
Hanne Vervaeck: I remember when we talked about procrastination and overcoming procrastination that we were basically talking about those techniques to reward and the gamification but in yourself. Here what's happening is basically that the phone gives you those rewards but without the effort of actually doing something?
Shane Melaugh: Exactly. This is basically what we're talking about when people talk about things like cellphone addiction or addictive games and things like that. That's what we're talking about. It's essentially the equivalent of the rat hitting that switch is whatever it is swiping through your social media feed or swiping through potential dates on a dating app or whatever, hitting the colored candies on a smartphone game, these are all things that are designed to be as stimulating as possible to those basically lower parts and reward centers in your brain and a huge problem here is that we are so wired for instant gratification because if you think about it, if you're doing one of those things, you're scrolling through Facebook or Snapchat or whatever, it doesn't give you a lot of pleasure.
Shane Melaugh: If you remember the last time you did one of these things, you weren't experiencing a strong sense of pleasure but the problem is that there's a huge time distortion when it comes to rating pleasure. What that basically means is that we will take a tiny amount of pleasure that we can get instantly and with no effort over a much larger amount of pleasure that we can get with a little bit of effort five minutes from now and this means that even if the stimulation is minimal, something that gives you a tiny bit of pleasure right now with very little effort will basically seem like a higher priority to your brain than important life goals and important plans that would increase the quality of life by a huge margin but they're just too far away.
Shane Melaugh: That's how we end up staying up late at night swiping through apps or tapping on stuff or feeling the urge to check Twitter or check our messages even though we know that we should be sleeping and even though we actually want to be spending our time doing more meaningful things.
Hanne Vervaeck: I think when you talk about the swiping as one thing, passively looking at it but what makes it also really addictive is just getting that feedback, getting those notifications, getting those people who like your picture and people who send you a message send you a thumbs up and that kind of stuff where every time you check, you're basically hoping that you will have one of those feedback notifications happening.
Shane Melaugh: Yeah, that's one of the things. Also, that's why gambling is addictive. The key word here is variable rewards. If you want to learn more about this, read about variable rewards and also in the show notes, we don't want to go too far into this but this is pretty interesting, there's pretty interesting science behind all this. I put some resources in the show notes about this basically, there are some good reads about this. Don't read the book by [inaudible 00:11:05]. He has probably the best selling book in the space but he's also an idiot so you shouldn't read his stuff but I'll put some other ... Basically, if you search for it on Amazon, you'll probably find that first but don't read that. I'll put some other resources in the show notes if you want to learn more about why this is happening basically.
Shane Melaugh: Now why is this important? Again, we're getting closer to why this is important for being an entrepreneur because I don't actually want to talk in this episode about what this means for you personally and maybe for you and your family even though that's important obviously how this thing impacts our personal lives but the perspective I want to take here is what does this mean for you as an entrepreneur? Here's why this is important. With the way our life has been shaped by technology where now everybody basically has this constantly connected device in their pocket, it has changed the competitive landscape quite a bit and it's because what's become super important in the information age, attention, your attention has become the ultimate scare resource.
Shane Melaugh: Everyone has exactly 24 hours in a day and never more and what's happening is that the giants in this space, the giants of technology are basically fighting a battle for every minute and second of that time in your life. This isn't an exaggeration. The crassest example of this is that the CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings said in an interview that ... when he was asked about competition, he said that we actually compete with sleep and he called sleep, Netflix's number one competitor. Not only did he say, "We actually compete with sleep." He also said, "And we're winning." That's one of the goals of Netflix is to say, "Oh, you're spending eight hours a day sleeping, you could be spending one or two of those hours watching a Netflix show instead. How can we get you so hooked that you lose sleep in favor of consuming our product?"
Shane Melaugh: Now, probably if I asked about this, he'd probably say, "I was joking." Or whatever but no. First of all he wasn't joking and secondly, this isn't ... there's an underlying truth here that I think we have to be aware of. Netflix is a company that's aware that they aren't just competing against you going to the cinema or you watching TV or you watching HULU or Amazon, whatever their streaming thing is called. It's not about them and their direct competitors it's about them versus everything else you do in your day with your time and your attention and this has become increasingly true for in general, large online businesses like Facebook, Snapchat, whatever, you name it.
Hanne Vervaeck: It's pretty sad though that they are winning and I mean the truth is they are. If you look at your own behavior and you're very honest about it, I want the first one to raise his hand who's never continued watching another episode even though they would have to sleep or yeah, has done that rather than working on their side business to get it off the ground, right?
Shane Melaugh: Exactly. This is where we have this conflict where as an entrepreneur you've got your business goals and you've got strong rational reasons for wanting to spend time to get your business of the ground. It will give you financial freedom, it will create meaningful work for you, it will do all these ... these are all super important things but there's this ... you can watch another episode of whatever, housewives fighting each other or something and that's just somehow more appealing in the moment. Definitely, that's a problem that we've all struggled with for sure.
Shane Melaugh: Now, let's take this further into what this has to do or what this means for you as an entrepreneur. Regarding this problem, regarding the problem of these apps becoming more and more effective skinner boxes and taking up especially for young people, it's pretty extreme because people who grew up never knowing a world without the internet are more susceptible to this and young brains are more plastic. If you're talking about kids and teenagers being exposed to this then we basically don't know the consequences of such a thing. We are running this almost worldwide massively invasive psychological experiment. An experiment that you could never get approval for by the way.
Shane Melaugh: If you wanted to run an experiment like this on people, you would never get approval from a board to do this but we're just running this on basically the entire population to see what happens.
Hanne Vervaeck: And it is scary as hell because one of they did already studies on is the number of hours children spend on a tablet or in front of a screen and then how they design ... how they draw basically stick figures and if you compare the drawings of a child who spends a lot of time in front of the screen with the drawings of a child who doesn't, the drawings of that child are so much more detailed and so much better. It makes people stupid and like you're saying, we're doing this on the full population. I find this so scary to see each time that I'm at a restaurant and you see that the children are just having a tablet in their hand so that they would be quiet in the restaurant.
Shane Melaugh: I have to say [inaudible 00:16:45] somehow, for some reason that specific example, it's like look at the stick figures and the more time the child spends staring at the screen, the worse the stick figures are. That's super scary. Anyway, the thing is that we're not talking about how the whole world is basically going up in flames. A slight silver lining to all of this is that there has been more of a discussion about this lately. There has been more of ... this has received some mainstream attention that this is a problem. I'm going to link to a TED talk by a guy named Tristan Harris who is I think a bit of a pioneer in this field talking about how we should align ... we should design things that align people with their actual goals instead of just making them addicted to keep it tapping the screen.
Shane Melaugh: There's a great TED Talk that I recommend you watch, you can to the show notes for that or search TED for Tristan Harris. Also, I'm going to link to an interview if you want to dive deeper there. Again, there's going to be a lot of resources for anyone interested in basically just getting deeper into this stuff. What I want to talk about is how this affects your business and what should you do differently and the first thing is basically to be mindful of this, to realize that essentially if you're an entrepreneur, your competition is changing. I want to use Thrive Themes as an example.
Shane Melaugh: At Thrive Themes we create conversion focused WordPress themes and plugins and so it would seem obvious that our competition consists of other companies that also create WordPress themes and plugins and in fact when we started Thrive Themes, that's exactly how we thought of it. In my competition research the only thing I considered is who else is creating WordPress stuff? We have to realize that we are in a sense also competing against Facebook and Snapchat and Netflix and Instagram and video games and apps on your phone simply because we are part of this battle for your attention.
Shane Melaugh: If the social media and skinner box apps are very successful in capturing almost all of your attention and overriding your prefrontal cortex, your long-term planning in favor of this instant gratification then well for one thing, you won't read our blog posts and you won't take our Thrive University courses and that means you won't learn the things that we have to teach, you won't learn how to use our tools effectively, you also won't install and use our products, you won't spend a lot of time working on your website and in fact you won't become an entrepreneur to begin with.
Shane Melaugh: This is one of the things that I worry in terms of being a long term business is if all you do is chase this instant gratification, you're never going to become an entrepreneur to begin with. This is something that we have to consider. Are we going to run out of customers because everyone's basically going to be tapping a phone instead of building a business.
Shane Melaugh: Now, let's talk about what you can actually do about it. What can you do if you want to basically adopt your marketing and the way you run your business to this new hyper-distracted environment? I want to treat this in two different ways. The first is let's think about how you can play this game, how you can play this attention game that basically everyone or all the tech giants are playing very, very successfully. This is about attention management. You have to think about what am I asking of my visitors, of my customers, of my clients in terms of their attention and time? What am I asking of them and how can I earn that attention and time investment and how can I make this appealing to them? How can I make what I'm doing compete with these skinner boxes that are available everywhere?
Shane Melaugh: That's the first thing to think about is to look at your content, look at your website, look at what you do and how you present it thinking of this competes against like when someone's reading through my website for example, there's this thing in their pocket that they can reach for and within seconds, they have a highly stimulating experience there. Whatever the social media thing or the mobile game thing, this is two seconds away for them and with that in mind, will I be able to compete against that, will I be able to compete against this allure of the brick in their pocket?
Shane Melaugh: Now, to get more practical, one of the things you can very specifically do and that I highly recommend you do is that when you create content, any kind of content whether it's a blog post or a sales page or home page, whatever it is make your content skimmable. What that means is that you have to realize that most people will not read web content word for word from top to bottom. Most people will skim through it and basically wait for something to catch their attention. This is about content formatting. We will also link to some content about this on the Thrive Themes blog because we've written about that quite a lot.
Shane Melaugh: The basics of how to make your content skimmable, how to format it more properly is to make sure that you don't just have a wall of text but that you break it up into easily digestible chunks and that you have things inside your content, highlights in your content that catch peoples attention as they skim. An example of this is subheadings. Make sure that you have subheadings that are not just there and stand out just because of the larger font but also the text in your subheading, basically each sub-heading should try and win someone over whose skimming through.
Hanne Vervaeck: You can think of these subheadings as if each part would be like an episode on Netflix. At the end, you want to make sure that when somebody actually read a paragraph, what's that thing that will keep them reading and how can you have your subheading actually lure people in and start reading the paragraph and then they continue reading because it's actually really interesting or it's really capturing the attention, what they are actually reading.
Shane Melaugh: The same is true for things like bullet point lists. If you add something like a bullet point list to your content then one of the main advantages of that is that first of all, it's visually different so it's eye catching because of that but then also the bullet point list shouldn't just be a list of generic words or a summary or something, it should be something that will stand out to a reader. It's like, "Oh, that's interesting." And it makes them go either, I'm going to keep reading from here or I wonder how we got to this interesting point, I'm going to skim back up and read the last section.
Hanne Vervaeck: That's where the curiosity gap is also interesting when you can open that curiosity gap at the beginning and then people are like, "Oh, but I want to know what's happened next." Again, that same feeling as when you're watching something on television, you want to know what happened next or why they got to that point and then it will be very interesting for people to actually go through your whole content.
Shane Melaugh: Another rule of thumb I follow when I create content for the web is that in general, on a normal sized desktop screen, I want to make sure that there's never more than one screen that has just text on it. I try to make sure that basically if you're scrolling through, that on every screen you're looking at, there's at least one thing that isn't just text and that could be an image or an icon or something like that, it could be maybe a GIF or a video that plays, it could be a bullet point list like we just said which is also a visual element, it could also just be a highlight box or a highlighted section or something like that where you break up the text by saying, "Okay, here's the hot tip and you put it in the box with a colored box." It just stands out.
Shane Melaugh: Again, like I said, we're going to link to a post or two about this on the Thrive Themes blog because for example, we have a case study on the blog which is super interesting where someone basically took a piece of content and simply added formatting to it so all the stuff we just talked about, and it resulted in massively more traffic and more shares because people started actually engaging with this and that then led to better search engine rankings and that led to more traffic and so on. Really, this is something that I think is one of the most important things for creating content is to add this flair to it that makes it easier or that makes it more appealing to this ... let's say the base level of the brand that's looking for interesting stimulation.
Hanne Vervaeck: If you want to learn more also about how to persuade people, how to create that type of content that actually will lure people in and will make them continue reading then I suggest reading books called Mass Persuasion Method. It's written by Bushra Azhar. She follows her own rules because the book is really easy to read. Once you start, you won't be able to put it down and you will learn some very practical things about persuasion and another book that I think is very, very good to understand what makes stuff so addictive and contagious as Jonah Berger says in his book with the title Contagious. This will really help you understand what makes the human brain think basically.
Shane Melaugh: Yes, and we'll link to those in the show notes as well. What are some other things you can do to play this tension game more effectively? We were talking before about an individual page rather than an individual piece of content. Let's take a step back from that and talk about not just one piece of content but the different types of content you create, the different pages on your website and so on because one thing to consider there is that you can make stranger friendly content and what I mean by stranger friendly is that if someone comes to your website or if someone has a first contact with your brand, and they are strangers, so they don't know you yet, they don't care about you yet and they're in their most destructible state.
Shane Melaugh: For this case, it's good to have some short light and easy to consume content. You can also think of this as the top of the [funnel 00:27:43] content. What I mean is that if someone comes in as a stranger and they see some ... let's see a webinar replay that's three and a half hours long, they're probably not going to even start watching that because they go, "Oh, my God. I don't trust that this person is worth listening to for three and a half hours."
Hanne Vervaeck: You didn't earn their attention yet. There is a game to earn their attention and at that point, if they don't know you, you're not worth three and a half hours of their time.
Shane Melaugh: Exactly and so it would be much easier for such a stranger to ... maybe they come to a blog post that's relatively short and is very skimmable like we talked about and they go through it and within a few minutes they get the feeling like, "Oh, yeah. This is really good. This is some interesting stuff." And then maybe there's opt in offer there and even the opt in offer is going to be something small and light. It's not a take on massive video course. It's like, "Oh, download this pdf with the five most important tips for X." They go, "Okay, it sounds interesting and they download."
Shane Melaugh: Again it's easy and light to consume and now they've only spent so much time but they've already made a little bit of a commitment by giving their email address and they're starting to trust you then maybe they read something more in depth and then sometime later, and when they've become fans, they're going to be excited to get on a three hour webinar. It's important to basically not only have the heavy made for fans in depth epic content which is appealing to people at the bottom of the funnel, but also to have some ways for people to get to know you without having to invest too much.
Hanne Vervaeck: We're not saying to only have super light and super easy to consume content and never go in depth and never try to have something that's more value basically. That's something that we'll talk about this more later on. One other thing that we still want to talk about, how to play the game and how to win this attention management is that you can also break it up and you can use multiple channels basically because some people will prefer reading, some people will maybe watch a video, some people will be on YouTube to discover you, some people will prefer listening, that's why podcasts exist and you can use those different channels to capture their attention also at different moments in their day and at different times basically because listening to a podcast is something that you can do while you're doing something else even though we're still having to have you actually engage with a podcast while watching a video, you really have to be super engaged, you have to be in front of the screen to watch that video.
Shane Melaugh: This is something that I have to say, I don't think I'm a great example of this. For example, I'm very light on social media and I do think that for example, I'm not on Instagram at all to give a specific example and I do think that or I do see how being on Instagram could be beneficial because Instagram is a form of super shallow interaction. You just scroll through and every once in a while an image of me or my brand shows up or maybe a very short video and it allows you to just fly past. That's an example of this very stranger friendly content and an example of this is one of the ways in which being on multiple channels can really help.
Shane Melaugh: That's just something I wanted to mention here that I'm not ... this is definitely one of the things that I could do better. This is maybe a case of do as I say, don't do as I do.
Hanne Vervaeck: One thing that I always like to do when you're like, "Okay, how can we play this game, how can we win this [inaudible 00:31:37]." Is looking at websites who managed to do it right and one of the websites that comes to mind is BuzzFeed. I think that is typically one of those very addictive websites where it's easy to click and it's easy to consume and even again, we're not saying to create BuzzFeed content but look at what they're doing with quizzes for example. They've had huge success with using quizzes to engage people and this could possibly be something that you want to do for your own brand.
Shane Melaugh: Now that we've covered these different things that you can do to make attention management part of how you run your business, let's switch it around and let's talk about what you can do without playing this game. In fact, one of the things I advise you to do is to not play this game. We can do all of the above and I encourage you to do that but as Hanne was mentioning before the idea not to do just that. The idea is not to just try and appeal to people's base instinct and stimulate that pleasure response and just have them consume your stuff in zombie mode because, well, two reasons.
Shane Melaugh: First of all, even if we tried that as small businesses as entrepreneurs like solopreneurs and bootstrappers, we won't ever be able to beat the internet giants at the addiction game. We won't ever be able to make the investments they make in technology and in hiring psychologists and engineers and so on to create the perfect skinner box. We won't be able to do that. We won't ever be able to beat them at this game but at least for me, even if I could, would I want to? No. I wouldn't be happy about that. If I managed to turn active growth into the ultimate addictive source and you go there and you check these shallow stories every day and I'm getting all this traffic and I'm making all this money, I wouldn't be happy about that. I wouldn't want that. I wouldn't want to feel like, "Oh, I've managed to turn millions of people into zombies successfully. Yay me!"
Hanne Vervaeck: Come on. Don't lie. I know you would like to turn people into zombies.
Shane Melaugh: No, actually this is one of the things ... I wouldn't power trip on that. That's something where ... yeah, we can't beat them and do we even want to? What are some things we can do then without playing this game to still succeed in this situation that we're finding ourselves in?
Hanne Vervaeck: One of the things that you can do is actually make them care. Make them care about you, about your brand. Make them care about what's going on and the way to do this, to actually create that emotional connection and it's one of the reasons why I really suggest you read Contagious by Jonah Berger is you can tell stories, you can use personal branding to create that connection and have people have that impression that they actually know you and it will also help to use those different channels like we were talking about if they see you on video, if they listen to you, this is something that can help you create your personal brand.
Hanne Vervaeck: I know that many people are like, "Oh, there are so many big businesses and they don't have ... it's not a personal brand." I just want you to think about Apple. Apple would not be as well known ... I'm convinced about that, without Steve Jobs and this is a huge company. When we talk about personal branding, it's not just you are your brand but it's having a more human side to the business so that people can relate to it so that they can have that emotional connection with the brand.
Shane Melaugh: Now, you mentioned storytelling, which is a huge part of branding even if it's not personal branding but especially together with personal branding, storytelling is so powerful and storytelling is such a wonderful thing because why does it work so well? We don't really know but human brains respond to stories probably even more strongly than to these stimulations that we were talking about that come from an app and stories are just such a primal experience. If you think about primal experience, things that are just so deeply human they're even animal. If you think about something like sitting around a fire listening to a story, this is something that we have done for as long as language has existed. This goes back so far and so this is one of the ways in which you can reach in and pull people out of this brain fog is by telling a story.
Shane Melaugh: Another thing that I think is very important to succeed in this situation we're in, is to create real value and that's one way in which you can differentiate yourself from a lot of this skinner box stuff because the skinner box stuff is so much just about basically turning you into a zombie that what you can do is if you sell something that brings real value to people, it will also go past that brain fog and reach them. Here's how I think of it. When you sell your stuff, then sell it well and sell it persuasively and use all of these techniques that we talked about to get people's attention, to keep them engaged and so on. This is what you do to get through the noise but once you got their attention and once they bought your thing then give them real value.
Shane Melaugh: This is where you can differentiate yourself where it's not just, "Oh this thing is keeping me engaged so it can keep me engaged, so it can keep me engaged, so it can keep me engaged forever and ever." It's, "Okay, this person got my attention and was persuasive but then they gave me value." That's another thing where I think you can start building a real relationship with someone and where you can make someone care about that because ultimately if you are addicted to your phone app, you will basically ditch it the moment a more addictive phone app comes in because you don't care about the app, you don't care about the people behind it, you don't know who made it. You don't care.
Shane Melaugh: It's just pushing that button in your brain and if something else starts doing that more effectively, you'll just walk away from it but if you're interacting with a business that brings you real value, then that goes beyond that and they start earning your trust and they start ... it starts becoming the thing where you make a deliberate choice of doing business with that company for example because of the relationship you have with them.
Hanne Vervaeck: That's one of the reasons why we actually create this podcast and why we teach this to people because we believe that when somebody has a good idea, when somebody has value to add to the world to say there's a way, we want them to be persuasive, we want them to know how to write good copy, we want them to know how to cut through that noise and that's one of the reasons why I get excited about good marketing but learn these techniques so that you can then give real value.
Shane Melaugh: Yeah, exactly. I think another thing you can do here is to actually be very explicit about that. What I mean is explicit about providing value but also explicit about not being an addiction machine basically. You can be explicit about trying to appeal to that prefrontal cortex part of people, remind people of their longer term goals and basically sell them on the fact that, "Okay, this is not necessarily the thing that's going to give you the most direct stimulation right now but it's in line with your values and it's in line with your longer term goals." In fact what you just said before [inaudible 00:39:56] is an example of that here you say here's part of our mission, here's why we're doing this. This is not stimulating but if you listen to it ...
Hanne Vervaeck: Hey!
Shane Melaugh: It's not as stimulating as candy crush okay? But if you listen to it, you go, "Yes, I agree. That's something that's important to me. That's something that I want." Even though these skinner box machines are getting very effective at turning us into zombies we're not zombies non-stop and so we can appeal to people in their moments of clarity. All this for me is another reason to follow the model of 1000 true fans that Kevin Kelly famously laid out decades ago, I don't even know how he had a website back then but it's basically an ancient text of the internet.
Hanne Vervaeck: When people were still reading this stuff.
Shane Melaugh: Yes, and it's so brilliant. If you haven't read this definitely go read it, we'll link to it in the show notes but the basic idea is that you can make a great living if you have 1,000 true fans which means you don't have to have millions of visitors and customers, you don't have to have 500,000 Instagram followers, you don't have to have a million subscribers to mailing list or anything like that. If you have 1,000 true fans, then you can make a great living off of that by ... basically, if you think about it, 1,000 true fans will basically be 1,000 people who buy everything you sell and so if you have 1,000 true fans and let's say you sell one higher priced product per year then that makes you a great living.
Shane Melaugh: If you have 1,000 true fans and you sell a couple of smaller products, that makes you a great living. That's basically the logic behind it and this is really true and it's important to think about this because the way you get 1,000 true fans is different from how you try and scale to millions of app downloads, it's very different from that. Another thing maybe ... I over emphasized maybe the thing about them buying stuff. That's the result of it but of course a true fan isn't just defined by whether they buy your stuff or not. A true fan is someone who knows your name, who has this personal relationship with you and your business and your brand and who relates to you and cares about you and wants to get updates from you, want's to get your next product, wants to know what's going on.
Shane Melaugh: A true fan is the kind of person who if you send a news letter every week and you don't send one this week, they will send you an email saying, "What's going on? Where's my news letter?"
Hanne Vervaeck: That's not a joke. I've had this and even for Thrive teams, we still have this where people are like, "Oh, we're not receiving your emails anymore." If you've never had this before and if you're just like, "Oh, nobody cares about emails, what are they saying? Nobody would ever send an email back like I didn't receive and email." They do. This is actually a real thing. If you provide that kind of value and you manage to have those 1,000 true fans.
Shane Melaugh: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. This is something that I know it's a lot especially when I was ... for a while I was doing Sunday update videos so I'd basically do an update every Sunday and there I really noticed a lot because if I'd skip a Sunday, I would get quite a lot of messages about that and I'd say actually that's a pretty good indicator. If people immediately miss you when you disappear but yeah, think about ... what does it take to build that kind of relationship with someone.
Shane Melaugh: This is also very much up my alley because it's another example of, it's not about traffic, it's not about treating people who come to your website as just generic, it's just traffic, it's just this flow of people and I'm trying to get some money out of them but to really think about, "Okay, how do I build 1,000 true fans?" It starts with how do I get 10 true fans and then how do I get 100 true fans. If that's how you approach your business, that's how you build up, you will do things very differently and I think this is a much more sustainable way of doing it especially in this environment where you have these giants creating all these skinner boxes where you have these rampant destruction going around.
Shane Melaugh: Like I said, you can't really hang with these huge companies that are doing all these stuff but I think there's still a very real chance for the small business to build your own little tribe of fans and do your own little thing and it also means doing good in the world on a smaller scale but it still matters a lot and this is also one of the things why I'm excited about what we do is because for me, this small scale entrepreneurship is such an important powerful, positive force in the world because if we think about people listening to this, let's fast forward a few years. Let's say that maybe just, I don't know, a small percentage of people listening to this do this and manage to do this. Maybe 100 people five years from now, will have each their little tribe of 1,000 people, of 1,000 true fans and they're providing real value to those people, they have hired a small team of people they provide good work for their people and so on.
Shane Melaugh: Well, we already talking about more than half a million people being affected in a positive way just from a bunch of entrepreneurs applying this idea of building a value based small scale business. I think that is a hugely important thing in the world and something that we need more of.
Hanne Vervaeck: If we do a little recap, basically we want you to know how to play the game so that you can use it to get those first people interested and build that 1,000 true fans.
Shane Melaugh: Exactly. That wraps up our episode. I hope you enjoyed that even though it was a bit dark or the topic was a bit darker than usual. It is however a thing that first of all I think as entrepreneurs we can try to have a bit of a positive influence on what happens here. As a consumer, I think you're at the mercy of all this happening whereas as an entrepreneur, you can make a statement with how you run your business, how you do things, how you treat people's attention and so on. I think that's something that makes me feel more encouraged about this and if we take a step back from all this, I also think it's just interesting to see how all this will unfold. Certainly, we live in interesting times.
Shane Melaugh: I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Have you ever thought about attention management and the attention problems we've talked about here in this kind of light? Do you have your own solutions, do you have your own thoughts? I'd really love to hear from you so head over to the show notes at our activegrowth.com/twenty-six. You can also find a link of those in the description of this podcast episode. Over there you can leave a comment, you can also leave a voice message, you can just tap a button and record your voice and we'd love to hear from you, we'd love to hear with whatever feedback you have.
Shane Melaugh: Speaking of feedback, there's a great review that came in recently that I want to read out. This is a review on Apple podcasts with a great title. The title of the review is, "I'm mad ..." Then the review itself reads, Damn you all. Why didn't you do this sooner? This podcast is genuine, down to earth and brilliant and is birthed out of personal pain and matured with real experience. The wisdom I have gained from listening to Shane, [inaudible 00:47:49] has helped focus my energy on what is most important, shipping. No more procrastination by perfectionism. If you don't know what that means subscribe. If you listen and apply it will change your life.
Shane Melaugh: Thank you very much for this review. It's a really excellent review and by the way, this is some good copy. This is well written. It has character. This is really good copy, I really like it so well done on that and thank you very much for this massively positive review. Final point, reminder that you can send questions on Twitter, you can simply tweet @actigrow A-C-T-I-G-R-O-W. Just tweet @actigrow with what ever question about business and entrepreneurship and productivity and shipping and so on, you have and we occasionally go through the questions that we find and answer them at the top or at the end of one of these episodes.
Shane Melaugh: That's one of the many ways in which we can interact, you can leave a comment in the show notes, on the blog post for the show notes, you can leave a voice message, you can tweet us your questions, you can leave a review. Whatever you do let us know whether you like this, let us know what we can do to make this podcast more useful for you. All messages and all feedback is welcome. That's all. Thank you for listening and I'll catch you in the next one.
What You'll Discover in this Episode:
- What the Skinner Box Experiment teaches us and how you're exposed to Skinner Boxes every minute of your life without noticing it.
- Do we really get pleasure from being addicted to these applications? What do they really do to us?
- Who is your competition? There's more than what you think.
- How you can be mindful about provinding great content to your audience without turning them into mindless zombies.
- Action-packed tips on how you can make yourself seen online and get the attention from the right people.
- Blog post formatting hacks to keep even the lazy readers on your page and boost your conversion rate.
Here are the resources we mentioned during the episode:
- Read the Wikipedia entry on the Skinner Box Experiment.
- Rewarding yourself only works if you deserve it. Listen to one of our older episodes on overcoming procrastination.
- Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix believes their biggest competition not HBO - it's sleep! Read the article here.
- Avoid a big wall of text when you're publishing a blog post! Learn how to make your post look great and skimmable, and get your readers to pay attention.
- Read our case study on how adding formatting to a blog post increased our client's conversion rate by 800%
- If you're interested to learn more about persuasion techinques, read the book Mass Persuasion Method by Bushra Azhar
- Why do certain ideas go viral? Read Contagious by Jonah Berger.
- Why quizzes are so addictive and how you can benefit from it as an entrepreneur? Read our blog post about how to make quizzes serve your business.
- Read the article 1000 True Fans by Kevin Kelly
- How can perfectionism make you procrastinate? Listen to this podcast episode from the archives.
- Listen to the conversation between Sam Harris and Tristan Harris about the human attention and the effect of technology on us.
- Watch Tristan Harris's TED talk on how to spend our time well and avoid harmful distraction when using technology:
Are You With Us?
If you got this far without getting distracted: Congratulations. You accomplished the biggest challenge of the 21st century.
How do you keep your audience's attention? What are your best tips to keep them engaged? Share your story with us.
Join the conversation in the comments section or send us a voice message by clicking on the button below, and share your stories, questions, suggestions with us.
Also, if you have a question that you'd like to be answered on the podcast, send a tweet to @actigrow or leave a voice message below.
The next episode is coming soon!
The direct link for the mp3 file is linking to episode 25 instead of 26. Cheers.
Hello Guillaume! Thanks for pointing it out and sorry about it! I’ve updated the link.
I wonder how entrepreneurs’ susceptibility to mindless pleasure seeking compares to the general public. Maybe that’s a good niche study to be done.
My Skinner boxes are the ActiveGrowth podcast and Thrive Themes. When I hear that intro music; the saliva starts flowing :-)
A Production Note: Hanne’s audio is a bit too loud and it’s also somewhat distorted.
That’s an interesting thought, yes. I would expect that entrepreneurial success is inversely correlated with distractedness. But I don’t know if successful entrepreneurs start out less susceptible to distraction or if they train themselves to be that way.
Regarding the audio: I apologize for the issues. We’ve been using a recording tool that seems to be overly sensitive to volume. We’re working on improving this.
Shane, I don’t think Thrive Themes is in danger of running out of customers any time soon ; there have never been so many entrepreneurs and bootstrappers out there. :)
I know Skinner also used a “reverse Skinner box” where the mouse would press a button to avoid something unpleasant… and that raises a question.
I sell IT support for small businesses, so they’re basically paying for something that I take away from them. I find it interesting that in this case I’m not actually asking for their attention once they become a client. In fact, I’m taking their attention away from something unpleasant so they can focus more on something else more important.
Any ideas how to implement that reverse Skinner box in marketing?
That’s a really interesting point!
What you’re offering is something like pain avoidance and peace of mind. I think from a marketing perspective, people will be willing to pay for this when they are in a state of peak frustration.
Someone may be a potential customer for your service, but they probably won’t be willing to pay for a solution to a problem they could potentially have. They will be willing to pay if they very recently experienced the pain your service offers to take away.
That’s exactly right. It narrows down the targeting but also makes it hard in a sense. I find I have to wait until they have a problem before they become paying customers. Highlighting the time they are losing on normal maintenance just doesn’t work and playing the waiting-for-the-inevitable-problem waiting game isn’t very efficient. But I’ll get there … :)
I’d love to download this ep (my home internet connection is down), but when I click your link it just opens a tab and plays the content. Am I doing something wrong?
Try right-clicking the link and choosing “save link as…”
Loved this episode – I’ll be honest it’s the first one that has truly held my attention from beginning to end. My biggest take away is to shift my thinking from pure “numbers” to “fans”. In some ways it’s so simple, in others it fundamentally changes my approach to what I do. It’s not a quick win, it’ sustaining interest by delivering value overtime to build trust and EARN attention. Very powerful stuff, keep them coming.
Hi Shane, thank you for the great podcast. Could you please explain, why you think that Nir Eyal/the book Hooked is not a good read? You mentioned a quite strong opinion about that person.