Scientia potentia est.
In 1597 Fracis Bacon wrote those Latin words, meaning “knowledge is power” and never before has that been as true as it is today, however evolution has molded the human brain to understand and exploit that essential truth in such a way that it gives modern marketers a big lever with which to motivate individuals to spread our messages.
Information asymmetry is the idea that in transactions between individuals or groups, some parties have more information available to them than others, and those parties thus wield power over their ignorant counterparts.
Evolutionarily, I’ve studied how there are powerful pressures at work for people to not only imitate those of their peers who have (or appear to have) more information than they do, but also why it is beneficial for a person to share potentially valuable information with their social groups. In both of these instances, information, knowledge is power, but that power comes from asymmetrical situations in which only some people have the needed data.
If your tribe knows the best hunting or berry-picking spots for each time of year, it is in your best interest if only your tribe knows this, otherwise the resource will become over-used. And if you see a member of another tribe coming back with a huge bounty from a secret location, you’d better do your best to imitate him. Power comes not merely from knowledge, but rather from knowledge which is scarce.
Consider these two situations:
The biggest news story all month breaks on Saturday morning, and it’s being covered in ever media outlet on the face of the planet. On Monday morning, will you be sending a link about it to your coworkers? My guess is probably not, everyone will already be talking about it, and if not, I’d just assume they already knew about it because well, everyone does.
Now suppose that same news is going to break on Tuesday, but you somehow found out about it on Saturday. You probably see where I’m going with this, unless its not in your best interest (like a contest where telling others hurts your chances or even legal, NDA-type reasons), you are much more likely to be telling everyone you know about it, because chances are, they have no idea.
The reasons for this are varied, and my Viral Content Sharing Report uncovered a few of them. By possessing this powerful information and sharing it with their peers, an individual can build a reputation as a thought leader and ensure that people will share valuable scarce information reciprocally with them. Respondents to my survey also mentioned specifically that they share content with their friends when they are concerned that otherwise, that friend may not have seen it (I call this the they-might-miss-it hook). The survey also revealed that people often prefer sharing content from blogs rather than mainstream media sources.
What this means for the marketer is that we should include an element of scarcity in our social and viral campaigns. Invite-only betas are one example that springs to mind. Its also easy to title all of our blog posts “The Secret of…” but this is an overly-obvious marketing ploy and savvy users (who are the most contagious sharers) will see right through this, so try to develop a feeling of exclusivity and rarity more subtly.