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How Psychology Sold “Trust Agents”


Photo by: Elisabeth Feldman

Recently social media super stars Chris Brogan and Julien Smith released a new book called Trust Agents. In a relatively short time, the book skyrocketed in sales and became a New York Times Bestseller. But how did a book written by two first-time authors become such a success in such a short period of time?

I’m sure many of you read that question, rolled your eyes, and said to yourselves: “Well, it’s because they have 100,000 people following them on Twitter, tens of thousands of people who read their blogs, over 2500 fans of their Trust Agents Facebook page and they’re connected to people with huge online followings.”

Yes, that all contributed to the book’s success. But we’re leaving out the most important factor: psychology.

The Psychology

The two psychological principles I want to focus on are the Foot-in-the-Door technique and the Law of Consistency. The Foot-in-the-Door technique states that if you initially get someone to commit to something small, they will later commit to something bigger. The Law of Consistency states that people have a strong desire to be consistent in their thoughts and actions, and will go to great lengths to attain or maintain the feeling of consistency. A person’s desire to remain consistent may drive her to commit to something very large, even if she was previously only committed to something very small.

Visit the links below to better understand these laws:

The Foot-in-the-Door technique

The Law of Consistency

How Chris and Julien used the psychology

The first Foot-in-the-Door commitment Chris and Julien used was to get fans connected with them through social media. It’s a very simple commitment to ask someone to follow you on Twitter, to be friends with you on Facebook, to connect with you on LinkedIn or to read your blog.

Chris and Julian then leveraged their social platforms to prepare their connections to commit to buying and promoting their book at some point in the future. In October 2008, Chris wrote a blog post that outlined some strategies they were going to use to promote Trust Agents. One of his points was to “warm people up with blog posts”.

The second Foot-in-the-Door commitment they used was to get their fans to join the Facebook page for their book. These Facebook fans had now committed to at least two requests. As a result, their internal desire to remain consistent (and buy the book) increased.

The third commitment was to buy the book, followed closely by the fourth commitment–to promote the book. As people committed to buying the book, they felt the need to be consistent and respond to Chris and Julien’s requests to promote the book. Chris admits where the success of the book came from: “You pushed. You tweeted. You blogged. You showed people twitpics. You took part in the Trust Agents community. It was all you.”

How you can use the psychology

These simple psychological principles are key to the success of any social media campaign. You have to get people to commit to something smaller in order to get them to commit to something bigger. Here are a few simple steps to help you employ these principles:

  1. Network – Connect with people! It will take time to build a large network, but don’t forget that you are preparing a place to commit people to bigger and better things. Start building your network now!
  2. Provide great content – People have committed to connecting with you, now reward them for making that commitment. Provide content that your connections want to read. This will prepare your connections for greater commitments in the future.
  3. A larger commitment – Commit your connections to something a little bigger. You could get them to join a product page like Chris and Julien did, or you could just get them to make regular comments on your blog, maybe retweet a message or bookmark your post.
  4. Ask for the big commitment – Don’t forget to ask. One the main reasons Trust Agents is so successful is because Chris and Julien asked people to buy and promote it. If you don’t ask people for their business or their help, they are much less likely to give it to you.

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4 Responses to “How Psychology Sold “Trust Agents””

  1. September 3rd, 2009 at 8:37 am

    julien says:

    So both of these principles you talk about are well-known to work (I learned them from Cialdini’s seminal book Influence), and although I agree with what you’re saying, we didn’t do it with that much strategy.

    Instead, our strategy (at least as I see it) was to engage people, to get them thinking about the subject. It’s true that committing to small things is easy, and that they lead to larger commitments over time, but in our case, it was also about reciprocity– we gave and gave and as a result, people were willing to help out.

    That said, once a book is bought, the capacity for its ideas to spread are based solely on its inherent quality. If it had sucked, it would have died. The quality always needs to be there or everything falls flat.

    What do you think?

  2. September 3rd, 2009 at 9:05 am

    Twitted by StarrGazr says:

    [...] This post was Twitted by StarrGazr [...]

  3. September 3rd, 2009 at 9:20 am

    Chad Mustard says:

    Julien, thanks for the comment! Yes, having a great product is the number one rule in selling anything. In your case, it’s a compelling book with content that people want to share. I also understand that you didn’t purposefully go out of your way to appeal a person’s desire for consistency. Most people aren’t thinking about psychological principles when they’re employing them, including myself. I wrote this post to put a different spin on why “engaging people to get them thinking about the subject” works. So thanks for providing a great example!

  4. September 3rd, 2009 at 9:09 pm

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