AKA I’ve gone viral, how come no one is buying my book…well maybe not viral exactly, but still, why aren’t my tweets translating into page clicks and people buying what I’m selling? Well, for one, bias might not be on your side.

Have you seen it before? The viral tweet with a video of a goat doing hopscotch or maybe a heartwarming tale of how a squirrel found love, with a top comment — while you’re all here, check out the link to my Instagram/ Soundcloud/YouTube. The attention is there, but how often does it translate into actual page views or sales? Looking at the replies to these comments, probably not very often.

Bias and shortcuts

We all tend to rely on a lot of shortcuts to get by without our brains exploding (that’s me being dead technical). If you need an example: Would you say that more people die each year by: (a) shark attack, (b) falling out of bed, or (c) toaster-related incidents?

Maybe you’ll have said the correct answer (c)  but the actual numbers might surprise you. Why is that?

You don’t hear about many deaths by toaster, it isn’t commonly something shown on tv on the news or in murder mysteries or movies and because of this you don’t have much of a mental reference board. You do hear about shark attacks though and this (along with pop culture) might lead you to think they’re more common than they actually are. This is called the availability heuristic.

Just as a side note: what number of people would you think fit into categories a, b, and c above? If I said the number of shark deaths was less than 50 how many would you guess? And what about if I said the number of toaster deaths was more than 10? – I’ll give you the answers in a mo.

Shortcuts in social media

There are loads of these different shortcuts that we use day-to-day without recognising them and social media is no exception.

Here are three ways that people’s mental shortcuts or biases aren’t exactly on your side for translating social media attention into action.

  1. NOISE
  2. Bias toward the status quo/ inaction bias
  3. Reactance

1. NOISE

Social media is NOISY, there’s a whole lot going on and it never stops, never pauses for a second. Because there’s a lot of NOISY stuff going on, biases are likely to have a big influence.I don’t know if you’ve noticed but social media can be a very angry, critical place full of emotional reactions. And that means it’s putting a lot of pressure on your resources, so people tend to rely on their unconscious shortcuts and slow, rational thinking takes a back seat.

2. Bias toward the status quo

Out of the choice between doing and not doing, the tendency is for people not to do something. Basically, people don’t want to waste their time. This combined with number 2, where there are thousands of links and thousands of pictures of cats to look at and which you’re competing with, means that out of all the people that you might have made an impression on they’re pretty unlikely to translate into any specific action.

3. Reactance.

I.e. I won’t do what you tell me. The third thing working against you is that if people think you’re trying to get them to do something, their free will can feel threatened and instead they’re likely to do the opposite.

You can see these biases aren’t on your side. So what can you do?

  1. Manage your own expectations
  2. Be aware of your own biases.

You’ve worked hard on something and put the time in, so that should mean it’s good and other people will see that, right?

Well, not necessarily. There’s another bias at work here called effort justification bias where, to protect you from feeling like you’ve wasted your time, your brain tells you the effort was worth it, because you’ve produced something good.

Maybe you won’t have millions of page views, but maybe that’s ok.

Try to do whatever you’re doing because you enjoy it or because it’s a way to spend your time, rather than for the money or the likes. This is called intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation. By finding an intrinsic value to what you’re doing, you’re more likely to stay motivated for longer and you can keep on going even if things aren’t going as well as you’d hope.

This has been a very quick and dirty introduction to cognitive biases and shortcuts and how they might get in the way of translating social media attention into action (likes into page views).

Danger! Shark/bed/toaster attack!

Sharks kill approximately 5 people worldwide each year. 70 people in the USA alone die by falling out of bed, and 700 people worldwide die from toaster-related incidents. So, it probably is ok to go in the water, but maybe don’t stick metal stuff into your toaster.

If you found this interesting, take a look at my other post on whether reviews can really change what you think.