All over the internet and all over the world, are businesses. Some thrive, others struggle to get people in the door. The ever pressing question for all of them is figuring out ways to grow. They’ve built their product offering and are ready to begin servicing customers. The only trouble is getting them. Or in the case of the web, getting visitors who in turn become customers. This enigma has perplexed many brilliant aspiring entrepreneurs. As most have found, there’s no surefire formula for succeeding in the business world.
In an effort to entice visitors to one’s website site owners employ any number of tactics. Oftentimes this starts with reading a book titled something to the effect, “SEO for the Young and Naïve.” These comprise a mix of 99% snake oil and 1% common sense. In order to succeed in the world of SEO you need only get other high ranking sites to link to you, and a whole bunch of little sites to do the same thing.
Now that we all agree that most SEO tactics are bunk, what next? I recall an old fishing lure infomercial I once saw. They advertised a lure that would squirm and spurt like a dying fish. In so doing it would trigger an automatic reflex in other fish to bite. According to this fishing gear sales expert fish will bite this lure whether they’re hungry or not because they have an innate animal instinct to do so. I have no idea about the psychological makeup of my dinner, but I do know that the animal kingdom has deeply instilled behavioral patterns that can be harnessed to effect a certain response. Humans included. The most basic of these is self preservation, but there are many others. As I’ve progressed from classic internet marketing tactics to exploring new methods I found myself confronted with an old friend and nemesis- human nature. And so the question becomes, how can you harness human nature to work for you in your drive to success? The answer is not as clear cut, only that each site and each business needs to do so.
So what’s a claqueur and why should anyone care? A claqueur, derived form the French word claque (to clap), is someone who was hired in the 1800′s to attend plays and clap on queue. They were akin to the canned laughter that we hear on sitcoms of today. Stop and think about it. Are we really so unsophisticated as to need to hear a recording of people laughing in order to find something amusing? Apparently, yes. Ultimately claques were discouraged and disbanded as poor etiquette, and that was the last we heard of them. Or was it? I suggest that claques still exist in every major market, in major retail outlets, and throughout the web. They take different forms, from secret shoppers, to fake clickers, to secretly paid articles. Claques are here. And I’m quite certain they’re still at concerts as well.
Next time you walk into the Apple store, or Macy’s, or a cell phone store, look around. See if you can pick up on the fake shoppers. We know they’re there as it’s a well publicized industry. These are people hired to represent a company’s target demographic who make the purchases they’d like us to make. When we see seemingly regular folks buying stuff, the rest of us are more likely to buy as well. Once their purchase is complete the modern day claqueur will then head on to their next store on their schedule so as not to attract attention from customers. At the end the day their goods are returned whence they came.
And what about websites? It’s common knowledge that the web abounds with paid reviews. This New York Times article articulates the growing issue of fake online reviews and how it’s a huge industry. For concerts think of times you’ve been in an audience where someone gave a speech and no one clapped initially. Then one person clapped and all of a sudden everyone joined in. Concert planners know this and undoubtedly place people in the audience to ensure timely cheering. This illustrates why claqueurs exist, why they’re still at concerts, and why they’re everywhere else too. Because most people won’t mobilize to action unless someone else does prior to them. Someone who reminds them of them. A claqueur.
Regardless of whether this is dishonest, misleading, or unethical, this is the world we live in. This is our human nature- the utilization of social proof to make decisions. All people do it, even the most idealistic. But most websites don’t include ways to harness the power of claqing to their benefit. What this looks like could take many forms. The most dishonest would be to out and out pay a service to increase the number of votes on social media sites. A much more ethical approach might be to feature users that represent your ideal claque. I was once featured on a site’s home page, for instance. Other methods are top ten lists of featured content which lets people know what others found most interesting. Or, you can resign yourself to paying people to writing false reviews.
To the idealist, of which I am one, these methods fly in the face of all that is good and right. Ideally content and products should be evaluated on their own merit with the best rising to the top. Human nature dictates otherwise, and one of the primary criteria whereby everyone and everything is evaluated is what others say about it. Hence, the claque was born and it’s here to stay. Those who harness it, ethically or otherwise, will be much more likely to succeed.