In our latest deposition on start-up excellence we explored the idea of making sure your site has a cheering section. These cheering sections are comprised of friends or paid individuals to give real users the impression they aren’t the only ones there. This method of social proof has been used by everything from large corporations to religious crusades.
Today I’m going to explore the other side, the presentation to the audience. Most sites launch and say, “Tada! Here we are!” Then you’ll see messages from the CEO, intro videos on the problem they address and how they fix it, and be invited to sign up. This may not be the best way to go. First though, I’m going to deviate for a second and discuss something I noticed with the TV programs my housemate and I watch.
I’ve long looked down my nose at her fixation on the Bachelor and Bachelorette. At one point she lured me into watching nearly an entire season of one of those. Dinner was offered and then I kind of (blush) got interested in the characters. But really, we all know (except perhaps her), that it’s acting. These people are playing scripted roles to entertain the audience. Maybe it’s not as scripted as a sitcom. Possibly the writers fill in the scenes as the characters get to know each other. But one way or another many of the interludes and discussions are planned by the director.
Then I switched over to my shows- football or baseball. Let’s watch real TV, where it’s just people playing for the love of the game. I had to notice that many of the games seemed to follow the same pattern. It often came down to a play in the last seconds of the game. The defense seemed to not show up during the latter minutes of the games ensuring a photo finish. And could Albert Pujols really hit three home runs in a world series without some level of complicity from the pitcher? Like a dull thud of a sack of flour falling from the sky, it hit me. Right here right now I’m calling B.S. on the NFL, MLB, and all other major sports networks. My shows are scripted too.
It’s easy to figure out once you think about it. The networks don’t make money if games are uninteresting or blowouts. Advertisers pay by the level of exposure. Somewhere along the way they figured out that if the players were allowed to play to their hearts’ delight then many of the games would become uninteresting to your average viewer. And so they began stacking the deck. In football plays are often called from the upstairs booth. You just need the coaches and a few players in on it and you’re good to go. Think anyone’s going to squeal about it? What, and give up their multimillion dollar salaries? Baseball has a long and storied history of cheating. Just pass the pitch calls from one coach to the other, and make sure the player knows what’s coming. Pujols had to know those pitches were on their way. If you can get people to throw the World Series for gambling, you can get people to do so to increase viewership. There’s millions upon millions of dollars at stake.
The question then becomes, how can websites script their presentation? I’ve wondered if getting into a long, painful, embarrassing online battle with a business partner would generate attention to a project. Or what about picking a fight with a competitor? Nasty words could be said, slights could be exchanged. The thing is- even if people come to know that it’s slightly fake, they’ll still look on and watch. It’s hard not to. Just like the Bachelor. And now how I watch sports.
Getting and keeping attention is a tricky matter. Most start-ups go into business with an idealistic view hoping to get there on their own merits. Many successful businesses stack the deck, it seems, in order to maintain their pole position. I’d be interested in hearing stories of start-ups creating public ‘acts’ in order to increase exposure.