Is Your Social Media Strategy Stalling Because You’re Not Doing This One Thing?

image of scientific flasks

Marketers of most stripes know how important and powerful calls-to-action are.

If you want someone to take a specific action, you have to actually ask them to take that specific action.

But, it seems like social media marketers have either forgotten CTAs, or rejected them altogether.

A researcher by the name of Irving Kirsch at the University of Connecticut did an interesting experiment with hypnotically suggestable people.

Half of the subjects were put under full hypnotic trance and given a stack of 30 post cards.

They were given the hypnotic command to mail one card back to the lab each day for 30 days.

The other half of the subjects were simply asked nicely, given social requests without hypnosis to do the same.

Can you guess which group mailed more postcards back?

The second group ended up mailing more cards back. Social requests can be just as powerful as full-out hypnotic suggestions.

So why are social media marketers afraid of them?

The power words of blog commenting

When I studied blogging, I found that blog posts that included the word “comments” typically got more comments than blog posts that did not.

Take a look at this graph displaying the most commented-on words:

chart with data about blog comments

This is very simple, very powerful stuff.

If you want readers to comment on your blog, you have to ask them.

The power of the call to action

The most powerful evidence of the power of social calls-to-action is how effective “please retweet” is.

chart with data about retweets

I studied a a statistically significant sample set of more than 10,000 tweets and found that those that used the phrases “please retweet” or “please rt” were much more likely to be retweeted.

In the case of the longer “please retweet” the tweets were four times more likely to be shared by followers.

I’m not exactly sure why there is so much resistance in social media marketing circles to calls to action, but now you know the truth.

Calls to action work!

And here’s one for you: Get more social media data and mythbusting information by registering for the Science of Social Media webinar coming on August 23rd. Register today!

About the Author: Dan Zarrella is HubSpot’s Social Media Scientist. This post contains data from his upcoming webinar The Science of Social Media, taking place this Tuesday, August 23rd. Sign up now!

Print Friendly

Smarter is Better Solutions for Smarter Content Marketing

Here’s what we’ve got for you:

  • 15 high-impact ebooks on content marketing, SEO, email marketing, landing pages, keyword research, and more.
  • A 20-part Internet marketing course that lays out a comprehensive path for your own online strategy.
  • An organized reference guide to the “best of the best” of Copyblogger.com, and how it all profitably fits together.
Free Registration

Take The Conversation Further ...

We'd love to know your thoughts on this article.
Meet us over on Google+ or Twitter to join the conversation right now!

Comments

  1. Love your call to action at the end of the post. :) I guess there are a lot of online marketers that use social media mainly to engage their audience just as much as there are a lot of spammers that post links to their latest venture without as much as saying hello. Striking a balance is key.

  2. I can’t count the number of initial project meetings I’ve attended where I’ve had to repeatedly ask this question:

    “Yes, but what do we want them to DO?”

    When you finally have an answer to that, you have your call to action. And exactly as you say, Dan, it’s critically important across ALL media if you have even a faint hope for effectiveness.

  3. I think we are wary of coming across as too pushy. We don’t want to think our audiences are demanding that they do something, that turns people off real quick. But there is a way to ask someone to do something without sounding like you’re forcing it on them. Please and thank you still go a long way!

  4. I’m Always a proponent of “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”. It’s not that you have to be pushy but you do need to be aggressive in this industry.

  5. I think the resistance comes from the thought that people don’t engage with us socially to be sold to, but I think that’s untrue. When I like a brand on facebook, I expect (even anticipate) offers, special deals, and cool new products from the company.

    On another note, I think it’s important to keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to use the word “comments” in your blog post in order to ask people to comment. A friendly “I’d love to hear what you think about….” or “Add your suggestions to this post so we can all enjoy” or something.

    I have personally found that these kinds of calls to action work on my blog, anyway.

    Thanks for sharing, Dan.

  6. I’m shocked how many of my clients steer away from being direct about what they want their clients to do. They fear being pushy or annoying, but because of their hesitation, their message is getting lost. These are usually the same folks who don’t want to email their mailing lists because they’re terrified of having people unsubscribe. Dan, I often use your blog posts and stats from your webinars to prove to my clients that asking for things won’t hurt – it can ONLY help.Thanks for giving me information to show them!

    I’m really looking forward to your webinar next week!

    • Beth: I hear you. People should never be afraid to ask for the sale. The worst a prospect could say is “No” in which case they probably weren’t going to be a client anyway.

      Suck it up, make the ask, and build your business.

  7. Thanks for the reminder and tips. I like the Please Retweet tip. I was just using Plz RT and not getting alot of retweets.

  8. While asking for RTs and/or comments is technically a call to action, I think the specific act of begging for them is ultimately an act of desperation and a reflection that the content accompanying the plea isn’t compelling enough in and of itself to warrant an unsolicited action.

    I would have much preferred an analysis of ACTUAL calls to action on Twitter, ones that don’t involve the granting of some type of “favor” to the author of the tweet.

  9. Think there’s such a thing as too many Calls To Action? When a site owner over-loads their website with too many action items that it’s unclear what action a site visitor should take next?

    When writing out your Calls To Action I think it’s important to use simple language and to make the process simple for site visitors to understand. If you over-load your site with too much information, it’s just plain confusing.

  10. Very interesting that “Please ReTweet” gets more results than “Please RT”…nonetheless both seem to be more effective. Great post!

    • That caught my eye, too.

      My (completely unscientific) guess is that not everyone on Twitter (especially those that joined after Twitter added the newer version of retweeting) knows what RT means, and when they see “Please RT” in their stream, they don’t associate that phrase with the desired action.

      On the other hand, it might say more about the people adding “Please retweet” (and not “Please RT”) than it does about their followers. Are they making fewer asks than others?

  11. As readers or consumers of any sort, we don’t normally think that call to action makes us any more active. Like watching a commercial doesn’t necessarily make you think, “I want to buy that” right away. We don’t think it’s having an effect on us, so why would we think any one else would listen when we tell them to retweet. I’m no psychologist, but I would bet that just seeing the words “please retweet” even if you do not consciously process them, makes people more likely to retweet. The reaction isn’t non-existent, just processed more through your subconscious. Truth is it could never hurt to ask nicely.

  12. Excellent article. I am always promoting the call-to-action on my clients sites, have not considered pushing it as heavy in the social media avenue. But this totally makes sense. I take the same approach as Andrew B. commented. And love the feedback from Dr. Zachar and have that same mentality overall… The Squeaky Wheel gets the Grease!

    Overall, its a matter of communicating to your audience what you want them to do. Its that simple. Most people in this world need some sort of direction. Tell them what to do.

  13. I am an avid ‘comment’ reader. I will read the post and then read comments, mainly due to the fact that;

    a) they are entertaining
    b) sometimes there is more useful information in the comments (brainstorming)
    c) I’m nosy

    all three are great reasons to read the comments, so I for one am delighted to read this post. Yes, we need more “call to action” suggestions in blogs. But I can’t figure out why, other than the fact that people need to be nudged once and awhile. Maybe they’re afraid, maybe they’re apathetic, who knows…but I have seen an increase of blogs that will include a small reminder at the end of the post stating; “if you liked this post please leave a comment” I would say that’s more than a call to action or a nudge. And to think, I’ve been called a “helicopter” (hovering, nagging) mom and worse because I remind my children to do things! Bah! I’m just priming them so they will know a “call to action” when they see one.

  14. What interesting test results! I’m definitely guilty of not including a call to action (and then wondering why my visitors don’t do what I want them to do…), so I appreciate having one specific, actionable item – in this case, using the phrase “Please ReTweet” – to implement.

    Thanks for sharing :)

  15. I use an auto-tweeter when I post, but I have always felt weird asking for a RT. In my mind, it’s like…if I have to ask for a RT then my content isn’t good enough on its own to get a RT and I sound desperate.

    However, I’m going to change my auto-tweeter and see how it changes visits over the next few weeks. Thanks for giving me permission to do this without feeling like a loser! :)

    -jason

    • Jason, you may want to consider tweeting manually. Different content and different situations require different approaches and language, and you can’t adapt if things are on autopilot.

    • I’m with Brian on this one. Auto-tweeting has never done it for me.

      Automatic RSS to email on the other hand…

  16. simple but yeah, sometimes we just forget to ask ^^

  17. The recently released infographic on the Psychology of Twitter seems to refute (or at least downplay) the need for a call to action such as “Please Retweet”.

    http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/twitter-psychology_b12776

    Their conclusion: provide interesting content. ie. create value

    So, it is a bit confusing.

    The ultimate answer is to test your audience. Which I know we all have time to do…

  18. It’s always good to remind yourself about the fundamentals. A call to action is probably your single most effective weapon in getting people to engage with you. Interesting to see the research that backs up the effectiveness of your arguments. Good article!

  19. While I’m not disputing that it probably results in more retweets, I personally do not really like it if people say ‘Please retweet’ and I am less likely to follow people who keep saying this, particularly when it it’s on purely commercial or trivial stuff — I don’t mind it *as* much if it’s a charity appeal or a political call to action. Basically if you keep saying ‘Please RT’ eventually I’m going to drop you because let’s face it’, it’s just annoying to be having someone asking you to retweet their every tweet. It’s interesting that the figure are expressed in terms of percentage of followers retweeting. There seems to have been no attempt to track percentage of followers lost through repeatedly bashing the bushes for retweets.

    • I think there’s a difference between using “please retweet” strategically when you have something special you want to get the word out about and “repeatedly bashing the bushes.”

      My guess is you’re less likely in general to follow people who don’t tweet anything you value. If you do find yourself following such a person, you’ll probably unfollow quickly whatever wording they happen to be using. As Brian said in a comment above, interesting content is the essential cornerstone.

  20. I think looking at the number of followers on your blog or twitter is an important consideration when looking at how you use calls to action. I have Twitter feeds and blogs that I follow with 10k or more people and receiving calls to action from these posts seems much less intrusive then some of the accounts I follow with significantly fewer followers. If a person with much smaller following was constantly asking for RTs or Likes I would feel it’s desperate where on the larger more commercial accounts I see it as good practice.

    Great post. David

  21. I’m confused. You say the most commented on words in a blog is “comments” but your graph states otherwise.

    Is the graph back to front perhaps??

    • I had the same thought! Or is there another data set that we’re not seeing? And what’s the source? It’s hard to trust a facts-driven piece when the data is unsourced and seem contradictory to the message of the article…

  22. It’s really true, until you ask people to take action, none of them
    is going to. “Ask and you shall receive, so says the scriptures (holy).”

  23. I am trying to retweet but not sucessful
    Thats a good way you mention there

  24. Most bloggers shy from asking their readers to retweet their posts or post comments. They feel if they do so they will appear to be desperate or weird as Jason said. The call for action by a blogger can be requested in a friendly manner like “please retweet” “share your ideas” “what about you?”

  25. You can’t fight the fact. It’s true this works offline and online. It’s just the way psychology works. I use to sell vacuums door to door few years back and I found that the more times we asked to buy on a sales presentation we sold more.

    Still some people were to afraid to do it and in the end of the sales pres…you know what happened, right?

    Best lessons learned in that business, it’s funny all these findings people are just starting to realize online have always been used, but beginner marketers think WOW, if you ask you them to do something they will act, AMAZING!!

    NO, it’s just new to you.

    I agree with everything you’re saying and the PROOF, hopefully people will actually do it.

  26. Seems so simple but often overlooked. Everyone loves a giveaway!

  27. It is amazing how people can’t think for themselves anymore and we have to tell them what they need to do (or what we want them to do). Now I just have to remember to tell them what I want them to do. Is there an app for that? :-)

    • This isn’t new at all, and it’s not really about people thinking for themselves. People have always responded in greater numbers when told expressly what to do next. Over 100 years of testing in the advertising and direct mail industries proves it. Social media is no different, because people are no different. Same as it ever was, except these days, there’s even more noise. So probably more need for express directions! ;)

  28. It is amazing how true this is–you’re right, people are not inserting call to actions in their social media networking attempts. Great information that hopefully others will utilize to advance their websites/blogs. Great post as always!

  29. As one commenter said: Please and Thank You go a long way.

    Indeed, asking for follow-up action need not be pushy if you do it in a considerate way.

    Read Aloud Dad

  30. This is a great point and one easily overlooked too. I’ve worked in sales before and I never forgot to ask for the sale or do the assumptive close, but, for some reason, I do forget in my tweets and blog posts. Thanks for this reminder.

  31. This is a strategy I will need to try. I have started a blog and have yet to have any comments, and I find that I talk to myself on Facebook and twitter even though I ask open ended questions. Thank you for this article.

  32. Terrific post! I’ve occasionally included “Pls RT” when I’m trying to get some really important information out to the public, but never tried spelling it out fully before (with so few characters in a tweet, I tend to hoard them a bit). Anyway, I am definitely going to try that approach and see how it works. Thanks again!

  33. I think there is a nagging feeling that tells most people NOT to ask others for their help in spreading the word.

    Why is that?

    Maybe it’s because we don’t want to come across to “saleman-y.” Or, maybe it’s a pride thing – if I tweet something REALLY good, people will RT it anyway.

    The funny thing is, I don’t think any of us have ever been personally offended by being asked to retweet something. Yet, we fear that we’ll somehow offend our readers with such an outrageous request!

    This article and your research is a great wakeup call!

  34. I think GBC is right.

    I’m going to try the “Please RT” in a few minutes.

    Thanks for the great post, Dan!

    - Jennifer

  35. I’m not sure if this article could be any shorter, more spot on, or easier to read. Thanks!

  36. I think the call to action is important in many, many circumstances, not just with Social Media. You have to ask for what you want. Nice example at the end of the post.

    Case in point, I attended a “Pitch-Night” Meetup the other night where Entrepreneurs pitched for resources, capital, etc. to support their fledgling businesses. Most presenters gave their pitch and then forgot to ask for what they wanted from the audience. Audience members had to ask “what do you want from us”?

  37. Wow Dan, that’s really really cool. I’m going to set up a spilt test to try that out! Want to know how I go? :)

  38. Yup, I’m definitely one of those who shy away from “asking” but I will definitely ramp it up. I am NOT a fan of giveaways however. I won’t sign up for someone’s list simply because they are giving away something, and I’ve worked my tail off developing quality products to give away only to have people sign up just long enough to get it and then unsubscribe. I’d rather focus on building a smaller list of people who truly are interested in what I have to share with them – and my goal in turn is to exceed their expectations.

  39. Great tips you have here, would you say it’s a good idea to ask for a guest to comment in the first paragraph of your article or post? Or leave it for the last paragraph?

  40. Is the data used to show info about Call to Action regarding Retweets right? I am not sure if thats right data!

  41. Identifying your ideal target audience is the best way to start a social media marketing campaign. It won’t do you much good to market to your existing customers if they are not buying enough of your product. You want to define your ideal target audience then build a social media marketing strategy around that group.