Outreach is an integral part of our day to day life. Be it writing emails, chatting on twitter or stalking someone on Linkedin, we have all spent a significant time working out the best ways to get results. A lot of the techniques we use are ones advocated by some of the biggest names in the industry. However, most of the techniques put forward come from personal experience and generally have very little statistical backing.
Yet they work…
This is because the best tips and tricks from the industry actually rely quite heavily of Psychology. Below is a Psychological run through of the best tips and tricks for your email outreach.
Tip 1 – Initial contact – Don’t Start Cold
As the Son of Gondor above states, you should not just ask for a link. Going in cold is more likely to put the potential target off and ruin your chances. Instead you should start by interacting with them socially; chatting on twitter, retweeting them, commenting on blogs, basically sharing their social space. The idea being that they will become more aware of you and less cautious to you outreach.
So why does this work?
Where do we start? Firstly, let’s look at the initial outreach. Why does retweeting a few tweets or general chit chat illicit a more friendly response? Put simply, it’s all about the heuristics.
Heuristics are brains cheat sheet. Rather than having to constantly work things out, your brain will store certain codes and conventions, thus allowing for easy access later on.
The first step when out reaching to a specified target is to get involved in the areas that they do. So visit the same chat rooms, follow the same people and chat with the people they like and respect (Social Proof and Contagion). Essentially get in front of them.
This increases familiarity with the person you want to contact and, as everyone knows, familiarity increases liking. Mad as it sounds, the more familiar something is to you, the more you like and trust it. This reflects our desire to maintain the status quo, due to the fact that if something was actively disliked, it would have been removed much earlier. This is called the Mere-Exposure Effect.
Think about twitter. You follow someone as a nicety, you have basically no idea who they are or what they do only that they connected with you on LinkedIn. You do not like or dislike them, you are indifferent to them. Yet over time, their tweets and updates start filtering through. Nothing ground breaking but occasionally funny and interesting. You start noticing their face more and more in your feed, you spot them in forums and other groups. Whilst not actively engaging with them, you are interacting with them on a daily basis, they are becoming more familiar to them and you are starting to trust them on a level you wouldn’t with a normal stranger.
Tip 2 – Getting to know them – Take an interest
Once you have been knocking around that persons twitter and Facebook feed a while, you are then encouraged to start interacting with them. You comment on blog posts and mention them in tweets. You start chatting about nothing that important but you reflect interests you know they have. You do this is to take advantage of a heuristic based around friendship. By mimicking what a friend would do, the pitcher takes advantage of the heuristic, thus eliciting a response normally given to a friend. By acting like you are interested in the same things, you are also taking advantage of the mimicry heuristic.
After you have taken an interest, it is time to actually start outreaching to your audience. There are countless ways you can outreach to your audience, but the most popular tactic seems to be either straight up asking them for a link or by offering to help them out.
Tip 3 – Selling – Help them out
This seems to be one of the favourites in the industry at the moment. And why wouldn’t it be? We are helping people rather than manipulating them (Yay, go us!). Essentially, you find an issue on their site, be it a 404 page or faulty content, you tell them the issue, work with them to fix it and then they generously offer you a link in exchange for your help.
This technique has a lot of merit. In Robert B. Cialdini’s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, talks about the human need for Reciprocity, essentially stating that as humans we feel obliged to offer concession or discounts to others if they have offered them to us. So if a colleague has spent time helping us out, we would feel obliged to do the same back.
Another example would be when you are in the midst of a quality salesman. When on holiday in Tunisia, I was exposed to the brilliance of the Carpet sellers. They get you in, make you feel comfortable, show you how they make the carpets (a FREE tour), give you some FREE traditional mint tea (something you probably wanted to have at some point on your holiday) and then show you the rugs. He starts big, on things you really can’t afford, then gets smaller and smaller until it is something you can afford. You then feel obliged to buy something from him as he has already spent so much time on YOU and given YOU so many things for FREE already. So you end up coming away with a silk prayer mat that you really didn’t want.
Tip 4 – Selling – Want a link? Try asking for a favour
It seems counter intuitive but asking for a small favour can make your audience more likely to agree to do a bigger favour for you. So asking someone for the time or the name of something can offer you a way to ask them for something more be it a guest post, some advice or just a link.
This technique is essentially used to get your “foot in the door” of the potential audience. Studies have shown that people are far more receptive of larger requests when they have already agreed to a smaller one. Essentially, they have already agreed to doing something for you and so create an affinity with you. A word of warning though, best results leave a little time between the requests as repeated requests tend to lead to being told where to go…
Tip 5 – Incentivise – The Knowledge Gap
When tasked with creating an outreach email, you will often feel tempted to cram all the information you have into one email. This makes the email long and complicated, thus decreasing the chance of anyone reading it. So the best way to generate interest is to keep the email short and create a knowledge gap.
After chatting to the rather brilliant Nathalie Nahai, she pointed to the knowledge gap as being one of her favourite techniques. By holding something of interest back, you increase the likelihood of a reply and thus build a dialogue between yourself and the other person.
Tip 6 – Upselling – The 60 x 60 Rule
Anyone who has worked in sales for a period of time (you poor, poor people) will have heard of the 60×60 principle. The idea is that once you have got someone to agree to a purchase, you then upsell to them with a product that is up to 60% of the main products price. 60% of the time, the upsell will be successful. Think of it next time you are in a fast food restaurant and they ask you if you “want fries with that”.
The person has already agreed to buy from you. They have already decided that you are trustworthy enough to purchase from and your products are a good enough quality. The hardest part of the sale has already been done and so by offering a small increase in outlay for a large (perceived) increase in product is a no brainer for most people. Just be warned not to go over the top as asking for too much will put people off.
In terms of outreach, this method is entirely down to your judgement. You have to decide how much value your contact places on things. So, for example, if they have accepted your blog but you want some social coverage, someone with a blog twitter they use solely for the blog is going to treat the request differently to someone who solely uses a personal twitter.
Tip 7 – Seal the Deal – The Call to Action
You will have seen calls to action all over the internet. Generally, it will be a button telling you to purchase or download something. There is a lot of theory around what makes a brilliant CTA (Read Web’s of Influence) but the vast majority of these tend to focus on web design. What people often forget is that outreach also needs a CTA to make sure that people do what you want. This can often be something as simple as ending an email with “…so what do you think about this article” or “…are you free for a call?”
Essentially, you are trying to get them to do something rather than just thinking about it and forgetting. Make sure that at the end of your emails you ask for a specific action to take place. Forget the generic stuff like “looking forward to hearing from you” or “would love to know what you think”, these are easy to ignore. Instead, go for something personal and specific; actively engage with your audience.
Call to actions work because you are nudging the person into doing what you want them to do. People will often do as they are asked (although the reason tends to be different depending on if you are talking to a Psychologist, Neuroscientist, Sociologist or Philosopher) but people hate to be told what to do. Don’t aim to be aggressive, instead persuade people into doing the action you want them to. Taking a personal interest in what they do makes it look like you have taken time over them and so they are more likely to do the same for you.