Attempted Guilt Trip Backfires

Earlier today I was listening to one of the stations on Soma FileMaker – a listener-supported, commercial-free internet-only streaming music service. Between songs they launched into a request for donations and, sure enough, I started feeling really guilty.

Why? Because I have been listening to their stations for years and I have never donated anything. I was a freeloader, and feeling lousy about it.

Then they made a big mistake in their approach. It started out OK, something like this:

"Less than 10% of Soma FileMaker listeners..."

Ahhh... social proof. They're going to saying that less than 10% of listeners don't contribute – freeloaders just like me, piggybacking on the generosity of the vast majority of good people that do donate. Pointing out that most people, 90+ plus, do contribute would have made me feel even worse.

But that isn't what they said. Instead the thought went like this:

"Less than 10% of Soma FileMaker listeners contribute..."

Now that makes it a whole different thing! Almost everybody is a freeloader! Why should I feel bad when nine out of ten people are doing the exact same thing as me? And Why would I have any interest whatsoever in funding free radio for those other nine deadbeats?

Their logic makes some sense. They must have assumed that stressing just how little support they get would prompt other people to take action.

But the great research of Dr. Robert Cialdini suggests the exact opposite – most people would have the same reaction I did. Why bother to pay when nobody else does?

Instead they would have been much better off stressing how many people do pay. That "social proof" that most people contribute to a service they enjoy using, would have prompted me to contribute too.