The sound of no phone ringing

You’re all acquainted with public radio pledge drives.

Often the pledging is done with the sound of ringing phones in the background, where each ring represents another contribution to the station.

The intention is to demonstrate that other listeners are calling to pledge and thus encourage you to do likewise.

Of course, when the phones are not ringing, the signal is that listeners are not pledging.

In one interesting experiment quoted in the new book Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, a home shopping channel changed six words in one of its pitch segments and that simple change caused sales to skyrocket.

They changed the words “Operators are waiting, please call now” to “If operators are busy, please call again.”

That is, they signaled that operators were busy, not waiting. And that means people like you are calling, and operators do not have time to check their Blackberries or file their nails.

This is co-author Robert Cialdini’s “Principle of Social Proof” in action. The more I think folks like me are doing something, the more likely I am to do it myself.

It’s what makes a trend a trend, it’s what makes a hit a hit.

And it’s what does not happen when you see or hear a bank of pledge drive phones silent.

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