POP psychology of Social Sampling

Recently, I was offered a box of #popchips from a twitter friend of mine who – apparently – was considered a key Toronto influencer according to Klout. At first I actually thought it was a hoax, but much to my surprise I received the box of perfectly “popped” chips and they were, as promised, quite delicious.

Now, I’m not writing this post to describe or define whether or not popchips were a good snack (though they were). No; rather, I’m writing to talk about how the popchips brand easily and smartly tapped into the psychology of status – and it worked!

As I’ve previously mentioned: the psychology of status – a concept originally coined by Herbert Hyman in 1942 – explains that people use groups of reference to determine their rank in status, as well as to determine a point of reference for where they would like to see their status go.

A recent study by Cameron Anderson & Gavin Kilduff (2009, Haas School of Business, University of California at Berkeley) examined the methods used by various people in order to achieve their status goals. What Anderson & Kilduff discovered was that when group members would attempt to reach certain status levels through negative actions- i.e. ‘force and aggression or (by trying) to claim higher status than the (reference) group believes they deserve, the group would punish these members. This research also indicated that rise in status seems to be strongly correlated primarily by actions that enhance a person’s value in the eyes of fellow group members—that is, by acting in ways that signal task competence, generosity and commitment to the group.

Translation: play nice, be generous and help out- your status will go up!

Great, now shall we get back to my chips? What the @popchipsto campaign did brilliantly was create an opportunity.

It’s one thing to receive a box of chips… It is quite something else to be enabled to share- nay, to give away- a box of chips because of your influence. So, first – this brand (encouraged by an online tool, Klout) has decided you were influential enough to receive one of the first samples of this new snack in Canada. Secondly, they also figured that since you were so influential to begin with, you would know exactly who to share these little tasty delights with… The goal of course, is to get more people to try out the treat and like it so much that when the onslaught arrives (which it has by now), we will all be hooked and have the need to rush to the store and purchase abundant quantities of popchips!

Here’s the thing; by enabling an individual to give away a box of chips, you empower them to increase their status. Popchips just popped the experiential sample give-away. Now, not only will “samplers” remember popchips for sending them a (seriously quite good) box of free snacks. More importantly, they will remember popchips as the snack that enabled them to use their influence to give something to their friends- to raise their status, if only a little. The first part is what makes you aware of the product… the second part makes you remember fondly and THAT is what keeps you coming back.

For brands, understanding the psychology of status within communities and groups might just unlock another dimension for uncovering the secret to the 21st century, hyper-connected consumer.

Judi Samuels

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