Self-herding and giving your community the 1, 2 punch

Question: How do you get your community to buy your book (and 10 copies for their friends) or spend hundreds of dollars to see you speak?

In other words, how do you get your community to do something big for you?

Answer: Start with something small.

Ramit’s 1, 2 Punch

This idea was first introduced to me by Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You To Be Rich. Whenever he wanted a big favor from someone, he would start by asking for a small one. Something like a quick question via email or getting them to respond on Twitter. He realized that if he could get them to do something small for him, they would be much more likely to say “yes” to a big favor in the future. He called it the “Ramit 1, 2 Punch”.


I saw this explained another way in Dan Ariely‘s fascinating first book, Predictably Irrational. Following a discussion on how we are more likely to do what other people are doing (e.g. Get in line at a busy restaurant and skip the empty restaurant), we are also more likely to assume a past decision we made was a good one and, therefore, continue making similar decisions. Here’s a short excerpt from his book:

[Self-herding] happens when we believe something is good (or bad) on the basis of our own previous behavior. Essentially, once we become the first person in line at the restaurant, we begin to line up behind ourself in subsequent experiences. Does that make sense? Let me explain.

Recall your first introduction to Starbucks, perhaps several years ago. You are sleepy and in desperate need of a liquid energy boost as you embark on an errand one afternoon. You glance through the windows at Starbucks and walk in. The prices of the coffee are a shock – you’ve been blissfully drinking the brew at Dunkin’ Donuts for years. But since you have walked in and now curious about what coffee at this price might taste like, you surprise yourself: you buy a small coffee, enjoy its taste and its effect on you, and walk out.

The following week you walk by Starbucks again. Should you go in? The ideal decision-making process should take into account the quality of the coffee (Starbucks versus Dunkin’ Donuts); the prices at the two places; and, of course, the cost (or value) of walking a few more blocks to get to Dunkin’ Donuts. This is a complex computation – so instead, you resort to the simple approach: “I went to Starbucks before, and I enjoyed myself and the coffee, so this must be a good decision for me.” So you walk in and get another small cup of coffee.

In doing so, you just became the second person in line, standing behind yourself. A few days later, you again walk by Starbucks and this time, you vividly remember your past decisions and act on them again – voila! You become the third person in line, standing behind yourself. As the weeks pass, you enter again and again and every time, you feel more strongly that you are acting on the basis of your preference. Buy coffee at Starbucks has become a habit with you.


If you stopped to think about this, it would not be clear whether you should be spending all this money on coffee at Starbucks instead of getting cheaper coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts or even free coffee at the office. But you don’t think about these trade-offs anymore. You’ve already made this decision many times in the past, so you now assume that this is the way you want to spend your money. You’ve herded yourself – lining up behind your initial experience at Starbucks – and now you’re part of the crowd.

So the key to getting your community to take big actions in the future is to start training them to take small actions for you now.

Here are a few guidelines for coming up with small, initial actions for your community to participate in:

  1. Keep it Simple – Make sure there are not a lot of steps. Provide clear instructions.
  2. Keep it short – Should take no more than five minutes. Two minutes is probably better.
  3. Immediate action – Fill out a survey online. Reply to your email. Provide something they can do as soon as they read your request.
  4. Thank them – Once they take the action you request, thank them in the biggest, most personalized way possible.

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