I was a diehard rap fan when I was younger.
Now, my tastes seem to be leaning towards a wider collection of genres.
In the rap days, I was knee deep in Lil Wayne’s rise to rap royalty. When other people were counting him out, I had Tha Carter on repeat.
I’d been listening to him shout he’s the best rapper alive for years so it was only natural when I heard it from other rappers and fans.
“Duh, he’s been telling ya’ll forever.”
I had no idea he was taking advantage of a cognitive bias rooted in the deepest levels of our psyche.
He’s not the only one, brands the world over from Coke to Louis Vuitton to Everlane are using the availability cascade to inundate us with their message. After drowning us, they make us believe the message.
In this article, we’re going to dive deep into what it is, how to tap into it, and examples of how brands — both big and small — are using it in the wild.
The Availability cascade is a self-reinforcing process in which a collective belief gains more and more plausibility through its increasing repetition in public discourse. The driving mechanism involves a combination of informational and reputational motives: Individuals endorse the perception partly by learning from the apparent beliefs of others and partly by distorting their public responses in the interest of maintaining social acceptance.
That’s a confusing way of saying “repeat something long enough and it’ll become true”1Let me go off on a quick tangent. The availability cascade is similar to the availability bias. The bias occurs when you overestimate the likelihood of an event occurring because it’s more vivid in your memory. For example, we tend to overestimate the occurrence of dying from shark attacks vs. dying from stomach cancer. You’re 5x more likely to die from stomach cancer. The shark attack is a more vivid memory while the stomach cancer is mundane..
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The Availability cascade builds on the information cascade. The information cascade occurs when people observe the actions of others and then – despite possible contradictions in his/her own private information signals – engage in the same act.
It’s apparent that people around us, the way information is presented, and how often we see that information has a lot to do with how effective the message is in influencing us.
The availability cascade theory was first developed by Timur Kuran and Cass Sunstein and revealed to the world in a 1999 paper. They focused on the effect the Availability bias had on regulatory bodies around the world and the people who wield the power to bring about this change.
They called them availability entrepreneurs. Activists who manipulate the content of public discourse and strive to trigger availability cascades likely to advance their agendas.
You’re going to learn how to become an availability entrepreneur.
The availability cascade is powerful because it’s subtle. As humans, we move through the world in a state of semi awareness. It’s necessary because we can only process a finite amount of information at any given time; we’re forced to concentrate on the now — the important.
As a result, we take shortcuts — the basis of cognitive biases — and tune out much of what’s happening in the world at any given moment2if you click through to the article I linked, there’s an interesting book I suggest you read. It’s about perspective and awareness through the eyes of 11 people from 11 walks of life. Our brains do the least amount of work to get by.
If it’s not worth arguing about then we don’t. If the argument stands up to minor scrutiny, we’re more likely to accept it. It goes on and on.
If we receive the same message over and over — especially when it comes from many sources — we stop fighting it and begin to accept it as fact.
When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, the aftermath was depressing. We kept hearing reports of people living in The Superdome being raped, attacked, and robbed. A 2005 article appearing in The New York Times was titled The United States of Shame. Maureen Dowd had this to say:
A snake pit of anarchy, death, looting, raping, marauding thugs, suffering innocents, a shattered infrastructure, a gutted police force, insufficient troop levels and criminally negligent government planning.
These stories whipped the nation into a frenzy. With each iteration, it was etched deeper into our psyches. 11 years later, we know a lot of it was due to an availability cascade. The media repeated itself and passed off news which had been reported as new information.
The incidence of rape was low, there were no attacks on rescue helicopters, and those looters were families looking for bare necessities when their homes were destroyed.
The availability cascade is saying something long enough until it becomes true.
In your business, you only need to influence the people who’re part of your tribe. You don’t need to influence the world.
Brian Dean of Backlinko is considered one of the foremost Experts on SEO. He publishes an insightful blog that has less than 40 articles. There, he champions white hat SEO, promotion, and long form content.
That’s the public face of what he’s done.
He’s been able to become known as an SEO expert by appearing in the places people expect to see him. He’s been featured in an AMA (ask me anything) on Inbound.org, guest posted on Smart Passive Income, and EvolvingSEO to name a few.
These features and spotlights seem natural for someone who has a reputation like Brian. He wasn’t always highly regarded. He started like everyone else. Over time, he manufactured a positive availability cascade.
Every guest post he wrote and every feature he has helps strengthen his reputation as a leader in SEO. The more you and I see his name associated with SEO, the more we believe it as true.
The content on his website serves to reinforce that notion, but it’s secondary. The major reason we accept him is because everyone else does. Everyone else accepts him because every other person does.
On it goes as a self-reinforcing cycle.
Let’s look at how to engineer the availability cascade for you.
The first step in creating a favorable availability cascade is deciding what you’re going to be known for. It won’t do to create favorable impressions across too many verticals. It’s confusing. Once you have the availability cascade under control in one area, it’s easy to put the halo effect into play.
When you think Volvo, what’s the first thing that pops into your head? Safety.
That’s the case even though Volvo hasn’t created any safety innovations in a few years. 3they still have an impressive track record. They’re responsible for crumple zones, laminated windshields, and three-point seat belts to name a few.
What comes to mind when you think about Apple? Luxury, sophistication, or being different? It started with their now famous Super bowl commercial “1984.”
Everywhere you see apple advertising, you get a feel for the values they want you to associate with their brand. Let’s move away from talking about brands with a $100 million dollar advertising budget.
Millionaire Mentor, a popular Instagram account with over 2 million followers, has become synonymous with entrepreneurial motivation. If you follow one or two motivational accounts, you’ll find a repost from Millionaire Mentor sooner rather than later.
Daniel Wellington used the same strategy on the way to $200 million in revenue. They inundated the market with imagery and branding that spoke to their target market. They positioned themselves as a fun, affordable, contemporary watch brand. Once they were splashed on Instagram pages of the top fashion accounts, people started to take their branding as a fact of life.
To create a positive availability cascade be proactive in getting one message in front of your tribe. After establishing yourself, you can expand to other areas. Always start with one.
Boil down the essence of your brand to one paragraph.
After you boil it down to one paragraph, boil it down to one sentence.
After you boil it down to one sentence, boil it down to one phrase.
Rand of Moz is The Wizard of Moz.
Ann Smarty is The Queen of Guest Posting.
Patt Flynn is The Crash Test Dummy of Online Business.
Ramit Sethi helps you build a rich life.
I’m the Tribe Builder for Entrepreneurs
Ben Greenfield, superhuman fitness
Michael Hyatt is The productivity guy
What are you? What is your brand?
The next step in engineering your availability cascade is going where you’re expected. If I was creating a small scale availability cascade, I’d make sure I was interviewed, profiled, or wrote a guest post on websites like Men’s Fitness, Men’s Health, and Ben Greenfield.
Best advice I’ve ever gotten. Choose the platform that best suits your business and your goals. There are too many social media channels to spread your message. If you try all of them you’ll get little to no traction.
Make it your solemn duty to learn and master one of them to get results faster and out of proportion to effort.
Melyssa Griffin started learning the ins and outs of Pinterest a few years ago and got immediate results. Fast forward to the end of 2016 and she has over 30,000 Pinterest followers, gets tens of thousands of monthly visitors, and can boast over 75,000 subscribers.
That didn’t happen from spreading her effort across Google+, Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter. On the contrary, she found out where the majority of people she wanted to reach were and inundated them on that platform.
Jon Loomer has a similar story but he chose Facebook as his platform. In his first year, he wrote almost every day about the social network and what he felt it had to offer. He was actively experimenting and building his following. Now, he’s considered one of the foremost experts on Facebook and charges a couple hundred dollars for a short call.
In both of these examples, they chose a social network and focused on it. It cut down their expense and sped up their learning.
My platform of choice right now is Quora, what’s yours5 you can create the accounts on other social platforms and publish content there if you’re inclined. What I’m suggesting is you go above and beyond on one platform and become a power user. Choose based on the cumulative returns you’ll get ?
The other half of the coin. You can’t engineer a true availability cascade if you’re only seen in one place. For the cascade to become self-reinforcing, you need to be everywhere at once.
Industry websites, popular blogs, and podcasts are a few ways to make that a reality.
To build a list of places you can be featured, start with Google and search for websites that openly accept guest posts. Here are a few search strings to get you started, but the more creative you get the more results you’ll unearth.
Keyword +“Submit an article”
Keyword + “Suggest a guest post”
Keyword + “Send a guest post”
Keyword + “Write for us”;
Keyword + “Become an author
Write down the name of the site, contact details, traffic numbers, and most popular articles on their website in a Google sheet or Excel spreadsheet. Compile a list of at least 100 prospects.
The next step is to follow in the footsteps of those who’ve gone before you. Single out three to five people in your industry who’ve gotten some of the results you’re looking for.
They’ve been featured on top publications, they’re widely recognized, or they’re prolific. After you’ve narrowed it down to a few people, type their names in Google. If they have a common name then write the industry they work in next to their name. For example, you’ll write “James Walker fitness” instead of James walker.
Look at the results you get back and record where these people have been featured. Take special note to how they were featured. Was it a profile, what it an interview, was it a breakdown of their success, or was it a guest post?
With that information, you can determine how you’ll get your name or the name of your brand into a similar position.
You’ve got two solid starting points that’ll get the message of your brand in front of the right people. Get to work.
This is the last and also the hardest part. It boils down to consistent action over time. You’ll realize a lot of the places accepting guest posts or featured popular people in your field are hard to get into.
That’s the point.
The availability cascade compounds. Remember it’s self-reinforcing. All you need to do is put yourself in the right place. When you’re picked up by smaller websites, an editor at a larger one may notice your presence while they’re searching the web.
They may see you again on the social media platform you chose and decide to sign up for your mailing list.
When you’ve started gaining traction on your social media platform, one of your followers, group members, or subscribers may be a podcast owner that’ll give you access to a larger pool of people. Those people you’re exposed to will register your presence for later.
When you come knocking at their door for an opportunity, your brand won’t be a complete stranger. Many times, they’ll be the ones knocking at your door.
Eventually, you’ll be able to get one large feature worth 20 smaller guest posts. Does that mean you should skip the preliminary work and go for the jugular? No.
It means that it’ll seem like it’s not working so much at first, but believe me it is.
Start with guest posting on smaller websites to build a buzz around your brand. Place your message where it can be seen and interacted with by the most people.
Increase your output on the most important social platform and start telling your story one post at a time.
The availability cascade is powerful because it’s subtle. It doesn’t shout from the rooftops to be noticed. Instead, it works on us while we least expect it. Everywhere we turn, the seeds of ideas are being planted deeper and deeper. Before long, we come to accept that idea as a matter of course. It’s your turn to make it happen on your behalf.
Determine what you want to be remembered for by boiling the essence of your brand down into a simple phrase.
Find out where the most important people you want to see your message are already hanging out.
Finally, inundate your people — your tribe —with your message by guest posting, securing features, and building a following on social media. The key is remaining consistent with both your message and your effort.
At the end of 6 months to a year, you’ll have an availability cascade that continues to grow all on its own.