Author | Marketer | Speaker

I help companies turn data, ideas and relationships into reach and influence. 

How to appeal to the ego to get someone's attention

Appeal to the ego The quickest way onto someone’s radar is through their ego, to reimagine that old phrase about the connection between heart and stomach. We like to surround ourselves with people that make us feel good about ourselves. Hollywood stars have their entourages, but those of us a bit closer to Earth start relationships with people that reinforce our self-image. There’s nothing inherently bad about having an ego and doing things in service of it (as I've written elsewhere, “the concept of ego really gets a bum rap”). Whenever we praise and compliment, bestow awards and recognition, quote, link to, retweet, or even merely follow someone, we are dealing with their ego, intentionally or otherwise. But appealing to another’s ego can be a perfectly tasteful and legitimate way of advancing our own interests. Consider the following two requests:

  1. “Could you meet me for an hour each week to discuss my career trajectory, give me expert advice when I need it, and serve as a reference when I’m looking for a new job?”
  2. “I’m really inspired by your success, and I’d love to follow in your footsteps. I’d be honored if you would act as my mentor and work with me to help me shine, too. It should take no more than an hour a week.”

Most people would be more likely to accept the second request, because it paints the same activities as an extension of their personal success, instead of a request for work with no pay, which is the way a cynic might describe it. This concept applies incredibly well to the world of social. It’s hard to believe at times, but the best way to start a relationship with someone that has hardly noticed you yet is to ask for something. The perfect access-granting request is for something that is low effort on their end, of significant value on your end, and…

  • Makes them feel good about themselves
  • Makes them look good to others
  • Is public-facing (like a quote)
  • Helps them, even in a small way, get more of what they’re after (like publicity)

Not all of these conditions need to be met to make the request successful. A lot of it depends on the context, the person’s familiarity with you and/or your work, and the person’s view of themselves. All of the conditions above offer something called “ego capital,” which is the element that makes something appeal to the ego. Almost anything can be made more powerful with the help of ego capital: marketing, sales, job searches, even relationships. There’s an important distinction between ego capital and flattery. One of the more common definitions of flattery is “insincere or excessive praise;” in other words something that is over the top by its very nature. (That’s the definition evident in the famous idiom, “flattery will get you nowhere.”) Ego capital may harness the same dynamics, but it can be used in a tasteful, genuine manner—unlike its flamboyant cousin, flattery. Flattery is ego capital gone wild.

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© 2016 Ian Greenleigh