I recently finished reading "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion" by Robert Cialdini. It's intended to be focused on Sales and Marketing, and there are many insights that can be applied to content publishing: specifically to maximizing readership.
The chapter the resonated the most with me was entitled "Social Proof" - it discusses the concept of people behaving in a manner that has already been validated by the peers in their various social circles. Put simply, people will respond to a situation in accordance with the group - much like a "herd" mentality.
A common example of this is canned laughter on TV shows - nobody likes it and many consider it to be an annoyance, but TV executives still insist on adding it to many shows. Why? Because statistics confirm that audiences find a show funnier when the canned laughter is played - the laughing sounds subconsciously validates the comedy of the show for the viewer. From the TV executives' perspective, this higher degree of audience resonation leads directly to higher viewership figures and therefore a higher level of success for the show.
Another great example of social proof is found in the racetrack business. Since the majority of people who bet on horse races have very little knowledge of betting strategy, they will typically bet on the favourite. Since the favourite is essentially determined by where the money has been placed, high-rollers can take advantage by 'seeding' money on a horse with relatively long odds. This means that the crowd will follow by betting on what is now the favourite, and the high-roller can capitalize by placing their actual bet on the horse they really think will win. Distracting the rest of the crowd using social proof concepts deflects the masses to another horse so the actual winner's odds remain favourable.
These concepts can be re-purposed for audience development in online magazines. We generally already know what people are reading on websites and by adding simple user engagement functionality like ratings, comments, and social media sharing, we can increase traffic by displaying the statistics from these elements back to the user. Modules such as "Most comments", "Highest rated", and "Most read" provide social proof to other users that their peers are consuming and engaging with the content on your site. Additionally, you can display social media boxes (such as the Facebook Like box) on your site to further validate that the content is being consumed and discussed even within a user's own social circles. By driving users to read more content, participate, and return, we can generate more clicks on ads and increase website revenue.
The ideas behind social proof, customer engagement and social networks are covered in our 9 fundamentals for maximising website traffic and revenue, and form part of our free website assessment.