Month: January 2016

The 1988 Winter Olympics

Eddie the Eagle might have been the biggest star of the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. He was heavier than the other ski jump athletes, he wore glasses that fogged at critical moments, and worked as a full-time plasterer.

The winner of the ski-jump event scored 224 points. The 54th ranked athlete scored 110 points. Eddie came in 55th (and dead last) place with 57.5 points. But the crowd loved him. The worse he did, the more engaging he became. He became a star at home and abroad overnight.

Nearby, Jamaica had entered their first bobsleigh team at the winter olympics since 1948. You’ve seen the movie. The Jamaican team crashed out on the final run and pushed their bobsleigh over the finish line. Like Eddie, they finished dead last. But they were incredibly engaging.

People are always looking for an engaging show. But putting on a show doesn’t change behavior. It doesn’t change people at a deep mental level. It doesn’t lead to long-term impact. It creates visible engagement not valuable engagement.

Eddie filed for bankruptcy in 1992 and the Jamaican Bobsleigh team has struggled for funding ever since.

Are You Sweating Hard Enough?

January 8, 2016Comments Off on Are You Sweating Hard Enough?

Consider this problem from Kevin Hillstrom (read from the bottom up).


The friend solicits the minimal effort for her audience to get the least amount of engagement possible (a glance).

This doesn’t change your behaviour.

You’re not going to see the comedian and buy more lemonade.

You’re probably not going to recommend it to others.

This is just show business…and far too many of us are in show business.

Working In Show Business

Show business is about entertainment. It’s about distracting people and capturing their attention as a story plays out. It’s about doing something new and unique.

Show business is fun and sexy. I can see the appeal.

If you’re coming up with witty tweets, responding to criticism in funny ways, or asking people to tell you what they think about topical issues…you’re working in show business.

There are just three problems with being in show business.

  1. The opportunities for short-term entertainment are infinite and the number of people you can reach are finite.
  2. The competition is ferocious. For every celebrity there are a thousand who didn’t make it.
  3. Even if you succeed once (or twice) you still don’t have a long-term impact. Think about the Ice Bucket Challenge, Red Bull Stratos and the Greatest Job In The World.

Show business is designed to attract the lowest level of contributions for the shortest amount of time. It doesn’t change the behavior of the audience you need to change.

The Engagement-Value Gap (EV-GAP)

There’s a big, big, gap between the things show business metrics and real results. You don’t get results like more advocacy, loyalty, mutual support, collaboration, knowledge sharing by being more entertaining.

You get these results by doing deep engagement work.

At some tragic moment, we saw great engagement efforts were driving a lot of clicks, likes, shares and views.

So we began to optimise our efforts to attract as many clicks, likes, shares, and views as possible.

We optimise this by asking for less and being as entertaining as possible.

The problem of course was these visible engagement metrics were the side effect of achieving the real result.

Think of it like going to the gym.

You notice healthy people at the gym sweat a lot when they exercise.

Inspired by this information, you research how to sweat as much as possible. You turn up the heat, wear more layers, and eat more spicy foods.

Now you can sweat more than ever without even going to the gym…not that it helps you get much fitter.

This is what we’ve done here. We’ve optimised for the side-effect metrics instead of the result we began with in the first place.

The Engagement CAR

Think of a time when you were really engaged in something.

Think about something that changed your behavior, hooked you for a long time, and got you to participate a lot.

You’re probably not thinking about a Buzzfeed article right now.

In fact, I bet you’re thinking of something that:

  • Made you feel stronger, smarter, and quicker.
  • Lets you pursue a passion, be yourself, or explore deeply held values.
  • Creates a stronger sense of social connection and belonging.

How To Drive The CAR

In self-determination theory, this is known as competence, autonomy, or relatedness (CAR).

The key to getting people more engaged is put them on a path that increases their perceived sense of competence, autonomy, and relatedness to one another.

Everything you do to engage people should align with one or more of these.

This is the opposite of visible engagement. Visible engagement is about changing the articles to get more shares, valuable engagement is about making people want to share more articles.

Long Term

The CAR process induces mental, long-term, change. It’s the difference between sharing an article a brand published because it was funny and recommending that brand to others because they help you get better in your field.

Sometimes you can just focus on one.

FitBit tracks your increasing competence.

Health communities let you express yourself freely.

Facebook makes you better connected and increases your sense of belonging. All three are deeply engaging in different ways. All three demand long-term engagement, change behavior, and solicit valuable contributions (not just easy contributions).

If you want to fill the gap between the clicks and valuable engagement, you need to put the audience on one of these 3 paths.

Advanced Engagement Methods

In 4 days, we’re going to begin accepting a group of you to Advanced Engagement Methods.

This is designed solely for those of you working in:

  • Community Management.
  • Social Media.
  • Knowledge Management
  • Internal Collaboration.
  • Association Management.
  • Innovation

We’re going to teach those of you with a lot of engagement experience the methods to increase activity, achieve your big wins from engagement, and participate in a more influential and persuasive way.

We’ve spent the last 18 months creating this course. We’ve gone through over 1000 peer-reviewed journal articles. We’ve examined and deconstructed the success of dozens of engagement efforts. We’ve now interviewed 22+ experts. 

Not For Beginners

This isn’t a course for newcomers. If you don’t know how to get a community running, develop community strategy, or manage a community at a high level, you can learn these skills here.

Advanced Engagement Methods breaks down the deep psychology of engagement into practical building blocks you can use to assemble your future engagement systems.

You’re going to learn new methods of persuading members, approaching your efforts in a methodical, professional, way, and get the results you wanted in the first place.

The course begins on Feb 29, 2016. You can sign up from next week.

More info below:

Do You Want To Be In The Bar Lowering Business?

January 5, 2016Comments Off on Do You Want To Be In The Bar Lowering Business?

One approach is to lower the bar to engagement.

We’re pretty good at lowering the bar. We lower the bar when we reduce the time and effort to participate. We lower the bar when we ask people to do and think less.

The lower the bar, more people trip over it.

Counting the trips (the clicks, shares, likes, comments, posts, views) won’t help you much.

Google+ dropped the engagement bar so comically low you were considered a member even if you didn’t know it. This didn’t help Google+ much neither.

Here’s the problem:

The highest levels of visible engagement solicit the lowest levels of mental engagement.

Those metrics you’re trying to improve are the same metrics which stop us achieving our huge wins. Visible and valuable engagement become opposites on a continuum of long-term impact. Chase visible engagement and you’ll get short-term results.

It becomes a race to lower the bar before everyone else. It’s the race to the most poorest, crowded, and noisiest places of the web. If you take your audience to this place, you’re going to struggle to get them to engage in anything other than meaningless actions.

If you want to increase customer loyalty, improve collaboration and knowledge sharing, create an emotionally supportive environment and strengthen social groups you need to mentally engage your audience.

The opposite is to raise your audience up with valuable engagement.

What Does Valuable Engagement Look Like?

Let’s imagine you’re trying to get people to share knowledge. The race to the bottom would be to shorten and simplify the content into digestible chunks with big sharing buttons and shocking headlines. You could count how many people viewed, liked, and shared.

The race to the top looks for social solutions. Here you seek to understand why people aren’t sharing information today, what information they do share, and gradually work to increase the motivation to share information.

For example, if you better know and like others you work with, if you know who needs what information and when, if your goals align with their goals (and they’re internalized), you will share more information.

Now you can begin working to increase familiarity and understanding of who needs what information (and when). You can work to create goal alignment etc, etc..

The Output Of Engagement

The output of engagement isn’t you sharing a useful piece of information. It’s you wanting to share useful pieces of information in the future because it helps yourself or others, aligns with your motivations, and is part of your own identity.

And this is the fundamental difference between visible engagement and valuable engagement. Visible is designed to make it look like it’s working. Valuable engagement tackles the root causes to achieve the goals you want.

You can spend this precious part of your career lowering the bar with gimmicks or you can raise the bar and do real engagement work that drives results. I hope you do the latter.

Next week we’re opening registration for our first new course in 2 years. We’ve spent 18 months building it. The course is designed to help us get the kind of engagement which achieves long-term results. It combines the psychology with case studies and pathways to achieve big change.

I think you will like it.

You can find more information here:



Why People ‘Go Negative’ And How To Stop It

January 4, 2016Comments Off on Why People ‘Go Negative’ And How To Stop It

In Lord of the Flies, a group of boys are marooned on a small island in the Pacific.

Free from the crushing dominance of tyrannical adults, their leader (he has a sea shell!) sets them three goals; to have fun, survive, and get rescued.

All hell soon breaks loose (don’t worry, I won’t spoil the ending).

It’s tough to find any social group in history which hasn’t endured their own lord of the flies moments.

Yet most social groups don’t disintegrate at the first sign of conflict. The groups endure, adapt and thrive.

The most effective groups find ways to:

  1. Resolve fights effectively.
  2. Create conditions that limit fights.
  3. Reduce fights as a % of the overall activity.

Disagreements and Fights

Let’s separate disagreements from fights. You possess enough empathy to respectfully disagree with one another. You can present your views as opinions instead of indisputable facts. You can sand any barbs or possible offence from your opinions. You can credit the value of other opinions before presenting your own. You can seek questions and wider viewpoints instead of narrowing the discussion to yours.

If you choose to do this, discussions become a genuine attempt to find middle-ground, gather ideas to find the right solution, and understand the will of the group. These are prosocial behaviors. We put the long-term benefit of the group ahead of our own short-term emotional state.

The problem is many people choose (perhaps not as consciously as we would like) not to do this. They get fired up and ‘go negative’. When people ‘go negative’, they put themselves and their immediate defensive emotional state first. They look to strike a killer blow instead of ending the war. Their time-frame shrinks to minutes and hours instead of months and years.

Why We Go Negative

We go negative when we sense a threat. Threats come in 3 broad forms:

1) A threat to our status (or honour).

Someone has done something which threatens our standing among the group or offends our honour. This is all mental of course (and often unintentional). People with a low self-esteem are especially sensitive to status threats and perceived insults (any disagreement can be perceived as an insult to someone’s intelligence, skill, or reputation).

This represents the bulk of conflicts – especially in online groups. You also see when members attack people on the group’s fringes (e.g. bullying) to feel closer to the nucleus of the group.

2) A threat to our limited resources.

This is when we see a rival for limited resources (money, space, even status again – by definition, there’s only room for 1 top expert). We attack the rival to preserve our own resources. Collaboration in this instance is almost impossible. Even mutually ignoring one another is tough once we see the other as an obstacle to our own success.

3) A threat of the unknown.

This occurs when we see someone (an outsider) or something new. The unknown is scary. We perceive it as a threat and take actions to reinforce the status quo which we’re familiar with. This happens when current members propose new ideas or new people show up. It provokes a feeling of disagreement and insecurity. This makes us go negative.

The Neighbour-Driveway Problem

Here’s an example. Imagine you live on a street with limited parking and see a new neighbour leave his car partially blocking your driveway.

Here you have all 3 threats in one place. Your status is threatened, you’re competing for limited resources (space), and you have an outsider.

Here are 4 options:

  1. You can ignore it and endure the problem.
  2. You can publicly shame him to others in the group (or in an online community).
  3. You can ask him directly to move his car.
  4. You can ask the group what’s the best way to resolve the parking challenges in the neighbourhood.

Options 1 and 2 (ignoring and shaming the person) are easier and less scary than 3 and 4 (asking directly and resolving the problem). That’s why we go for them. We can feel righteous shaming someone who hurt us (even unintentionally).

But shaming the person demands he, his family and his friends respond to protect his status.

Options 3 and 4 either resolve the problem individually (usually politely asking is best) or aim to find a solution without attacking the individual. We usually avoid these because they’re scary (he might say no!) or it doesn’t lessen our immediate anger.

When our status or resources are threatened, or we perceive something unknown, we’re likely to go negative.

So we need to resolve the problem effectively, create conditions that limit fights, and reduce fights as a % of the overall activity.

1) Resolving Problems Effectively

Anthropologists largely report most interpersonal conflicts were traditionally solved through a trusted mediator who communicates between the two upset parties to find common ground or an elder who decides in favour of one or the other.

The best way to resolve a conflict is privately. Either both members are told to tackle it directly between themselves or a respected leader figures out a compromise to move forward, or a judgement is made in favour of one which the other can respect or leave.

Once a debate turns into a personal conflict, the options are limited.

2) Conditions That Limit Conflicts

Groups that have the lowest level of conflicts share common traits.

These tend to include combinations of:

  • Shared and internalised long-term group goals. Members believe in the long-term goals of the group and understand achieving those goals requires group cohesion before individual pleasure. They believe they are in this together. They are trying to achieve something specific in the future.
  • Onboarding systems that ensure no-one is a stranger. Newcomers are introduced and welcomed to the group. A genuine effort is made to get to know them and understand them on a personal level. They know who to contact with questions and complaints.
  • A shared history. Members share a common history. They know how the group came to be and the principles it was founded upon. It’s important to teach newcomers the history of the group.
  • Common threat. They share an external threat. Perhaps a common enemy or even something broader – a threat to their resources which requires them to work together for survival.
  • Debts and norms of reciprocity. There is a broad web of social debts to one another and norms of reciprocity between members which would be impossible to tally up and fully repay. This web of social debts creates a strong basis of trust. Members are less likely to attack one another because they won’t be able to have their debts repaid (or get help on trust-based credit in the future).
  • Strong cultural norms. The group has strong cultural norms about what is and isn’t acceptable. These are enforced by group leaders who let members know kindly when they’ve been violated. Members are guided to use options 3 and 4 over 1 and 2 above.

3) Emphasis on More Positive Activities

Groups that endure use times of strife and difficulty to launch positive activities that unite the group.

They use the negativity as an opportunity to find solutions to the problems that arise. They call for people who might have the skills, knowledge, or resources to help solve the problem. They find ways different people can get together and help. They make the negative discussions only a tiny % of the activity that takes place.

This often means using the option 4 above e.g. “ok, this is a problem we’ve seen…how do we solve it in the future?”. This requires respected leaders. This means less leaders who have self-appointed themselves and instead leaders who have gained the legitimacy of the group. Once a negative problem has emerged, the leader begins bringing in people she knows to resolve it – and gives the emphasis and priority to discussions/activities that solve it.

You Can’t Stop Negativity

It’s not possible to stop negativity. There are too many sparky issues, too many explosive members, and too few connections between members to stamp it out.

What you can work to achieve is nurturing legitimate leaders who can resolve negativity, create conditions that limit people going negative, and using negative discussions as an opportunity to grow and improve the group.


It’s time to decide if you want to equip yourself with battle-tested tactics and fresh ideas from Europe’s top community experts. Tickets are available from £230, click here.

Don’t Create Clusters By Levels of Activity

Participation styles aren’t consistent across social groups.

A study of 20 papers in online health communities found the only consistent style was in highly engaged users (who participated a lot) and lurkers (who didn’t participate at all).

That leaves a big gap in the middle for different participation styles. Sure, you can see what activities people are doing, create categories around them, and declare them as unique clusters. But now you’re drawing arbitrary lines among very fluid groups.  

Imagine a member is really active for 1 month, then takes on a big project and goes quiet for a month, then re-appears at a lower level of activity a month later, before getting back up to full speed the next month

This member would be placed in entirely different clusters depending if you averaged contributions over the previous 1, 2, 3, or 4 months. Worse yet, your clusters will go haywire over summer and Christmas where all contribution levels drop.

That’s the problem when we try to create clusters by activity levels. The boundaries between clusters are too fluid. Activity is not a good way of segmenting your group. It’s not psychologically deep enough to matter, it’s too prone to random outside influence, and there aren’t enough shared traits among the group to cater for – other than to tell them to do even more activity.

This is why the commitment curve, the technographics ladder, and more aren’t useful. They’re not predictive in environments where people jump around so frequently. Past activity isn’t very predictive of future activity. For example, starting a sub-group is often placed at the highest levels of commitment. But most sub-groups are abandoned within weeks.

Even taking a vacation can take someone from the highest to lowest groups in minutes. How can you possibly design a system to account for that?

It’s a good idea to create unique clusters you can spend more time on. But create these clusters by demographics or psychographics.

Create clusters by who the audience are (age, gender, type of job, background) or what the audience wants and needs. You can usually do this by identifying people that participate in specific types of discussions, by profile information, or even by a survey and letting people put themselves into groups.

Now you have boundaries that don’t shift often, you can better create content for each one, and you can increase their engagement regardless of outside events.


It’s time to decide if you want to equip yourself with battle-tested tactics and fresh ideas from Europe’s top community experts. Tickets are available from £230, click here.

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