Month: February 2016
In 2007, my wife and I were in Morocco.
A friend of a family we stayed with invited us to see his carpet store.
We were young and dumb, so we agreed.
You can guess what happened next.
First he showed us around the store. He explained the history of the store and the remarkable story of how some of the rugs ended up in his possession. Then he brought in tea and began asking us about our lives. He asked about the homes we lived in, the kind of rugs we bought (none), and noted what an amazing feeling it is to invite your parents to your first home.
Finally, he asked which of the rugs we liked the best and finally said…just for us…he could make a really good deal.
If we had the money (and could squeeze a big rug into small backpacks) we probably would have bought one.
Notice the persuasive elements in action. He had referred credibility from our friend, he was personally likable (showed interest in us/complimented us), he created a narrative around his store (which we could share with friends when we bought the rug), he made tea (reciprocity), and he provided options (which rug do you like the best?).
He was even smart enough to sit next to us instead of opposite us.
Now compare this with walking through the crowded, noisy, markets of Marrakech. Each vendor shouts loudly to make the sale.
Email is that crowded, noisy, marketplace. It is the most competitive place to persuade anyone of anything. If you’re trying to deal with detractors or convert newcomers into regulars using email alone, you’re going to face an uphill struggle.
If you want to persuade someone, get them out of email.
Use email to setup a call or organize a webinar. Invite people to meetup for a coffee.
As salespeople know well, it’s pointless to persuade anyone by email. 60% of the challenge is getting the meeting. The moment someone hears your voice they develop a stronger sense of empathy and liking towards you.
For coordination and simple tasks, email works well. But if you’re trying to persuade someone to do something, use any other medium. If you’re dealing with detractors, making a sale, trying to get someone to engage more frequently – email is the weakest method. The associations with spam, self-involved tasks, and the noisy marketplace are just too strong.
The best use for email is to get out of email.
We value what we have more after we have it. In psychological terms, this is known as the endowment effect. We’re also extremely loss-averse. Framing a question within a fear of loss perspective increases compliance to action.
We’re very sensitive to possible threats too. A statement positioned as a threat is likely to drive more action than one without.
You have a big arsenal of potential tools you can deploy to persuade a group and move people to action. You can rewrite most of your current messages to incorporate a fear of loss or sense of treat.
Imagine you’re trying to persuade your boss to support your engagement efforts, consider the differences in the following:
|Before the appeal||After loss / threat appeals|
|Increase retention rates||Stop losing customers to competitors|
|Improve collaboration||Stop employers wasting time and duplicating work|
|Improve knowledge sharing||Stop experts leaving and taking their expertise with them|
|Increase advocacy||Steal your competitor’s customers before they steal ours|
|Generate new leads||Find potential clients before competitors|
You can create plenty of your own examples I’m sure.
Both fear of loss and sense of threat are persuasive tools which, despite their reputation, can be used to do good. Both can be considered for any action you’re persuading people to take.
(…and if you don’t use them, your competitors certainly will.)
Persuasive writing is the easiest win right now. It’s easy to improve too.
Let’s cover a really simple technique from the Advanced Engagement Methods program.
It begins in the magical gap between the moment you’ve finished writing your next great piece of content and the moment you hit ‘publish’.
Most of us use this moment to proof the work. We remove the errors, simplify the language, and run it through a grammar corrector. But being free from errors is far less important than being persuasive.
I want you to use this moment to run it through a persuasion check as well.
Checking For Persuasion
The persuasion corrector is a technique where you scan through each sentence and change any sentence to incorporate more persuasive elements.
- Ability to imagine. This is the most important. Can you make every sentence easier for someone to visualise? This includes metaphors, analogies, contrasts, and relevancy. Want to know why those list posts and longer headlines perform better? They’re easier for the audience to recall.
- Ingroup and outgroup factor. Can we be clearer about what people like them do compared with people not like them? A separation between their tribal group and mainstream helps persuade the audience.
- Immediate gratification. Can you reduce the gap between the action you’re asking them to take and the quickest possible reward. A tiny win now is better than a big win later.
- Remember. Can we help them remember it through using repetition, stories, and an unexpected surprise?
- Credible. Can we make this sentence more credible. Are there any links, supportive evidence, examples, studies, or direct honesty that would make this more credible?
- Language. Are we using the language the audience would use to define and solve their problem? It’s funny how often we get this wrong. Are we using simple words and short sentences?
- Emotion. Are we triggering an emotion here? Hope, fear, anger, sadness, joy?
Here’s an example:
“A good way to grow your online community is to add Facebook pixel to your brand’s website and then target retargeted facebook social ads to the people that visit your brand.
You can include direct appeals to join your community and attract clicks at $0.1. If you have a 10% conversion rate, you can attract new members for just $1.”
This is factually true, but not very persuasive is it?
None of you are about to rush out and do exactly this. It’s hard to imagine, there’s no in-group factor, limited immediate gratification, it’s hard to remember, lacks credibility, and doesn’t appeal to emotions.
Look at the language here. “a good way to” – we can’t visualise that?
“We recently discovered a unique trick from top experts in direct advertising. This trick will ease your concerns about falling engagement metrics in your Google reports and get new members tomorrow. It’s called retargetting. Let me show you how we recently used it.
First, we added Facebook pixel to our site (walk over to your web guy to do this).
Second, we created direct adverts to people who visited our site. These only showed up to the most likely people to join. Third, we greeted each person as they arrived. Each click cost £0.14 – about the same as a few paperclips.”
Let’s go through the checklist here:
- Easier to visualise? Yes. “google reports”, “paper clips”, and use of screenshots
- In-group factory? “top experts”
- Immediate gratification? “add newcomers by tomorrow” (could have said before your coffee tomorrow)
- Easier to remember? Slightly, we could have written the entire two paragraphs as a short story.
- More credible? Yes, we included screenshots proving it works.
- Similar and shorter language? I hope so.
- Triggers an emotion? We gently nudge the fear factor many people experience.
You don’t need to add every persuasive element to every sentence you write. That would drive you and your audience crazy.
But if you’re going to spend 30 – 60 minutes of your precious time creating content, you owe it to yourself (and your audience) to spend just 5 of those precious minutes ensuring it is as persuasive as it can possibly be.
(By the way, it’s far more important your messages are persuasive than free from errors.)
Advanced Engagement Level
If you’re working at the advanced engagement level, you shouldn’t be hunting around for stock images anymore. Get a virtual assistant or a colleague to do that instead.
You should be carefully combing through every line and every sentence to make it more persuasive.
This is where you add incredible unique value to your organisation. We want to teach you more advanced tips from the fields of persuasion, motivation, and social dynamics to drive a lot more valuable engagement during our Advanced Engagement Methods program. Registration closes on Feb 29.
We make a lot of value translation errors.
We code our messages in values the audience doesn’t share.
Climate activists talk about saving the planet. Consumers care about electricity companies ripping them off.
When we talk in different values, our messages don’t get through. They could be supremely well written, funny, and embrace every tool in the speechwriter’s toolbox. It’s not going to happen.
If you talk to a high-achiever about the power of group’s coming together, you’re always going to be pushing the boulder uphill. But if you tell the high achiever about how to achieve more or stories of individual success, you’re going downhill all the way.
You might not stay on the track for the entire journey, but you’re not handicapping yourself before the race begins.
Schwartz identified (and largely verified) 10 broad universal values. These are:
Openness To Change
This provides you with ten powerful options to encode any message. Let’s imagine you want people to share more information. You have so many potential values in which to encode this knowledge.
You could, for example, say:
- Share more knowledge to build a wiki of your best work.
- Share more knowledge to increase your reputation.
- Share knowledge about what you enjoy.
- What knowledge do you think deserves more attention? Share it!
- Share knowledge to ensure it doesn’t get lost when you leave.
- Everyone else is sharing knowledge, you should too.
- It’s standard practice here for everyone to share their knowledge.
- Share knowledge to help the group.
- You have great knowledge that can improve the sector. Share it.
The amazing thing is this is testable. You can come up with 10 different options for each message and try them out on the audience. See what they respond to. See what they think of themselves. See what they’re proud of and orientate your messages (and actions) around those values.
Being more persuasive is the highest value skill you can learn to drive long-term engagement. It’s a skill we’re going to cover in huge depth during Advanced Engagement Methods. If you have the means to take the program and want to reach a higher level in your field, I hope you will join us.
For 4 years the best messages the music industry could dream up to deter illegal downloading was “it’s illegal!” and “artists should get paid for their work!”
Neither was effective on young tech rebels who knew the former and didn’t care about the latter. When Steve Jobs launched iTunes in 2003, he tried a different approach:
“If you go to Kazaa and you try to find a song, you don’t find a single song. You find 50 versions of that song, and you have to pick which one to try to download, and usually it’s not a very good connection. You have to try another one, and by the time you finally get a clean version of the song you want, it takes about 15 minutes. If you do the math, that means that you’re spending an hour to download four songs that you could buy for under $4 from Apple, which means you’re working for under minimum wage.”
Here the coding of the message changed from ‘you’re breaking the laws of grown-ups’ (which the audience ignored) to one of self-respect (‘you’re working for less than minimum wage!’).
It turns out the kids care quite a lot about working for less than minimum wage. Who wants to be taken advantage of like that?
You can’t construct messages to change group behavior without truly understanding the values of the group. Values lead to beliefs, beliefs lead to justification for actions.
If you can’t encode a message in the right values, you can’t affect the beliefs and won’t change the actions. And actions are the ultimate goal of our work.
My class used to play a mean joke on supply teachers.
Before the teacher arrived, we would turn our desks around with our backs to the blackboard.
Would the supply teacher give the lesson from the opposite side of the classroom? Most of the time, yes. One continued to teach lessons from this spot even after he learned the prank.
The speed at which group members (especially newcomers) accept a social norm is determined by three factors:
- Frequency. How often do members see this behavior repeated?
- Uniformity. What % of the visible members of the group embrace this behavior?
- Consistency. Is the behavior consistent?
At the moment, many of the great behaviors (the social norms you want to establish) don’t become norms because they’re not seen frequently enough, not taken up by enough people, and aren’t consistent enough.
Actually perception trumps reality here. It’s not that the behaviors aren’t frequent, consistent, or uniform enough – but people don’t believe they are. You can influence this more than you think. Let’s take 3 examples:
The Customer Retention Example
Let’s imagine you want the group to use or buy more of your product or service (retention). You can create a list for people to add how long they have been a customer and display this.
This might be a simple badge to display in profiles, or a place in their bio to list what products/services of yours they use today.
- Frequency: People see each other updating their profiles with each product/year they collect. Those with 3+ or 5+ years can get a special notice. The behavior is repeated frequently. When a new upgrade is released, you can host an open discussion for people to say when they have upgraded (imagine the Facebook “I voted” badge)
- Uniformity: Only those who display the badge/list the products are shown. You can have a big opt-in list by year where people can display how long they have been a member/customer, how many events they have attended. Newcomers only see the people who are taking it, not the others.
- Consistency: The behavior is simple and easy for others to adopt. Anyone can add themselves to the list, download a badge by year, or notify others of their ‘birthdays’.
This works well for events, discussions, or any retention-based activity. You turn the time they have already been spending on that behavior into a valuable item.
Another easy way would simply be to encourage people to make purchases or extensions of your product/service more visible to others members so it encourages the social norm to develop.
The Knowledge Sharing Example
Let’s imagine you want employees (or customers) to share more valuable knowledge. This usually means specific, tactical, tips.
The audience needs to believe most people are doing this a lot.
- Frequency: Create a tactical tips of the week digest linking solely to discussion posts where the most useful, specific, tips were shared. Do this every week and list every useful tip. It should grow in size over time. If there aren’t enough, do it monthly and break it down to weekly or even daily as it grows.
- Uniformity: Reply, use sticky threads, and otherwise influence discussions so those discussions with the best tips are shared and make up the majority of the top 10.
- Consistency: You might also want to add a score (just a +1) only admins can give to those that share specific ideas which members can collect and display on their profile (this is also good for finding the tips throughout the week).
This increases frequency, creates a sense of uniformity (it only shows these tactical tips), and highlights the behavior you want performed consistently. You could even get members to use the +1s as well.
The goal to establish a social norm quickly among any group is to develop a method which is visibly performed very frequently, by most members of the group and the behavior is consistent.
If you want to learn more about establishing valuable social norms, consider our Advanced Engagement Methods program.
It’s naive to believe that an active community will benefit the host organisation.
It’s more likely the organisation picks up the tab while members reap the rewards.
If those rewards (belonging, support, influence, and exploration) overlap with the organisation’s goals (advocacy, retention, innovation, reduced costs), the organisation benefits. But direct overlaps are rare and there are usually many hops between an organisation’s goals and that of its members.
It’s no different to hosting an open bar, you might generate some goodwill, gain a few good leads and have a slightly more influential voice in the discussion – but there isn’t usually a direct connection to value.
Communities only create value if they establish or change the social norms of their members.
There is a BIG gap between building a community and creating social norms. To cross that gap you have to do what so many people are reluctant to do, exert influence.
Reluctance To Exert Influence
If you don’t exert influence, you’re probably not going to get much value.
You’re already exerting influence too. You have already established what behavior isn’t allowed. We just want to nudge that further along the road.
If you leave the community solely to its own devices, you’re resting your odds of success upon serendipitous luck. And if the community doesn’t generate clear value, it’s usually shut down.
We need to exert influence to establish social norms that benefit the organisation.
How Social Norms Emerge
Social norms emerge from three things:
1. What individual members believe (individual beliefs). This affects what people are likely to do when they initially join the group and how they intend to participate.
2. What members see others doing (observable behavior). This suggests what behavior is appropriate within the group.
3. How others respond to what we do (learned behavior). We pick up on implicit and explicit cues about socially desirable behavior within the group. This helps shape and normalize behavior.
These are your three tools for exerting influence.
Your ability to exert influence falls within recruiting members whose beliefs most closely align with the social norm you’re attempting to create, showcasing the desired behavior to others, and nurturing the social norms you do see emerging.
3 Approaches To Developing Social Norms
This provides you with the three possible tools to developing social norms.
Your use of each depends upon the stage of the community lifecycle. We can put this under three broad approaches, (1) nurturing, (2) foment and foster, (3) establish and enforce.
In a little more depth.
1. Establish and Enforce A Social Norm
I used to work at a private club which explicitly advised against suits and cell-phone use. This was a big draw for a particular group. We were attracted by this norm, embraced this norm and even helped reinforce it. Newcomers would see how other people dressed, would react if they made calls in the venue, and over time embraced the norm as their own.
Setting a social norm gives you the most control. This works best for new groups. It’s hard to force a new social norm from the top-down upon an existing group. Most failed stories about organisational change come from failed top-down efforts to change behavior. Setting the social norm works best when creating a new group and you have either 1) a large amount of pre-existing credibility with the group or 2) you understand deeply what would resonate among the group. For the latter, you need a decade of experience or a lot of in-depth research.
Setting a social norm can work well to splinter fringe members from existing groups to your cause.
2. Foment And Foster Behavior That Spreads
This is where you work with a few close associates (friends, colleagues, or believers in the social norm) to exhibit the new behavior. This only works if they like you and believe in the behavior.
This usually means they have a meaningful input into what this social norm should be and it’s developed by consensus. Your level of control is thus less. You can’t dictate the norm.
A good example would be things like purchases, book reviews, and participation. If on the day you announce an event you have 23 people primed to tweet or share that they plan to attend, this can quickly become a social norm for the group. But you have to get buy-in from those 23 people first. And the best way to get buy in is to ask them what should happen at the event.
They then positively respond to one another and to others who also plan to attend the event.
This works in online communities as much as offline. If you want colleagues sharing more information, it’s a good idea to establish the quality of information you want with a few closer colleagues first and plan out a month of participating positively to the contributions of each other who share that quality of knowledge until it becomes an established social norm.
3. Nurture existing behavior.
Here you look for pre-existing activity which mostly closely resembles the behavior you want to see and give it more attention. That more attention means featuring it, showcasing it, mentioning it to others, writing about it etc…The Heath brothers called this looking for the bright spots.
This works best in large groups with a high volume of activity. You sift through the activity to find the behavior you can nurture. Once you find the behavior you like, you can turn it into a sticky-thread, have senior people respond to it, and link to it from other articles.
You repeat this process as the behavior gradually drifts closer to the social norm you want.
Two key takeaways.
1. If you don’t exert influence, you’re unlikely to extract value. This is fine if you’re hosting the community as a charitable endeavour. But don’t be surprised if your budget (or role) gets cut when money is needed elsewhere. The more you can demonstrate value, the more resources you have to further develop the community.
2. Diagnose your community size and control before exerting influence. Your ability to foster social norms depends largely upon the size and maturity of the community. The more established the group, the less influence you have. If you’re not having much success right now, you’re probably using the wrong strategy.
p.s. We invite you to learn more about Advanced Engagement Methods. This is our 12-week intensive online program which will equip you with the skills, knowledge, and resources you need to drive quality engagement.
Registration closes on Feb 29, learn more here: http://www.feverbee.com/aem
At one end of the spectrum is the need to make sure no-one is sad, angry, or left out.
At the other end is the need to surprise, challenge, and wow people.
They’re both related.
What delights one group often confuses or offends another. The moment you dumb things down, explain yourself, or self-censor to prevent causing offence is the moment you can’t delight the group anymore.
The people that get confused and offended aren’t your target audience.
Every second you spend defusing anger is a second you can’t spend delighting the group that matters to you. Every time you stop yourself writing something useful to one group because it might confuse (or offend) another is a time you’re not going to produce work that matters.
So get comfortable with causing confusion and perceived offense. Get comfortable saying ‘this might not be the right group for you’. This is part of the process of having a meaningful impact upon the group.
You can’t create new social norms unless you’re willing to challenge existing ones. Those being challenged will resist that change. The most diehard will be offended and get angry. If you sand off your edges to appeal to them, you won’t change anything.
Here’s the thing. The most diehard will be the last to join you regardless of what you do. They’re not your target audience. It’s the people on the edges of social norms who you will pry away first. But to pry them away you will probably offend someone. Get comfortable with that.
The purpose of an event is to shift the social norms of the group in one of two ways, by highlighting what’s possible or what to do.
The audience leaves with new inspiration or a better idea of how to solve their challenges.
- The ‘What’s Possible?’ talk. This is a profound, moving, talk that emotionally persuades the audience to dream and think bigger. It pushes the audience to challenge their own limitations and highlights, usually through a narrative, a powerful example of someone who has achieved incredible success that most of the field didn’t think possible. The goal of this talk is to surprise and awe. The end result is the audience working to achieve a higher-level goal. TED events fall neatly into this category.
- The ‘What To Do’ talk. This is a detailed, specific, list of instructions to help the audience achieve their goals. This talk completely identifies and encapsulates the problem and then works methodically to help the audience overcome it. The goal of this talk is to provide people with clear, actionable, steps they can apply when they get home (or right there in the room). MozCon probably falls within this category.
Most talks (and blog posts for that matter) are lost somewhere between the two. The audience is neither left feeling inspired or instructed on the next steps.
If you’re trying to highlight what’s possible you need emotion and stories and case studies.
If you’re trying to highlight what to do, you need a clear understanding of their capabilities and how much progress you can reasonably make in a relatively short amount of time.
When putting an event together or curating content from numerous sources, push speakers and contributors as far along as possible in one of the two directions.
This is your final week to sign up for SPRINT London 2016. We’re firmly in the instructions camp. If you’re seeing inspiration for what’s possible, this event is not for you.
If you’re looking for a specific list of actions you can apply to increase engagement, this event is perfect for you. I hope you will join us:
From the New York Times:
“Gordon Sinclair, the owner of Gordon restaurant in Chicago, had an epiphany about 10 years ago when he began adding up the cost of no-shows and found that the grand total was $900,000 a year, a figure that got him thinking, fast. […]
He instructed his receptionists to stop saying, ”Please call us if you change your plans,” and start saying, ”Will you call us if you change your plans?” His no-show rate dropped from 30 percent to 10 percent. In other words, by asking a question and eliciting a response, he created a sense of obligation.”
We’ve broadly found (although not always) small commitment pledges to be an effective tactic to change group behavior. People that resist making a big change today are more than happy to commitment to that change in the future.
Once they’ve made a commitment (either directly to an individual or to a broader group), they’re more likely to follow through. Instead of asking people to make a big change, ask them if they will perform the behavior in 2 to 3 months time.
A friend is looking for a solution to deal with members overwhelming the comments area of his site.
Let’s call these folks the overwhelmers.
They dominate a discussion with their views and continue debating until no other opinions are left standing unchallenged. This generates activity but by its nature drives others away from participating.
Most people think up possible solutions in this situation and keep testing things until something clicks. Sometimes they get lucky, but usually they don’t. Others overreact and take drastic action that negatively affects everyone.
You can take a more methodical approach. Work backwards from the causes of the behavior. Identify the questions that would isolate each cause and then develop interventions to change that behavior.
The four possible causes of this behavior are:
- Personality causes. This includes values, attitudes, beliefs, opinions, and self-esteem. The overwhelmers might dislike others, have a strong opinion on a single topic, or have low self-esteem and need to impose themselves upon the group for validation.
- Habitual causes. The overwhelmers might have learnt that overwhelming is rewarded with more attention and/or respect. Hence their natural habit is to overwhelm the discussion.
- Social causes. The overwhelmers are trying to impress the group to be accepted as a member or trying to fit in with what they consider to be the prototypical group behaviors. They’re following the social norms established by others.
- Environmental causes. The overwhelmers are nudged by the environment to overwhelm. If the system rewards overwhelming (by quantity or self-assertion), you’re likely to see a lot of overwhelmers. If the first thing people see is other people overwhelming, they’re likely to overwhelm too. If something on the site primes you to be in a negative, argumentative state (i.e. you get frustrated the site is loading slowly), you’re more likely to feel argumentative.
Now we need to methodically develop the questions to identify which could isolate each of these behaviors. These will vary depending upon the behavior, but a good starting point is how many participants are making the behavior and when did the behavior begin. This tends to isolate if it was a pre-existing behavior or something participants learned through the site.
1) What % of participants are overwhelming? If it’s a few (let’s say less than 3%), it hints that this is restricted to a small number of individuals with problematic personalities before they arrived or have picked up negative habits from previous behavior. If it’s >3%, we can assume participants learned to become overwhelmers after arriving on the site. This suggests it’s an environmental cause or a social norm problem.
2) Did the overwhelming begin immediately or later? This question splits the two strands into four. If it’s a relatively small number of people who were overwhelming from their first few contributions, we can assume this is a collection of people with problematic personalities. This is often low self-esteem, aggressive personalities, or a deep need for attention. If the behavior began after their first contributions, we can assume this is a learned behavior. They saw or learned that the more frequently they posted or assertively they made their case, the more attention and respect they received.
This highlights whether the people were always likely to overwhelm when they arrived or whether they developed the habit once they arrived. This tends to split out the most likely causes for that behavior (multiple courses are also possible).
If we’re dealing with a larger number of people that began the behavior immediately, this suggests a proximate environmental cause. Something they see on the site or are primed with on the site is driving that behavior. If it’s a behavior that begins later for a larger group, it’s more like social norms they pick up from the group itself.
In a decision-tree diagram, it looks like this:
Now we have isolated the cause of the behavior (and among your group of members there might be several causes for different people), we can develop specific, targeted, measures to change that behavior.
The interventions themselves matter far less than isolating the behavior to begin with. Once we understand the cause of that behavior by developing the right method, we can change that behavior. 3 months and 5 contributions might not be the right metric, but it’s a metric to start with and adapt as you identify what’s relevant to your audience.
Developing advanced methods to change behavior is one of the many things we will be tackling during our Advanced Engagement Methods program. The program begins on February 29. I hope you will join us:
This has been one of the most painful documents I’ve read in ages.
There were hundreds of opportunities to engage directly, honestly, transparently, and as a human being. Every single opportunity was wasted.
If you’re going to create a platform for staff to engage directly with those higher up in the organisation, it’s easy to gauge current sentiment and prepare yourself to respond to those questions (in fact, it’s the entire point of the platform).
If you need examples for what happens when you launch a platform without training and a broader culture change, I can’t think of anything better (or worse!).