Month: March 2016

The Inbounder (And The Limits of Conversion)

March 31, 2016Comments Off on The Inbounder (And The Limits of Conversion)

I’m pleased to announce I’ll be speaking about Mass Persuasion: How To Get Members To Do What You Want to 1000 marketers at The Inbounder in Valencia, Spain on May 19 – 20.

If you’re in Europe and looking for tactical ways to influence members, this event might help.

Many of the best tactics we’ve acquired in the last year come from inbound marketing.

It’s a conversion game. You have a steady stream of traffic and you work to optimize every possible pixel to get the most clicks. If you want to sell things, conversion is great.

But there are limits to this. Conversion and community don’t usually co-operate well.

Conversion usually focuses on single, limited, short-term changes to behavior.

Community focuses on influencing behavior of a group of people over the long-term.

Conversion changes actions, community changes minds.

The tactics that gain the highest conversion rates often solicit the lowest participation rate.

You might dangle the prospect of a free eBook (worth $793.55!) to get people to sign up, but they will forever associate your community as a site to passively receive freebies. If you’re getting high registration rates and low participation rates, this is probably why.

The secret then is to influence the drivers of behavior in your favour. This is going to mean working at the belief, social norm, environment, and habit level.

If you’re in Europe, I hope you will join us to learn how.

Focus on the Emotion

It’s more powerful to learn how someone felt than what they did.

We empathize better with emotions than with experiences. We remember how things felt.

Most case studies explain what happened. They would do better to pick subjects that reflect their intended audience and explain how they felt.

How did the decision come about? What was causing anxiety? What caused them to make the decision they did? What scared them along the way? How did they deal with these emotions? How did it feel once they had performed the behavior?

Begin with the fear, anxiety and doubt most people experience.

Move through to joy, elation, and a sense of security.


In skeuomorphism you design concepts to resemble real world objects. People associate your designed concept with the real-world object and act as they would towards the object.

We do this a lot in online communities too.

We name ‘off-topic’ areas of the site the water cooler, the cafe, and the break room. There is nothing wrong with this, it can form useful associations.

Skeuomorphism can be useful if we use it well*. The problem it isn’t.

Is the ‘water cooler’ (colleagues spending a few minutes in a corporate environment gossiping about their boss) really the best real-world object we can think of to stimulate the type of behavior we want? We can do better.

Think of the places where you have the most fun, exciting, and engaging interactions (don’t default to a pub/bar). Name this part of the community after that area.

This works for the places where you want people to share their very best ideas, give each other deep emotional support, and put ideas into practice. Think of the real-life contexts where this best happens and name your objects after these.

*the opposite, perhaps, is ‘flat design’ where the object has no meaning. You make up a word or symbol and use it

How To Tip Behavior In Your Favour

Dozens of people shared this article with me this week.

13 people quit email as part of a week-long experiment. They became more productive, less stressed, and much happier.

Judging by it’s popularity, the message resonates. But those sharing the article probably won’t act on it.

Isn’t that strange? People share advice they don’t follow. The majority won’t see the discrepancy here.

The problem is the same problem facing any of you trying to get your audience to do anything.

Actions that have a big impact aren’t driven by single messages.

Actions that have a big impact are driven by a combination of personal beliefs, social norms, habits, and the environment (and a little genetic luck).

If you have enough influence over each one of these, you tip behavior in your favour.

Good stories about benefits is great for changing personal beliefs. But personal beliefs alone don’t change behavior. You also need to show who else they know is doing it, prepare the environment, and build a new habit (or routine) of doing it.

If you want to change behavior, work on multiple levels that influence behavior.

Provide persuasive stories of similar people who have quit email and seen the results. Ensure these people explain their emotional state before they performed the behavior and what drove their decisions. This will increase the level of empathy.

Next solicit a firm commitment from a group of people (who know each other) to only check email once a week beginning on a specific date to create the social norm.

Now create a tool or some system that will lock them out of email or report to the group if they dare log in. Make the environment conducive to that behavior.

Finally have them make a note of their anxiety and productivity levels before and after the behavior to feel a sense of reward and build the habit.

If you focus just on writing persuasive messages, you’re likely to be disappointing. Your chances of changing behavior are far higher if you can work on multiple levels at once.

Picking The Easiest Persuasion Pathway

March 25, 2016Comments Off on Picking The Easiest Persuasion Pathway

Persuasion feels cheaper than it is.

It costs you time and attention capital. If you waste your audience’s attention, some of it won’t come back.

If you want to get the most value out of your persuasion efforts pick the easiest paths to success.

Political advertising does this well. Political ads fall into two buckets.

1. Those designed to get those in favour to actually vote.

2. Those designed to stop opposition supporters from voting.

The former highlights how the candidate most closely aligns with the values of their audience.

The latter highlights how the opposition candidate isn’t standing up for the values of the opposition audience.

The lesson here is if you want to persuade someone, start with a group who hold favourable views of the behavior now. Everything else is much easier if you start here.

Don’t start with those who have already said they’re against it.

Reminder – last chance to get 42+ free videos from top community experts

Isolate The Behavior You Want To Change

March 22, 2016Comments Off on Isolate The Behavior You Want To Change

What do you want people to do differently?

Be really specific.

Participate more? Sure. But what specifically?

What kind of discussions and content do you want them to create? What kind of ideas do you want them to share? What do you want people to say about you to others?

When you get specific, you create a mental object.

Your members won’t have strong views about joining the conversation, but they will have views about the latest technology gossip.

That might not be a favourable attitude, but it’s still a measurable attitude. It gives you a benchmark to work from.

You can place the object (latest technology gossip) within their existing values, you can change their attitudes towards the latest technology gossip from a waste of time to a valuable source of tips. You can create emotional stories about the object, create a simple step to sharing an opinion on the gossip, share new information about the gossip.

You can build social norms around sharing the latest technology gossip. You can work to create a habit of discussing the news with relevance to their working day.

But to do any of these you need to isolate the behavior you want to change. That behavior has to be specific. That specificity creates the object. Until you have an object to work with, it’s hard to know where to even begin.

Get 42 Talks From Top Community Experts For Free This Week

Want to see 42 of the top experts in the online community space but can’t afford to attend an event?

Salesforce have sponsored a free VIP video pass to everyone that signs up this week.

This package includes talks from Google, FitBit, Moz, Airbnb, HuffingtonPost, Discourse, Community Roundtable, GitHub, Wikipedia, Lithium, Pinterest, ourselves and top experts in the fields of psychology, speechwriting, and habit-formation.

Usually it sells for $300, this week it’s absolutely free.

If you want to get 42+ expert talks for free, click here.

(offer expires midnight Friday UK time).

You Won’t Believe Where Our New Apartment Is Located

March 18, 2016Comments Off on You Won’t Believe Where Our New Apartment Is Located

My wife and I have been looking at apartments in London.

We’ve noticed there are two types of estate agents.

The first type will explain the size of the rooms, the facilities in the building, the distance to the nearest metro station, council tax bands, appliances, and highlight the key features of the property.

They stress how the features of this property are better than others.

The second type will wait and see what catches our eye. Then they tell stories based upon our passion. If we express interest in the modern kitchen, they will explain the quality of the furnishings, the rare design used, and how it will be different to other kitchens.

If we’re passionate about the view, they will talk about how far you can see on a (rare) sunny day, how it feels to have a coffee in the morning and they explain the history of the area below – pointing out where landmarks used to be.

Which do you think is most persuasive?

We don’t make decisions by facts, we make decisions by emotions. Find out what interests your audience and tell stories to move them to action.

Another example. Many times we’ve been helping clients find platforms for their clients. Some platforms (the ones we don’t pick) repeat the generic fact-driven presentation they give to every potential client.

Other platforms (the ones we pick) ask what they need and then tell stories about how their platform has helped similar organisations do something similar.

If you want to be better at persuading your audience to do what you need them to do, find out what most interests them and tell evocative stories about that specific object.

We got a great apartment, it overlooks the port from where English colonists set sail for America…

The Library And the Museum

A library consists of a relatively similar collection of books you can access through any terminal. There are some variations, but you know what to expect. Which is why most of us don’t go to libraries anymore.

A museum consists of a unique collection of artefacts not available anywhere else in the world. Museums surprise us with new information and new knowledge. They collect, present, and store information in unique ways. They care about the environment.

Don’t let employees treat an internal community as a repository of information that can be found anywhere else. If you become a dumping ground for yesterday’s information, you’ll be an empty library tomorrow. Don’t become a repository.

Strive to be the museum. Collect reports, data, insights, and documents that haven’t been seen before. Solicit the unique experiences and present each as a valuable artefact. If it doesn’t make the grade, don’t show it.

People should be surprised by an internal community, not bored.

Most People Didn’t Get The Message

March 16, 2016Comments Off on Most People Didn’t Get The Message

When we first launched our community management course back in 2011, we sent out a series of messages with advice and appeals to sign up.

I chased up many who expressed an interest but didn’t join to find out why.  Can you guess the main reason? Most people said they couldn’t afford to come to London for 12 weeks to take the program.

The program was completely online. We made this clear on the website and the brochure. Yet this message wasn’t getting through.

The next semester we made it clear the course was completely online, we updated the name, we detailed it on the landing page and in 5 to 6 emails we sent out that people could take the entire program in their spare time from home or during their working lunches.

I reached out to a group of people who clicked the link and didn’t sign up again. Same problem. People replied they liked the material but couldn’t afford to come to London for 12 weeks to take the program.

You might have experienced something similar. 4 years ago we took over the Virtual Community Summit which had been hosted for the previous 2 years in London. During the promotion, we began receiving complaints that we were charging too much for an online conference.

The venue, name, and date were all the same, but the message in the previous 2 years hadn’t gotten through.

It can feel frustrating to send out a message, follow up with the people that received it, and realise they didn’t really read it. During our recent AEM program, I reached out to a few people that clicked the signup link but didn’t complete the process to ask if they needed any support or had any questions about the program. The most common response was, what’s advanced engagement methods?

The sad truth is it’s very unlikely your message is cutting through the noise. Even if people receive it they probably don’t open it. Even if they open it, they probably don’t read all of it. Even if they read all of it, they probably don’t remember it.

In my inbox this morning I’ve got an important notification regarding Salesforce platform changes, new apartments available for viewings, and summaries from previous calls and meetings. And this is at 8am.

So what do you do?

A few thoughts

  • Despite the tantalizingly large number of members, your actual reach (as in people who will open and read your messages) is agonizingly small. This is probably up to 30% of your total audience. Focus on those people, not the rest.
  • The people most likely to perform the behavior are those who receive and open the message. I can think of only 1 person who signed up to our event/courses after realising they weren’t online/offline. The people who it appealed to made the effort to find out. The rest are looking for excuses not to do it.

Change the object to make big issues obvious. Our PillarSummit course became FeverBee’s ondemand program, the Virtual Community Summit became SPRINT London.

How To Influence People To Do What You Want

March 15, 2016Comments Off on How To Influence People To Do What You Want

Back in 1958, Herbert Kelman discovered tweaking the source of a message changed how an audience reacted to it.

When the audience felt the source had power (to reward or punish), they complied.

You comply when you do as you’re told even if you don’t believe in the behavior. You comply because you want the reward or to avoid the punishment the source is able to deliver. The catch is you only comply when you might get caught.

Compliance works great for short-term actions which mean a lot to you and little to them.

When the audience felt the source was one of them, they identified with him. When you identify with the source, you consider him or her one of you. You like them. You perform the behavior to maintain a favourable relationship. You want to feel part of the group.

Identification works well when you’re in constant contact with the other group. But when group salience is low, the behavior is minimal.

When the audience felt the source was a credible expert, they internalized the information. When you internalize, you adopt the viewpoint of the source. You change your opinions and attitudes to match. You perform the behavior because you want to perform the behavior in response to a relevant issue.

Knowing Your Influence

You can spot the problem.

If you don’t have the power to reward or punish, if you’re not considered one of them, and if you’re not a credible expert, it really doesn’t matter what you say (think, for a second, which emails you’re most likely to open right now).

And even if you do have the power to reward or punish, people will only compromise their own behaviour so far. People might fill out a profile if you threaten them, but they’re not going to regularly contribute their best ideas.

And even if you are one of them and very likable, you face competition from conflicting voices. People might share good ideas if you ask them to. But you can only ask them so often before they begin to avoid you.

The key then to changing the behavior of a group is to shoot for the big win, internalization. Internalization means two things. First, genuinely doing the hard work to be perceived as a credible authority within that field. Second, you usually need to change the behavior to as closely align with the values of the audience as possible.

If you’re sending out messages to your audience and not getting the response you want, it could be a message issue. But it’s more likely to be a source issue. You’re not scary, one of them, or perceived as a credible expert.

Final thought, be honest about your own influence.

If you only have the power to reward or punish, then take this route when soliciting the single-action behaviors you want.

If you are one of them, then invoke the group identity or your relationship (“can you do the group a big favour?”) when asking people to take action.

If you are perceived as a credible expert, emphasis the truth of the argument when asking for the behavior.

P.S. grab this eBook on setting up KPIs in a Google Dashboard from Vanilla (SPRINT sponsor).

Keeping ‘The Ask’ Small And The Reward Surprising

March 11, 2016Comments Off on Keeping ‘The Ask’ Small And The Reward Surprising

If you’re asking the audience to do something new, something that feels too much like additional work, where the pay-offs are unclear (or uncertain), and where they receive the benefits in the unimaginable future, you’re asking for too much.

That first action you want them to take should be:

  • Simple and non-committal. They should be able to take their first step to that new behavior within a few minutes without committing to anything longer-term.
  • Deliver an outsized reward. The easy mistake is to exaggerate the benefits of this behavior. This sets expectations too high. Even if you meet them, they’re not impressed. Far better to ask for the small amount and over-deliver when they undertake the behavior.
  • Deliver the benefits today. Make sure they get the benefits immediately. Don’t highlight the benefits in a few year’s time. Deliver the benefits right now.

Working with a software company a few years ago, the organisation’s software developers around the world “never had the time” to create and share information (or compare what they were working on). They considered themselves too important to participate in a community.

Unless you make the community a place to save time.

The developers spent a lot of time writing code and creating frameworks which already existed elsewhere in the company. We identified the most common overlap and asked each developer we interviewed if they could “do us a huge favour” and simply share one piece of software another person we had interviewed would love to see (we checked they wouldn’t mind if we took the effort of documenting it).

This doesn’t commit them to long-term participation and doesn’t require much effort to get started. We’re not selling the benefits of a global knowledge sharing system or the potential for a better world. We’re not asking them to change their habits in any major way.

We’re asking for them to send us something they have already created. When they send one in, we can also share the others that were created with them. This delivers an outsized reward. Soon, we have an outsized reward for that tiny contribution for the community.

Better yet, we begin to create this internal community as a place that will save time, not consume it.

The challenge then is to find the simplest, non-committal, behavior and deliver a surprising reward.

P.S. Free guide to setting up a Google Analytics specifically for communities from our SPRINT sponsor, Vanilla.

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