Changing Attitudes vs. Changing Behavior

Yes, you can change the behavior once.

If the reward is high enough, the nudge is big enough, and it’s a novel idea, you can get people to do almost anything once.

But one-off actions don’t lead to a sustained change in behavior. If someone joins your community to get a free eBook they’re not going to be a regular participant.

Yet we constantly try to change the behavior instead of changing the attitude towards that behavior. We increase the size of the reward instead of making the behavior itself something people want to do.

Changing attitudes is a process. It’s a process you can go through with your audience. Begin with interviewing 10 members about the behavior you want them to perform. How do they feel about it? (not what they think about it, but how they feel about it).

Isolate the exact words they use and repeat them back to them for better understanding. Now use those very words and ideas to reframe how they feel about the behavior.

Years ago I worked on a community for teachers. Participation was dire. Every member I interviewed said they were too busy to participate. Some hadn’t even had the time to read the invitation email. They classified it as yet another frustrating initiative by management that didn’t understand their exhaustion and frustration.

Notice the problem here? Anything ‘new’ we proposed was almost certainly going to be rejected because it’s yet another new initiative. More frustration = more burden. The key is to reduce the frustration.

So we relaunched the community as a place for teachers to swap quick time-saving hacks. We turned that frustration into a trigger. There must be a quicker way to do {x}, mustn’t there?

We began letting teachers estimate and track the time they had saved. It became a competition. Members wanted to feel smart. We scanned the web for teacher time-saving tips and invited the authors to give webinars. Activity exploded in weeks. We used frustration to open the door, but the sense of feeling smart (and potentially superior) to drive long-term activity.

The problem with so much advice about increasing participation is it doesn’t affect the underlying activity. It’s a quick hit in an increasingly frantic world. Many of you are struggling with participation today.

Go speak to your members. Really listen to how they feel about their community. Pick up on their mood and their emotions. Then reframe the behavior you want them to do that can match their current mood. You might be amazed at the result.

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