Do You Follow The Data Or Do You Persuade Members?

Let’s imagine your data and survey results tell you that members don’t like to create guest columns about the topic.

Should you do more of it or less of it?

Most people see the data and decide to do less of what members don’t like.

But this is a slippery slope. What members like best is precisely what they already enjoy doing. Members can’t like what they haven’t tried. In fact, most of the things they enjoy now they didn’t like before they tried them.

If you build your community around data alone, you are putting up a fence around existing behaviors…only now you have to pay to maintain the land.

If you want to be the leader chasing after his people, follow the data.

The alternative is to see that dislike of guest columns as a persuasion challenge and do more of it. The problem isn’t that members don’t like doing it. The problem is you haven’t persuaded them why they should do it yet.

Your message isn’t getting through.

That means finding better stories, shrinking the behavior change, working with a group of others to highlight positive examples, equipping people with new information.

If guest columns is one of the overlapping valuable behaviors, you’ve got to persuade people to create them. There is very little value in putting up a fence around existing behaviors. There is a lot of value in successfully changing behavior in a way that benefits you and your members.

If we’re not trying to tip behavior in our favour, what are we trying to do?

Today I’m presenting a webinar with Vanilla to explain how you can change the behavior of your audience. I hope you will join us. 1pm Eastern. Click here to signup.


  1. Bas van Leeuwen says:

    Feels like you’re asking the wrong kind of question from your data here Rich.
    You want to know if members enjoy reading guest columns; if so, persuade people to do so, and if not, spare your efforts.

    Yes it’s easy to misuse data, no that does not mean that using data is a bad thing. I truly don’t think this is a message that our industry needs from a respected leader such as yourself.

  2. John Prusinski says:

    As someone whose community management has lately been somewhat micromanaged from above, this has become something of a sore point: data is clearly extremely useful, but relying primarily on data in the decision-making process can be a problematic road.

    As we all know, data can be used to “prove” whatever point serves your agenda, both in the way it’s collected and in how it’s interpreted. In my opinion, it’s important to use your expertise have a more global view of what would best serve the greater goals of your community, and then plan your strategy to implement that… the data can (should) inform your tactics, but not the overall strategy.

  3. Bas van Leeuwen says:

    If people (mis)use your data to serve their own needs, then yes, that is a big issue indeed. If ones approach is a) I know XYZ to be true, so b) let’s find me some data that ‘proves’ XYZ, then no amount of data, metrics, KPIs and sanity will stand in their way unfortunately.

    One of the pitfalls of a manager is generally that they can have their cake and eat it too.
    With a bad manager, the onus is always on the underling to prove their POV, management’s POV wins in the absence of any data :angry:

    A good manager trusts that you know what you’re doing; that’s why they hired you :slight_smile:

  4. Bo McGuffee says:

    What I get out of this is “don’t let data make easy decisions for you so you don’t have to ask yourself the hard questions.”

    For me, the big question is “what am I trying to accomplish?” If I recognize that there are often multiple paths to reach my goals, then I can be versatile. If I find out that my members don’t like doing “that”, then I can ask what else they might like to do that will achieve the same goal.

    If, however, “that” is indispensable when seeking to attain my goals, then I may have to try to leverage something like the Premack Principle. How then might I align with their values and goals, so that they may very well be willing to do “that” because that to them is a meaningful step in the right direction and worth the effort? I can’t ask that question if I dismiss the option of trying.

    I agree with @Bas_van_Leeuwen that we may want to be careful and avoid giving the impression of dismissing relevant data (and I don’t think that is what @richard_millington intended). But I also think there are times when the data we have collected may better indicate the challenges we face rather than offer insights as to whether we pursue the path.

  5. Richard Millington says:

    ‘guest posts’ is an abstraction here. I’m not talking about guest posts,
    I’m talking about any behavior.

    Data might show that members do or don’t like any behavior.

    The challenge is interpreting that data. It could mean you shouldn’t do it
    or it could mean you haven’t tried hard enough to persuade people about the

    Often the default is to do less, which means we end up doing things that
    members already enjoy doing. Which in turn means we’re not creating any

    My point, perhaps not well explained, is we need to consider if the
    behavior is really important to the organisation then we’re going to need
    to *persuade *people to take the behavior we want.

  6. Bas van Leeuwen says:

    Very very very true :slight_smile:

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