How Quickly Can You Create A New Social Norm?
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.