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Don’t Blunder Into A Community Persuasion Strategy

Richard Millington
Richard Millington

Founder of FeverBee

It’s ok to pursue a persuasion approach as long as you’re aware and prepared to do the work of persuading.

The problem begins if a) you’re not aware you’re pursuing a persuasion strategy and b) you’re not prepared to do the work of persuading.

As you can see in the matrix here, if you’re trying to get existing members to perform a new behavior, you’re pursuing a persuasion strategy (or if you’re launching any new community which isn’t based around an immediate need).


Launching a new feature and hoping members will use it? That’s a persuasion strategy.

Starting a group for people to discuss a topic they’re not talking much about today? That’s a persuasion strategy.

(Incidentally, almost all superuser programs are persuasion strategies).

There are nuances to persuasion, but the basic approach is pretty clear.

You need to deliver persuasive messages from credible people to a receptive audience.

Each needs a quick background.

1) Persuasive message. This typically takes the form of an emotive story that fits with the audience’s existing worldview and changes their attitudes. This should match your positioning and strategy. Common archetypes include: “people like you do things like this…”, “you are the best/future/important”, “there’s a small window to [make change happen]”, “help contribute to the greater good”.

2) Credible people. You’re not likely to trust a message delivered by a stranger (or someone sending low-status signals). They’re not one of your tribe. You will listen to people you know, trust, or are perceived as high credibility.

3) Receptive audience. Even the best-written email won’t do well if members are seeing it in the spam or ‘promotions’ folder. Context matters. Your members are more likely to be receptive to a message if they’ve opted into it or the context explicitly commands attention (like a meeting).

When we’ve done this work with clients, we begin by identifying possible stories.

Let’s imagine you want to improve retention by having veterans share their best tips for newcomers. Most people would send an email inviting members to share their best tips. But if we’re using the key principles of persuasion you might come up and test a few different emotive stories.

“Are you as passionate about helping others as we are? Can you share your top 3 tips?”

“Newcomers are struggling and only people with your expertise can help…”

“We’re inviting just our top 5 members to share their best tip for newcomers by this Friday, you’ve made the list. What is your best piece of advice?”

“Help make this the friendliest and most welcoming community for newcomers in the world..”

Notice each hits at a slightly different emotional appeal and tells a different story (but all lead to the same outcome).

Next we look at who the messages should come from. The best options are either:

a) Who does the audience know best within the community team?

b) Who does the audience look up to and recognise in the organisation?

Finally, we think about the best medium to deliver the message. You could send out a mass email. But that’s the quickest and least effective medium.

Other options might include:

  • Signing up to a private webinar to hear directly from the organisation.
  • Scheduling individual calls and meetings.
  • Sending personalised emails to each recipient.
  • Posting an announcement in the forum.
  • Recording a special video message and sharing it.
  • Etc…

It takes skill and experience, but each time you take a persuasion approach you get better at doing it. The key lesson is if you’re trying to get members to undertake a behavior they’re not doing today, you need to persuade them to do it. Persuasion is about emotive stories which change attitudes. The messages need to be sent from a credible person in a context to which the audience will be receptive to.

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