Solving The ‘Too Busy To Participate’ Problem

There’s a moment in many new client meetings where someone will say:
“The problem with [our audience], is they are too busy to participate!”

We’ve heard this from every type of community. Even a community for retirees.

Your audience is not too busy to participate.

I’ll bet they still spend hours each day using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, watching Netflix, and talking with friends.

It’s never about time, it’s always about priorities. And priorities are about emotions. If something strikes an emotional nerve, your members will make time for it.

The Biggest Mistake in Tackling ‘Too Busy’

Don’t tackle this by explaining the benefits of the community.

Facts aren’t persuasive. Your audience will agree with you and still be too busy.

For example, you might be convinced climate change is real, but you’re probably too busy to install a solar panel on the ceiling until your friends do.

Why is that?

A while ago, a client was struggling to get internal employees to participate. They all agreed it was important but were all too busy to participate.

This changed when they were mocked for being dinosaurs for using outdated technology. Suddenly, most of them found the time to participate.

People can always make the time if you strike the right emotional tone.

Step one: Pinpoint the Emotion(s)

The first is to pinpoint the most effective emotion.

Does the community exist to relieve frustration, reduce the fear of making a mistake, create a sense of validation, or build a sense of excitement about what can be achieved?

You need to interview your members here and find out how they feel about the behavior you want. How do they feel about joining, participating, or otherwise getting involved?

Remember this will be different for different groups of members.

Step Two: Align Every Touchpoint
Next is to carefully align every touchpoint with this emotion.

Be subtle here. Don’t bulldoze your way through with messages like: “If you’re frustrated about {x}, ask your question here and stop feeling frustrated!”

People are smart (and want to feel smart)

Let them make the connection from the right cues. Try instead: “Let our members find a good answer for you” or “don’t waste time browsing Google, when you can get the answer here”.

They will make the connections easily enough.

Step Three: Overcome The Resistance

Avoid promising what you can’t deliver. Some key tips here:

  1. Improve the utility of the community. Make sure anyone visiting today is going to see remarkably useful tips (or be surprised) they haven’t come across before. You want them to feel surprised with information or entertainment they were not expecting.
  2. Be clear what behavior it replaces. Great communities don’t create new behaviors, they replace them. New behaviors = extra work. Replacing behaviors = improvement. If it feels like extra, work, you will never win.
  3. Why should they join now? If people can join and participate in the community at any time, why bother now? Why not get through the important work and then join when they’re less busy (will never happen). What is happening right now that demands their attention (and will be gone later?).

We’re going to cover how to engage difficult audiences as part of Psychology of Community.

I hope you and your team will join us:


  1. Nick Emmett says:

    I had this in a previous role with an internal community, whilst doing the rounds of sessions with the middle managers on how they could use it with their teams to improve their agility and work better - there were quite a few people who would say Nick, when will I have the time to do this, I’m just too busy!

    I would try and get them to think about what might happen if they didn’t find/make the time and everyone else was adopting it - the kind of things they’d be missing out on, the potential delays they might cause, the feedback they might miss out on etc

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