Facebook: Right Ways and Wrong Ways to Motivate

There’s a right way and a wrong way to go about motivating people to take action. I thought I’d write about this subject because it’s relevant based on some Facebook messages I’ve seen several times in recent months. If you’re on Facebook you might have seen the following message or some variation of it:

“In memory of family and friends who have lost the battle of cancer and the ones who continue to conquer it! Put this on your page if you know someone who has or had cancer. Dear God, I pray for the cure of cancer. Amen. 93% won’t copy and paste this, will you?”

The intent of the person and message is wonderful, to get people to pray for those with cancer, pass along the message and create more awareness. Unfortunately the method to motivate people to act on it is poor. After all, if 93% of people won’t copy and paste the message, why should you or I? Worse yet, that phrase tries to shame people into action. If someone feels shamed you can bet they won’t take action. This type of “motivation” is seen all the time in chain letter emails:

– “There were 12 tribes of Israel and 12 disciples. If you love God will you take a moment to send this to 12 friends?”
– “I cared enough to send this to you and 10 others; will you do the same for 10 people you care about?”
– “Please don’t break this. Send it to at least 7 of your friends.”

This isn’t an indictment against anyone who did take the time to post the message because they didn’t come up with the message. All they’ve done is copy and paste the message that’s been floating around. We can applaud their effort to do something good but there’s a more effective way to spread the word.

In psychology there’s a principle of influence known as consensus which tells us people are motivated to certain behaviors when they see others engaged in the same behavior. The motive to act is strengthened if the people observed are just like us or if there happen to be many people engaged in the behavior. Parents know all about this except they call it peer pressure, not consensus.

As a society all too often we make the same mistake the Facebook message makes. Consider the following two scenarios:
Voting – Messaging used to focus on what a shame it was that so few people voted. Shame was used when we were reminded that people died for our right to vote. Result – why go vote when so many others are not. Contrast that with the messaging before the 2008 presidential election, “A record turnout is expected.” That simple message helped change behaviors and we did end up having a record turnout. The thought process for many people was, “I better get there early if I want to vote.” There was an interesting Time magazine article on this, “How Obama is Using the Science of Change.”

Cheating in School – “Back in 1940, only 20 percent of college students admitted to cheating during their academic careers. Today, that number has increased to 75 to 98 percent.” (Education-Portal.com) Interpretation for students – I might as well cheat because everyone else is cheating.

So let’s circle back to the Facebook message and see what might be more effective. Simply replace, “93 % won’t copy and paste this, will you?” with something like this, “After reading this some of my other FB friends took time to copy and paste this onto their wall. I’d appreciate it if you would too.” This change is small but could produce a big result because it appeals to consensus; my Facebook friends, people like you, are doing this.

Beyond Facebook, take a look at how you’re trying to motivate people to action. If you talk about a negative behavior and how so many people are engaging in that behavior you’re probably hurting your attempt to change the behavior. Talk about how many kids aren’t cheating or how few kids were cheating in 2008 vs. some other year. Mention how fewer people are driving drunk or how more people voted than ever in 2008 and that number will go up on 2012. With a little forethought and small changes in your messaging you could see much, much better results for your cause.

Finally, thanks to all of you who forwarded Influence PEOPLE to others last week. I had a nice bump in readership, my third highest week ever, and got some new followers to boot. As I shared in last Monday’s post, someone would win Dr. Cialdin’s book Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive. Congratulations to the lucky winner Kelli Moore.Brian
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes!”

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