Positive messaging and behaviour change

Tim Cotter writes in his latest “Awake” newsletter on “Do positive messages lead to more positive outcomes?”, which looks at the efficacy of positive and negative messaging in relation to behaviour change. I’ve read a lot of different articles that talk about the “loss aversion bias” and many others on how positive messaging can achieve better results, and wondered about the two.

The up-shot is “it depends” — primarily where the person is on their change journey.

Are we primarily trying to draw attention to the issue, or get already-concerned people into action? If we apply Obermiller’s observations to the bypass patients mentioned earlier, it is clear that the people in question were already painfully aware of the seriousness of the issues. So the positive approach to getting them into action was successful because it worked on motivating and supporting them to act.

Tim concludes by saying “These findings also highlight the importance of doing sound research before committing effort and resources to behaviour change initiatives.” Couldn’t agree more — that’s certainly our approach…

(Oh, and I recommend subscribing to Tim’s newsletter, which is available on his website.)

Social media & networking

Stop saying viral

Rachel Botsman posted this via Twitter today, and I suspect it would be of interest to readers here – an excellent examination of “viral” and an argument against using that term (which I wholeheartedly support).

There’s many quotable quotes in the preso, but one that caught my attention:

“When we say something is viral we focus entirely on the content itself and not on the needs of the people that we are asking to spread our ideas” @Faris

To me that cuts to the core of the argument. I often say (and I think I once read it somewhere, though I’ve long since lost the reference) that viral is something that happens, not some attribute we can design into a communication – i.e. you don’t “make a viral”, you create something that “goes viral”. @Faris’ comment sums this up beautifully.

The preso also hints at something Duncan Watts covers in his book 6 Degrees, which is that for something to spread through networks successfully, it needs to cross different community network boundaries.

This is the power of connectors in networks – often we focus our attention on the hubs (i.e. targeting a-list bloggers, or people with large follower counts) but the connectors, the people that enable memes to jump between disparate networks, are key to the spread of ideas.