Friday, June 18, 2010

5 directions in which to move with the new rules of persuasion

Dr. B.J. Fogg, director of the Stanford University Persuasive Technology Lab, has been in the behavior-changing game for more than 15 years. Here are his insights into how to successfully use technology to influence people.

Choose a simple behavior to target
The first critical step in designing for persuasion is to select an appropriate target behavior. I believe the best choice is the simplest behavior that matters. Often this requires a team to reduce their ambitious long-term goal to a small near-term objective.

Learn what is preventing the target behavior
With the target behavior selected, a design team can then investigate what is preventing people from performing the target behavior.  The answers to such questions always – yes, always – fall into some combination of the following three categories:
  • Lack of motivation  
  • Lack of ability 
  • Lack of a well-timed trigger to perform the behavior
Choose the right tech channel
While technology presents us with many options for persuasion – from websites to video games – the selection of channel must match the target behavior and the audience. To fail on either account will doom your project.

If the target behavior is to share a message with at least one friend, then the channel could be email, online video, or social networks, because all of those channels make sharing easy. If the target behavior is donating to a political party, then the web will need to be part of the solution because it enables financial transactions. Some channels, including online video, social networks and video games, are effective at increasing motivation. Other channels, such as installed software and specialized devices, excel at making a behavior simpler, which increases ability.

Start small and Fast
Today, innovation has a new rhythm, with the best teams launching early and iterating quickly. What drives this new method? The low cost of creation and distribution. In a handful of hours you can create a new website, a Facebook app, or a phone application. And you can share it quickly with the world. With no money down, you can test a new intervention using text messaging. Using new tools, the fastest way to learn what works in the marketplace isn’t by meeting and discussing but by implementing and launching. Many crummy trials beats deep thinking.

Build on small successes
I believe big companies and academic research labs are often biased against simplicity. This is why so many of today’s winning consumer services started in dorm rooms and garages. Small teams with limited budgets had to find success quickly. And that often meant figuring out the simplest solution.

When a simple service succeeds, the doors for expansion open. With the success of our relaxation pilots, we can move forward with confidence in one of five directions.
  1. Get people to repeat the behavior on a fixed schedule, creating a routine
  2. Increase the difficulty of the behavior
  3. Scale the intervention to reach more people
  4. Target other simple health behaviors
  5. Expand to audiences who are less persuadable

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