helping good deeds go viral

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Post on 26-Dec-2014




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The results of research into the psychological motivations behind facebook sharing (literature review) with an effort to understand how "good deeds" can be made more shareable by mission-driven organizations. The full (boring?) version is here:


  • 1. Good Deeds go Viral Katz p.1 5 rules for helping good deeds go viral June 2012 Jon Katz, University of California Berkeley It is now widely accepted that peer influence is a powerful tool shaping our behavior both online and offline. Facebook, Twitter, and many other online social tools provide ample evidence of how sharing influences others, and for the first time these tools are allowing us to track what is being shared amongst friends and why. As many have lamented before me, there are far too many cat pictures on the Internet. There is also a lot of conspicuous consumption being shared: fancy meals, fancy trips, and fancy gadgets. Aside from measurably driving traffic and purchases, this reinforces certain cultural norms around behavior. One kind of behavior that is not shared very often is behavior driven by altruistic or moral intentions. Though we do see them, there are not a lot of updates that read: I just volunteered or I just called my congress person to ask that they overturn Citizens United. Before you start thinking about times you or your friends have shared such things, consider these search results from Facebook: V. source: Facebook retrieved 6-7-12 or V.
  • 2. Good Deeds go Viral Katz p.2 source: Facebook retrieved 6-7-12 Feel free to play around yourself and let me know what you come up with. Some of the differences surely have to do with incentive programs and promotional budgets, but that doesnt explain all of it. Educating users how important sharing is to a cause is a good thought, and some use this tactic: source: source: However, information alone rarely has as much impact as reason would suggest. In order to increase sharing rates, we have to look beyond the cause and examine the motivations behind sharing. Why people share Though academic studies of Facebook are limited by a short half-life and incomplete methodologies, the literature seems to agree that the three largest reasons for sharing on Facebook are: 1. Build and maintain an aspirational identity (project/disclose) 2. Create and maintain relationships (interact)
  • 3. Good Deeds go Viral Katz p.3 3. Provide information or entertainment to others others (help) In addition, the vast majority of people claim that they are not motivated by the desire to exert influence over others. Unfortunately, that is exactly what well-intentioned social marketers are hoping they will do. There are also several barriers to sharing. The most important is potential damage to reputation or relationships. This potential damage is the primary limiting factor of Facebook sharing. The other is the cost of time and effort, which is fairly minimal. Studies have also shown that users tend to share on Facebook in order to maximize expected rewards. Anyone trying to maximize sharing should focus on ensuring the three motivations above are met and the potential damage to a user is limited. Given these motivations, what factors of a post induce users to share? I have condensed my findings into 5 rules for increasing the sharing of moralistic behavior: Rule #1: Segment before softening A primary takeaway from Facebook studies is that different people have different comfort levels with what they share and with whom they share it. Where possible, identify those users who are dedicated and ask the most of them. The following four rules suggest different ways to make sharing more appealing to constituents who are not otherwise willing to share their beliefs or behaviors more broadly. In many cases, this weakens the impact of the message, but is better than no share at all. If somebody always signs petitions, but never shares petitions with their friends, perhaps a lighter touch needs to be applied. Many, more complicated segmenting rules can be applied, but this first one is the most impactful. Rule #2: Highlight social success and normalcy People want to appear socially successful and normal. Perceived success is socially attractive and, there is a social cost to being different from your audience. Studies (and experience) have shown that we are prone to dislike those who disagree with us, so avoiding disagreement is socially desirable. There is also a widespread defensive backlash against any action or speech that can be interpreted as judgmental or holier than thou. For these reasons, people choose to avoid potentially controversial topics, and this acts as a barrier to sharing. Here are some ways to overcome these barriers: Tone down contraversy Anyone hoping to generate a politically oriented or moralistic message should make an effort to defang the message. This may limit the intensity of the message, but will ensure faster, broader sharing.
  • 4. Good Deeds go Viral Katz p.4 To illustrate this point, consider if an occupy supporter who works in Silicon Valley would prefer to share with coworkers that they were at: this rally or this one? Affiliate with socially desirable qualities and social status If the altruistic behavior is not consistent with social norms a potential strategy is to affiliate the behavior with what is considered normal or socially desirable. PETA recently attempted this, with a campaign suggesting that vegan men are studs in bed. (Side note: In line with recent history, PETA also managed to make the campaign extremely offensive). Change what is normal Lastly, it can be helpful to temporarily change the norms by manufacturing a fad. Kony2012 did this effectively through their creation of a twitter bombeffectively taking over the twitter trends for a short period.
  • 5. Good Deeds go Viral Katz p.5 Rule #3: Communicate indirectly Nobody writes on their profile I am well-rounded and popular. Instead most people try to demonstrate this by showing rather than telling. Studies have shown that pictures and testimonials from friends are far more persuasive than blatant self-promotion. They are also saferpotentially avoiding the backlash associated with self-promotion or disagreement with a message. For this reason, the vast majority of Facebook disclosures are indirect, through pictures, affiliations and second-hand quoting or sharing. Unlike conspicuous consumption, an altruistic act is itself positive, and thus requires an extra layer of camouflage to avoid backlash. This is hard for a donor to share: This is easier: