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How to encourage a community to change their behaviours

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How to encourage a community to change their behaviours

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Last month I wrote about some research emerging from UCLA that looked at the role online communities can play in changing peoples behaviour.  The research looked in particular at health related behaviours, in a bid to understand whether the web can nudge people into being healthier.

They found that nearly twice as many people involved in discussions online performed good behaviours than those in control groups.  Researcher Sean Young went on to state some of the reasons why the communities he created worked in terms of changing behaviours.

“Throughout our research, we find that newly created online communities can change people’s behaviors by addressing the following psychological needs:

The Need to Trust. Sharing our thoughts, experiences, and difficulties with others makes us feel closer to others and increases our trust. When we trust people, we’re more open-minded, more willing to learn, and more willing to change our behavior. In our studies, we found that sharing personal information (even something as small as describing what you did today) can help increase trust and change behavior.

The Need to Fit In. Most of us inherently strive to fit in.Social norms, or other people’s attitudes and behaviors, heavily influence our own attitudes and behaviors. Each time a new online community or group forms, it creates its own set of social norms and expectations for how people should behave. Most people are willing to change their attitudes and/or behavior to fit these group norms and fit in with the community.

The Need for Self-Worth. When people feel good about themselves, they are more open to change and feel empowered to be able to change their behavior. When an online community is designed to have people support and care for each other, they can help to increase self-esteem.

The Need to Be Rewarded for Good Behavior. Anyone who has trained a puppy knows that you can get him to keep sitting as long as you keep the treats flowing to reward him, but if you want to wean him off the treats and really train him then you’ll need to begin spacing out the treats to make them less predictable. Well, people aren’t that different from animals in that way and can be trained with reinforcements too. For example, “liking” people’s communications when they immediately join a network, and then progressively spacing out the time that their posts are liked (psychologists call this variable reinforcement) can be incorporated onto social network platforms to encourage them to keep posting content. Eventually, these behaviors become habits.

The Need to Feel Empowered. While increasing self-esteem makes people feel good about themselves, increasing empowerment helps them know they have the ability to change. Creating a sense of empowerment is one of the most powerful predictors of whether people will change their behavior. Belonging to a network of people who are changing their own behaviors, support our needs, and are confident in our changing our behavior empowers us and gives us the ability to change our behavior.”

I’m currently in the midst of writing a major report on how organisations can become social businesses by focusing their attention on creating an environment where the collaborative behaviours they strive for are encouraged.

You’ll notice from the points made by Young that he doesn’t mention technology or tools once, everything is focused on the psychology of individual and collective behaviour.  There are numerous ways you can encourage collaborative behaviours in the workplace, and it is on these that managers need to focus if the dream of social business is to be realised.

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