“Facts are stubborn things,” President John Adams once said. “And whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
True, facts are stubborn things, but…people are more stubborn.
In a battle between logic and emotion, emotion will win over facts most of the time.
Researchers have estimated that 80% of decisionmaking is emotional, and only 20% rational. According to Kevin Roberts, CEO of advertising giant Saatchi and Saatchi, “Reason leads to conclusions. Emotion leads to action.”
Just look at the US presidential elections. How rational is any of what has been happening there? Fact-checkers have been busy, but facts don’t seem to be what many voters are looking for.
The Brexit vote was completely unexpected by those who thought their long list of economic arguments was enough to convince the British people to stay in the European Union.
And in the Middle East, UNESCO just passed a resolution claiming that the Temple Mount and Western Wall in Jerusalem have no historical connection to Jews (despite thousands of years of evidence).
These days, it feels like facts have been thrown out the window.
The fact is (whether or not it will convince you!) that emotions are powerful things. Feelings of frustration, patriotism, nostalgia, jealousy or fear can easily outweigh well thought-out, logic-based arguments. And sometimes they can drive people to make up their own “facts” that, repeated often enough, take on a life of their own.
But this doesn’t only happen in politics. Think about the communication campaigns out there trying to convince people to change their behaviors. What do most of them do? Lay out the cold, hard facts to persuade people rationally why they should do the right/healthy/socially beneficial thing. No wonder they don’t make much of a dent!
So, how do you motivate members of your community to take action on your health or social issues? You don’t need to abandon facts altogether – they play an important role in providing information and establishing credibility.
But facts alone are not enough.
Combine your most compelling facts with an emotional appeal. This is not a cynical thing to do – this is how our brains work! Do research with your priority populations to find out what they care about. Align your behavioral “product” with people’s values to show how they can get what they want and need emotionally by coming on board.
Social marketing gives you a systematic approach to designing social impact programs that take emotion into account. Making a behavior fun, social and easy are only some of the ways you can go beyond providing “just the facts.”
Louise.Delage Instagram Feed
What happens when a French agency racks up over 50,000 likes on Instagram for a campaign aimed at raising awareness of alcoholism among young people? Success, right? By creating a fake account for a glamorous young French woman named Louise Delage and posting several photos on Instagram daily, each of which included her holding an alcoholic drink, the “Like My Addiction” campaign for organization Addict Aide hoped to show that it’s not always easy to tell that someone is addicted to alcohol.
At the end of the 2-month campaign, the agency, BETC, revealed that Louise was not real, and shared the purpose of the campaign with their followers. After the reveal, web traffic to Addict Aide’s website spiked to five times normal and numerous media outlets covered the campaign. Clearly the agency knows how to run Instagram campaigns to get attention and gain a following (with more than 16,000 Instagram followers in just a few months). But even they admitted that their important message mostly missed the notice of Louise’s followers.
Many have praised this stealth campaign, but from a behavior change point of view it has many flaws. I do love this kind of social media narrative edutainment, but it was clearly created with no understanding of behavioral science.
Ultimately, this very creative and promising approach was only half a strategy.
A carefully crafted character telling her story via social media can be compelling and draw people in to pay attention. Done right, her online life may feel very real. For the purposes of motivating behavior change, she should either evoke empathetic feelings of “she’s like me”or aspirational thoughts that “I want to be like her.” This they did well.
The problem was that they posted happy (or neutral) pictures of a beautiful young woman with a drink in her hand for two months without depicting any consequences of her alcoholism. There was no indication that she was addicted to alcohol beyond the glasses in her hand, which escaped many people’s notice. If, once they had a critical mass of followers, Louise started posting photos – or including text in her Instagram posts – that hinted at problems in her life resulting from her drinking, the people who were engaging with her would start connecting the dots themselves.
Having the ad agency say “na-na, gotcha!” and explaining their strategy at the end of the campaign is a case of telling, not showing. It takes people out of the narrative and has much less impact than if they saw a realistic depiction of the effects of alcoholism on someone they had started to care about (even if they found out she was not real).
The other big problem with this campaign is that it normalized the behavior they were trying to prevent for two full months. Many of the people who saw images from her account likely did not see the big reveal at the end, and only took from the postings the subconscious connection of alcohol and a glamorous life – the equivalent of free advertising for the alcohol industry. Social media plays a significant role in establishing and reinforcing social norms. We have to be careful in social marketing with the imagery we use; attractive depictions of undesirable behaviors can far outweigh any negative text that accompanies the pictures and the message will backfire.
Entertainment education can be incredibly effective, but it has to be done with an understanding of the behavior change models that work.
Photo: Tom Goskar (CC)
By now you’ve probably been inundated with emails and articles urging you to keep your New Year’s resolutions. But for social marketers, the need for creating behavior change—whether your own or that of your priority populations—is year-round.
Here are some tips from a social marketing perspective for ways you can build support for long-term behavioral shifts into your programs, that can also work in your own life (bonus!).
1) Set and track goals
Know what specific behavior you’re trying to change. Rather than just saying you want people to “lose weight,” make the plan more concrete: Eat 6 servings of vegetables every day. Have protein as a snack rather than carbs. Go for a 30 minute walk every morning at 8 am. Offering ways to track progress will provide a feedback loop that continues to motivate as success breeds success.
2) Create habits through behavioral triggers
The more automatic we can make the desired behaviors, the less we have to rely on willpower alone to do the job (which is often not a very hard worker!). Habits arise when something triggers us to take an action – it could be when we’re doing something else (e.g., eating while watching TV), when we feel a specific emotion (e.g., checking Facebook when we feel bored), or when we get a reminder (e.g., the 6 o’clock news comes on and we realize it’s time to make dinner).
Find a regular event that you can link the desired behavior to, such as making a healthy lunch for work the next day right after you finish dinner. Or use reminders like a sticky note on your bathroom mirror helping you remember to floss your teeth when you’re in the right place at the right time.
3) Design the environment for success
Create a situation that enables the desired behavior and makes it hard to veer off the chosen path. This could involve limiting the choices available (e.g., only buying foods that fit healthy guidelines), getting prepared in advance before decisions are made in the heat of the moment (e.g., setting up an automatic monthly transfer of a portion of your salary to a savings account), or surrounding yourself with reminders of your ultimate goal (e.g., taping a picture of your kids onto your cigarette box to help you remember why you want to quit).
These tips are just a few of the ways that a social marketing perspective can help you help your community to become healthier or better off. Behavioral science insights can be applied to your New Year’s resolutions as well as creating positive change throughout the year!
I’ve had a fun summer as one of the main writers for the Miracle Mile Paradox, an alternate reality game a group of us from Transmedia LA decided to create as a learning experience (for us as designers). I was originally thinking about how we could bring in a nonprofit angle, a la Conspiracy for Good, but a cause marketing strategy didn’t seem to fit well with the story. Luckily, I was able to figure out a way to bring in my real passion, which is transmedia entertainment education, and even draw on a project I’m managing at the Entertainment Industries Council working with (primarily) TV writers and journalists for accurate portrayal of mental health issues.
When the opportunity arose to write for some of the characters, I decided to go for it, as the realtime portrayal of a character via social media had always intrigued me. While there was an overarching storyline for the game, which took place over several months, there was a lot of leeway for character development and story arcs for individual minor characters. With almost 30 different characters in the story, with several writers covering two or more characters and quite a few more people who started creating a character and gave up fairly quickly, there was a lot of opportunity for interesting stories to play out on the sidelines of the main storyline.
The main story centered on an inventor named Rex Higgs who discovers blueprints for a machine called a “time switch,” builds it, and ends up on the wrong side of an evil multinational financial investment company called the Agent Intellect Corp (AIC). One of my characters, Lauralee Simcoe, is a corporate communications assistant working at AIC whose only functional role in the game is to have players hack into her online account at AIC for information. I created a story arc for her that involved her experiencing clinical depression, getting treatment and recovering. The strategy behind the narrative was to engage the game participants by getting them emotionally involved in Lauralee’s story, with elements of education, modeling and an accurate depiction of potential roadblocks and their resolution.
I’ve compiled excerpts from the story across various social media platforms to give you an idea of how Lauralee’s depression subplot played out over the five months or so of the game on the Storify site.
We live in a transmedia world. Information, stories, marketing come at us from all sides — from the radio news waking you up in the morning to your box of cereal describing the plight of the puffin; emails, texts and tweets with the latest updates from family, friends and co-workers; the billboards you see on the way to work; in-person meetings with your colleagues using the inevitable PowerPoint slides; your favorite TV show… We are bombarded with data that we constantly process on the fly to create a coherent picture of our world.
Why does this matter for nonprofits, public agencies and others who are working to change people’s lives for the better? Because the people you are trying to reach also live in this transmedia world. We need to reach people where they are, and where they are is practically everywhere! Of course, your particular audience is more likely to spend their time in certain places than others, but don’t assume that reaching them on one platform is enough to make an impression. (I know the term “audience” is not the most appropriate when we’re talking about a more participatory model, but I don’t have a better word yet for “the people whose behavior you are trying to change.”)
In addition to spreading your messages and interventions across multiple media or platforms, you need to find a way to grab their attention through the clutter. I’ve often written about the power of story and the use of the entertainment education approach to bring about health and social change, and I believe that combining proven behavior change models with transmedia storytelling has the potential to radically transform how we change social norms and create large-scale social movements.
If you’re not familiar with it, put simply, the transmedia approach uses multiple platforms to convey different parts of a story (as opposed to the same story told over again via various media). Of course, the word means different things to different people, and a broad debate has been raging in the field as to how exactly to define “transmedia” (sound familiar, social marketers?). Though the most typical example of an entertainment/marketing-focused transmedia project involves big-budget elements like a feature movie, video- or alternate reality game, graphic novel, webisodes or other production-intensive media, that by no means defines the approach. In fact, sometimes a mobile phone and social media are all you need to create world-changing transmedia content.
In considering how best to use this approach within the context of health and social change, I think “immersive engagement” may be a better term than “transmedia.” I love Robert Pratton’s equation defining pervasive entertainment, which does not describe every transmedia project, but which I think includes the key elements that can contribute to effective change:
Pervasive Entertainment = ubiquitous media + participatory experience + real world + good storytelling
We can adapt that idea for social change as:
Immersive Engagement for Change =
Behavior Change Model + Good Storytelling + Ubiquitous Media + Participatory Experience + Real World
Let’s look at each element of that equation (I’ve re-ordered the elements from the original to indicate their priority in this application):
- Immersive Engagement for Change – Ultimately, your goal is to create an experience that leads to your audience taking some sort of action as a result of being engaged and motivated, whether it’s adopting a healthy or pro-social behavior, changing how they treat other people, helping the environment or actively joining a movement that aims to solve a social challenge. Awareness and education are necessary, but usually not sufficient by themselves to create real change.
- Behavior Change Model – Start by identifying what you need to accomplish and how you intend to get there, by understanding what you need to include in the experience to effectively motivate the adoption of the key action(s). In a long-term story-centered project, you can follow the Sabido Method, which has been used successfully for decades to drive development of entertainment education content and brings together behavioral, communication and learning theories. You can use other simpler models, such as social cognitive theory or BJ Fogg’s behavior model, but the crucial point is to understand the pieces that need to be in place in your story and in the structure of your project for change to happen.
- Good Storytelling – Engagement starts with a good story; without that element, the rest of the pieces will fall flat. A good story does not just mean an issue that you feel is important for people to know about. Give a lot of thought as to who the key characters are, what the conflict is, how the story arc will play out, and how best to present different parts of the narrative for maximum effect. Whether you are creating a fictional world or a nonfiction series about real people, the elements of what makes a good story don’t change. The story is your opportunity to create characters your audience can relate to, put them in situations where they need to make decisions related to the actions you want your audience to take, and show the consequences of those decisions.
- Ubiquitous Media – By offering your content in the places the audience is already spending their time, your story can seamlessly integrate into their day. These touchpoints could be their mobile phone, their Twitter or Facebook stream, a link to a website, YouTube, email, snail mail, a comic book or location-based markers. The audience should encounter your content — whether fiction or nonfiction-based — alongside the other chunks of information to which they have chosen to pay attention, rather than making them go out of their way to find it. And your selected platforms must work together to support the story strategically and synergistically based on their strengths and weaknesses, and how your audience uses them.
- Participatory Experience – As much as possible, we need to offer opportunities for the audience to go beyond just reading/watching/hearing what we’ve created, to enable them to participate by interacting with our content or — the holy grail — creating their own. While it’s unrealistic to expect a majority, or perhaps even ten percent, of your audience to devote time to writing something or creating a video, be sure to offer ways to participate for those who are most enthusiastic about the story or project. This could be anything from playing an online game or solving a puzzle that moves the narrative forward, to interacting with characters on Twitter, roleplaying a character in the story, connecting with others via a discussion forum to talk about the story or project, sharing their own real-life stories, attending a live (or virtual) event, entering a contest or other activities that bring people deeper into the story.
- Real World – What is the point of a social change project engaging people with stories if the experience doesn’t ultimately include the real world? Rob Pratten describes pervasive entertainment as “[blurring] the line between real-world and fictional world.” This might mean having a character from the story send a text message to a participant’s mobile phone, bringing the story off the page (or out of the computer) and into their real life. To take it a step further for social change, I would say we also want the audience to draw the lessons from the story world (real or fictional) and apply them within the real world. If the story includes a young woman who models effective negotiation skills with her boyfriend when he doesn’t want to wear a condom, we’d like to see the young women in our audience learn and apply those skills in their own lives. If the story highlights the problems faced by a village that does not have access to clean water, we can provide ways for our audience to get involved in providing clean water to others in a similar situation through supporting a particular nonprofit or joining a movement working toward solutions. The immersive context of the story means that it touches people’s lives wherever they may be.
Thinking through the elements in this model can help us make sure that we design transmedia stories that are more likely to succeed in bringing about real positive change in people’s lives. In future blog posts, I will share some of the fiction and nonfiction transmedia projects I’m working on as examples to help flesh out these concepts.
In the meantime, I have created a Facebook group called the Transmedia for Good Network, where those of us who are thinking about how best to use these tools beyond entertainment and marketing can get together to share our ideas and projects. If you’re interested, please join the group!
Think you need to do an awareness campaign? Think again. I talk about this common pitfall and more in my latest video:
If the video inspires you to learn more about how to use social marketing to make your program more effective, I have a new webinar series coming up! The Hands-On Social Marketing webinar series starts January 11th, and will focus on the social marketing process, audience research and segmentation, behavior change strategies and social marketing evaluation. Webinar #1: Social Marketing Step-by-Step Tues, January 11, 2011, 11:00 am PST / 2:00 pm EST / 7:00 pm GMT This 60-minute webinar lays out the process of developing an effective social marketing program by following six key steps. Following this clear process, you will ensure that your program is developed and implemented systematically and strategically. Webinar #2: Understanding and Segmenting Your Audience Tues, January 25, 2011, 11:00 am PST / 2:00 pm EST / 7:00 pm GMT This 60-minute webinar will discuss how to select the target audience(s) you will address with your social marketing program and the various types of research methods you can use to understand what motivates them. Webinar #3: Behavior Change Tricks of the Trade Tues, February 8, 2011, 11:00 am PST / 2:00 pm EST / 7:00 pm GMT This 60-minute webinar presents an assortment of methods you can draw from to help your audience adopt positive or healthy behaviors. We’ll discuss various behavior change theories, the use of fear appeals, the design approach and more. Webinar #4: Real-World Social Marketing Research and Evaluation Tues, February 22, 2011, 11:00 am PST / 2:00 pm EST / 7:00 pm GMT This 60-minute webinar focuses on how to conduct research to plan and evaluate your social marketing program. While many feel evaluation is the most challenging part of social marketing, this webinar will give you the confidence to tackle a design for your program. Archived webinars from previous series on social marketing fundamentals and social media are also available. For more information and to register, just go to Social Marketing University Online.