When figuring out how to change people’s behavior, it’s a fun and helpful practice to model your approach on effective persuaders you’ve encountered in your own life. And for most of us the most effective persuaders we’ve encountered have been our parents. Let’s look at some of the most powerful tactics our parents use that we can borrow:
1. The nag
Many of us can recall hundreds of instances of successful, weapons-grade nagging in our own lives. There was that time you forgot to clean your room, and didn’t hear the end of it for two or three entire days. There was that other time you promised to do chores around the house and then was asked, maybe 100 times, when you would have them done. We’ve all been there. And did the nagging work? You bet. Nagging works in two ways: 1. It reminds the recipient of what they should do 2. It acts as a “negative reinforcer”. A negative reinforcer is something unpleasant that is removed or stopped after you do a desired behavior. If your father is constantly nagging you to clean your room, and you clean it, the nagging will stop. This removal of the annoying nagging is the reward (the negative reinforcement).
Use nagging to your advantage. Remind your users what you want them to do with emails, push notifications, and text messages–all examples of digital means of nagging. And, when they click on your emails or enter your product, reward them by backing off on the notifications for a bit. It’s how a nagging parent would respond, after all.
2. The forced opt-in
Remember that summer you signed up for art classes? Neither do I. Your parents did that for you. And did you end up going? You bet. This is a classic example of the forced opt-in. You may have wanted to spend the summer playing video games and riding bikes with your friends, but your parents had different plans for you. They wanted you to do “productive activities”, and thus opted you into some classes (or something of the sort).
If you’re a product designer you can choose which options your users are opted into by default, which will determine what your average user does. Organ donation programs in many European countries are opt-out by default, and the organ donation rates in those countries are near 100%. Don’t underestimate, and don’t be afraid of using, the power of the forced opt-in. Most of us don’t care what options are chosen for us by default, and if you can give your users a truly better experience by opting them into the right experience, do it. But remember to be like a caring parent, and make sure not to put them into harmful situations.
3. The path of least resistance
Growing up I’m sure that you can recall that your parents made sure that certain things were really hard to do, while others were really easy. For example, need money for books or your sports team? Here you go. Need money to go watch that new Bourne movie? Get a job or use your allowance.
By making transportation or money readily available, they could effortlessly shape the difficulty of the potential actions in front of us. Similarly, we can shape what the people in our lives do by making certain actions harder and certain actions easier. Want to make sure people log into your app each day? Encourage them to put it on their homescreen. Want to make sure people come to your launch party? Offer to have an Uber, or bus, pick them up and bring them to you. Make it easy and it will happen.
4. The guilt bomb
Finally, there’s the good-old-fashioned guilt trip–the nuclear bomb of parental persuasion. Guilt is the ultimate punishment; a clear signal that you might be letting down your family or your tribe/community. Given our evolutionary dependence on our family and tribe for our survival, we’ve evolved to feel terrible when the possibility of damaging our social relationships is imminent. This is one of the reasons that applications like Facebook are so addicting. They help us nurture and strengthen our relationships, staving off the feeling of guilt that naturally envelops us when we feel we’ve been an absent or bad friend.
If you have an app you’re trying to get people to use more often, remind them how they’re missed. Even better, remind them of how their friends in the app miss them (if the app is social). There’s a reason that this is one of the primary tools of parents worldwide.