something in the environment. You have to find that trigger, or that peanut butter, that is out there, so that every time they see it, they think of you. For example, Corona’s done a great job of linking their product with the beach. When you go to the beach, you can’t help thinking about Corona. If I’m a nonprofit, a social organization, what in the environment is going to remind people of my message? How can I make sure to link my message to the things that are going to come frequently, rather than infrequently? Let’s say you’re a cancer organization. When someone says that their spouse just came down with cancer, that’s going to be a reminder for us to remember the message for your organization. Beyond those sorts of things, people might not think about it. People say they love the environment and they care about it a lot, but if they’re not reminded to think about it, they’re not going to think about your environmental organization and take action. We did a study trying to get people to eat fruits and vegetables. Everybody knows they should eat more fruits and vegetables; they agree with the message, yet they don’t change. It’s not that they don’t want to change. They just forget when they’re at the grocery store or at the restaurant what they’re supposed to be picking. If you link something as a trigger, for example linking eating more fruits and vegetables to a tray in a student dining hall, people are 25% more likely to pick fruits and vegetables.The message itself isn’t any better, but people think about it more often.They see the tray in their dining hall, they remember the message, and that changes what they choose. If you find that peanut butter, if you find that trigger, they’re much more likely to think about your message. Case Studies: Livestrong and the Ice Bucket Challenge When the Livestrong campaign was in full swing, it became a massive social currency thing. You saw that yellow silicone bracelet on everybody. It had that sense of social currency, and it also moved things forward as a trigger as people thought about cancer research. The social currency one gained in wearing that simple yellow silicone bracelet was important to why it became contagious. Nonprofits are a good cause, an important cause. People support these causes partially because of what it says about them. What does it say about you if you support one cause versus another? What does it say about you if
you participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge? What it signals or communicates is actually very important, even if people sometimes don’t want to admit it. I think lots of organizations saw the Ice Bucket Challenge as being exactly what they need to do. The challenge worked because it’s a perfect example of some of these principles. With social currency, for example, it’s very hard to back down, particularly if it’s in a public situation. If someone sends you a letter and asks you to donate, that’s very private, very unobservable, so no one knows whether you decided you’re willing to do it. But if someone asks you publicly, it’s like challenging someone to a duel; it’s much harder to back down from that. In Back to the Future , one character calls Marty McFly a chicken, and he can’t back down. If someone challenges you to do a pro-social thing in a letter, you can just throw the letter away and no one will know. It’s much harder to back down if someone in the middle of a room challenges you. That publicness really encouraged people to do it. It also allowed people to put their own personal spin on it. It wasn’t just doing exactly what everyone else was doing. It was a mix of supporting the cause and showing how you’re going to pour the bucket over your head: lukewarm water rather than ice- cold water, for example. It allowed people to express some individual personality, which helped a good bit. And, finally, there is emotion. It was very surprising the first time somebody did it. We hadn’t seen a campaign like that before and, because of that surprise, that higher level of emotion, people became much more likely to share. But the campaign also showed us the value of slacktivism (the desire people have to do something good without getting out of their chair, as defined by Barbara Mikkelson) in a larger campaign. Two things are important here. First, it would be great if people not only donated money and poured a bucket of water over their head, but they also learned about ALS along the way. Even if this raised a small amount of money, and raised awareness among a few people, it’s better than nothing, particularly for the low-budget or no-budget that the ALS Association put behind this. While we hope that everyone is going to learn a lot from it, the bigger thing is it changed social movement; it became a part of culture, similar to the pink breast
cancer and yellow Livestrong campaigns.The organization would love everybody to fully understand the details of the message. Even if not everyone fully understands it, but they encourage others to do it, that’s beneficial at the end of the day. The Takeaway That said, I don’t think that the goal of the board of a nonprofit should be to create the next Ice Bucket Challenge. Too many organizations want to do a version of that: take videos of spraying people with ketchup or mustard, post them online, and that will be really successful. But copying something that’s happened before isn’t going to make you successful, and you don’t need a viral video or viral message to get your ideas out there. You just need to turn your members or supporters into advocates. Millions of advocates would be great, but you need to be happy if every person who supported your cause in the past told just one more person about you. That would give you many more supporters than you had already. The point is that the notion of viral videos has gotten people focused a little too much online, and a little too much on going huge, rather than just thinking about how to, person by person, build the message. Only 7% of word of mouth is online; much of it is offline. It’s important to think more about the psychology, rather than the technology. Too often we think we need a viral video or a social media campaign. What you need is a message that people share, online or offline. Triggers are one of the things that prompt people to share and they are vital to anything being spread. When developing a campaign, I would ask four key questions, four keys to triggers: Who? - When? - What? - How? Who do I want to have triggered? I don’t necessarily want everyone to be triggered. I don’t need everyone from grandmothers to 16-year-old guys to be triggered. Who are the key individuals, the folks that I’m going after? When is the right time to get them to be triggered? Take reusable grocery bags: everyone has them, but we tend not to remember them until we get to the store or when we’re in the checkout line, which is too late, because you’re not going to go back home to get them. It’s not just thinking about who we want to be triggered, but the right time, the ideal point, to think about it.