Struggling to invite

While the world is going virtual and online communities are becoming an important channel where customers and companies collaborate and co-create,  many community conquests fail because there is insufficient traffic being generated towards them. To prevent such failure, community managers often use so called social media optimization strategies (SMO’s) to attract more unique visitors to their sites. The success of an online community invitation depends on the persuasiveness of the message and receiver characteristics. The right persuasive content cues for the right target audience will boost sign up rates.
Optimizing social acquisition rates
Amongst others SMO’s are extensively concerned with strategies on how to promote a website in the online space. Despite substantial knowledge advancements on components, a key aspect of such promotion strategies, i.e. the message, remains under investigated. We took a closer look at which textual properties influence the persuasiveness of an online community invitation messages.
Drawing on persuasion theory, specifically on the social psychology work by Prof. Dr. Robert Cialdini, we aimed at optimizing the social media acquisition rates for InSites co-creation communities by adapting the way we invite to the persuasion strategies suggested by Cialdini (2008). Specifically, a research study was set up to compare online community invitations using 6 different persuasion techniques on their ability to drive sign up rates to a typical market research community InSites consulting facilitates for clients:
1 Persuasive technique: Authority
Use knowledgeable or important people as referential to endorse your community .

2 Persuasive technique: Commitment and Consistency
Link an already pre-existing  behaviors or attitudes to reason why to join your community.

3 Persuasive technique: Social proof
Communicate the sheer amount of people who have already joined, “everybody’s is getting onboard”

4 Persuasive technique: Reciprocity:
The old give and take, communicate what you have already done to make the community experience as pleasant as possible

5 Persuasive technique: Scarcity
The less available your community is to new members, the more valuable it becomes.

We find strong evidence that the way we invite accounts for vast differences in sign-up behavior. Considering the target audience demographics.

  1. We find that females appear to react most favorably to an invitation using the social proof as an influencing tool. Specifically our sign up rate was boosted by 7% against the sign up rate compared to our standard invitation (see Figure 1). An online community manager seeking to invite female members to the community should thus use persuasive cues eliciting the sheer amount of females who are already members.
  2. For males reciprocity appears to be the best narrative influencing technique to use (12% sign up rate) in an invitation message. Specifically by inducing “feelings of indebtedness” Mallalieu, L., Nakamoto, K. (2008) male readers are more likely to comply with a request, in this case sign up to a community. When recruiting male members community managers are thus well advised to first give something prior to asking them to join.

Figure 1: The most influential techniques across gender.

  1. Younger target audiences (between 18 and 30 years old) are most likely to sign-up following an invitation including the persuasive techniques of social proof or scarcity (Figure 2). During the younger stages of life, peer influence or the need to fit in with a group is at a relatively high level. Managers who emphasize how many other youngsters are already members can up their sign up rates for youngsters.
  2. For the 31 to 50 year olds, scarcity appears to generate the best results (Figure 2). 14% of invited people between the ages of 31 and 50 signed up following an invitation using the scarcity persuasive technique. “The less available something is, the more valuable it becomes”. By limiting the time to sign up for community participation sign up rates can be increased.
  3. For the oldest age segment of the study the invitation using authority  as persuasive technique works best (Figure 2). Community managers aiming to attract more 50+ members should make use of a reference person or group who is endorsing a specific community.

Figure 2: The most influential techniques across age.

The way we invite matters

  • A community is only as alive as its members are. Devising and implementing a targeted online acquisition strategy is a key component to sustain virtual life within an online community. This study emphasizes that it is all about sending the right message to the right people.
  • Our study concludes that in the virtual space, words and their meaning matter. The way we invite participants within the virtual realm has great implications to our success to stimulate interest and generate traffic to our communities. It is not merely about providing information and asking potential participants to join but the persuasive technique, tailored to a specific target audience that drives success.
  • By considering the target audience and utilizing a customized persuasion technique, community acquisition can be optimized.

The Study
A total sample of 6000 respondents was randomly drawn from InSites’ proprietary research panel. The sample consisted of males 55.4% and females 44.6%. Data was collected across 3 different countries (UK 21.1%, the Netherlands 24.8% and Belgium 54.1%) and comprised 3 important age groups, 18-28 (20.9%)-, 29-43 (40.3%) and 44+ years old (38.3%). We conducted logistical Regression Analysis using the dichotomous categorical variable “sign-up” yes/no as key dependent variable to test for variation in efficacies between the various persuasion techniques and across the different demographics analyzed in this study.
The References

  • Mallalieu, L., Nakamoto, K. (2008). Understanding the role of consumer motivation and salesperson behavior in inducing positive cognitive and emotional responses during a sales encounter. Journal of Marketing Theory & Practice, 16 (3), 183-197.
  • Cialdini, B. Robert. (2007). “Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion (Revised edition).” New York: Harper Collins.

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