Behavioral economics plays out everyday in social media. We see clear expressions of the lessons that drive human behavior made popular by Cialdini, the Heaths and Dan Ariely in the use of social networks by major marketers like Ford, Unilever, Nestlé and others.
We have taken learnings like how reciprocity, authority and scarcity can drive persuasion and action (Cialdini concepts) and how “finding the bright spots,” “shrinking the change,” and “pointing to the destination” (Heath Bros. concepts) and built them into a sensible way to plan predictably great social programs.
And we learn more each time we deploy a program. We see many brands gaining experience in using social media well. But as marketers get more and more focused on driving behaviors versus hard-to-appreciate attitudes and intentions, there’s just not enough testing and reporting of what works best. We all think we are internalizing these lessons through shared case studies, the sharing that happens in the few great communities of interest inside companies (think social/digital “center for excellence”), and the “test and learn” habits of individual experts. It’s still not enough.
Richard Thaler told the story of collaborating with the British Behavioral Insights Team led by David Halpern in the New York Times. Richard Thaler is a professor of economics and behavioral science at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. The Behavioral Insights Team is all about trying to drive behaviors by applying behavioral economics to public policy issues.
He simplifies the most important tenants of their work into 2 things:
- If you want to encourage some activity, make it easy
- You can’t make evidence-based policy decisions without evidence
We get the “make it easy” part although even that is a lesson routinely overlooked by many an ambitious marketer. As for evidence-based policy decisions, well, we are trying to do that every day in marketing. We are just not as aggressive about formally testing our theories and accruing formal lessons.
The Difference Between
Whose got tougher demands for accountability – a public policy leader or a CMO? Having worked with both, I think these two groups have so much to learn from each other but have suffered from ‘terminal uniqueness’ that keeps them believing each has special circumstance the other cannot possibly appreciate. But their worlds are coming together. Just look at the recent “red paper” from Ogilvy’s behavioral econ team, From Cause to Change. The main hypothesis of this team’s work states that the rigor of behavior change as practiced in “Social Marketing” (do not confuse with social media marketing) is highly relevant to business not simply governments.
There are differences. Crafting health behavior change is usually led by scientists accountable to public servants. This makes them insanely tied to science and unequivocal proof. Most CMOs want short term evidence that will ultimately be revealed as effective in sales or stock price.
The British Behavioral Insights Team has published a white paper, Test, Learn, Adapt: Developing Public Policy with Randomised Controlled Trials. Okay, it’s a bit intense for consumer marketing. It lays out a discipline of constant testing and learning. That’s the lesson.
Many brands are increasingly active in social media. There’s some high quality work that wins out in the WOMMY Awards and the Effies and Cannes Lions. But how great are these organizations with formal test and learn exercises to more precisely understand what is working and what is not. And how good are they all, we all, at capturing and sharing best practices, lessons learned?
Facebook Building a Learning Culture
The media gave Facebook a hard time in the wake of their IPO. How could they justify the huge valuation? And weren’t the stumbles in the early stock price the inevitable calling out of the ‘emperor’s new clothes?’
Meanwhile, Facebook has been publishing case studies on Facebook Studio, a series of white papers that summarize lessons-learned and launching a training program to make marketers smarter about succeeding on Facebook. They continue to share their ‘try and learn’ culture which is more accepting of failure than any CMO I know can ever afford to be (Implicit in the ‘fail fast’ credo is that failing fast gets you to even bigger successes faster, too).
For all the complaining about Facebook, they are finding the evidence and sharing it out of benign self-interest. They have built a community of marketers in their Facebook marketing group and the Product Council that I sit on, committed to documenting the evidence of what works.
There is a terrifc article in Technology Review that talks about their Data Science Team and how they are trying to use the petabytes of data at Facebook to understand what drives behavior.
As brands deepen their commitment to using social media, they ought to prioritize knowledge-sharing and real test-and-learn experiments meant to prove the efficacy of different strategies. We need to understand how we can nudge, inspire, and be a part of new consumer behaviors through digital and other expereinces. It's not enough to try and find some grand ad-equivalency in all this new digital and social media.
(thanks to Peter Keusch, University of Regensburg for the great picture)