Give an Itch, Scratch a Back

facebookcartoons

Why do some messages resonate (per Nancy Duarte) and some messages fall flat? This is what I wondered as I watched a recent movement on Facebook go viral. The concept was simple, you changed your profile picture to a cartoon from your childhood and then copied and pasted a statement in your status requesting all your friends do the same. The statement said this movement was to raise awareness of child abuse. And the response was phenomenal.

After two months of research on the psychology of motivation and persuasion I have the answer to my questions. Basically, there were three reasons why the cartoon profile pictures campaign worked:

  1. It was challenging, but not too challenging
  2. There was social pressure to participate
  3. It was for a good cause

While there’s no challenge to changing your profile picture, the challenge lay in finding a picture of a childhood cartoon that satisfactorily reflected your personality to your peers.

Peer pressure is fairly self-explanatory and in this instance self-perpetuating. The more friends who participated, the greater the pressure became to comply. One of my friends freely admitted the only reason she (finally) changed her profile picture was because she was succumbing to the social pressure. She also noted that she couldn’t see how changing her profile picture to a cartoon actually did anything to prevent child abuse.

Which brings me to the third point. A little research shows the raise awareness for child abuse comment was not part of the original campaign. And the original campaign had only moderate success. It wasn’t until this statement was added that the campaign went viral. We not only wanted the fun of portraying ourselves as cartoons and playing with our peers, we also needed to feel good about doing it. Happily enough, it did work to raise awareness of child abuse as the many news stories and articles on the campaign attest.

Its also worth noting that its unlikely this approach will work again. Persuasive tactics have a very rapid extinction rate. You’ve probably already seen similar status requests on Facebook with little to no success. Basically they’re viewed as a pale knock off of the original and the more they’re used, the less effective they become. A great example of this is the T-mobile vs. AT&T commercials that will never have the same success as the original Apple vs. PC commercials.

I wanted to share what I’ve learned with you so I’ve taken this research, selected the theories that I felt were most useful to presenters and made a fully interactive tutorial. Through this tutorial you’ll learn what moves us and how to make your message more persuasive. Click the icon in the lower right of the tutorial below to run it in full screen mode. Once the presentation starts, I recommend you click the SkyDrive link to Start Slide Show or you can start it directly from this link: Give an Itch, Scratch a Back.

I hope you enjoy learning about what moves us as much as I did.