Friday, December 14, 2012


Here's a trap that we often find ourselves falling into.
Even when you know this it's hard to stop yourself repeating it.

Take this example.

Your agency has just produced a new piece of work and it's worthy of making a noise about.

So the project leader will send a company wide email asking for support via tweets and Facebook status updates from the group to help spread the word.

All good so far, except usually no-one responds and only very few comply with the request.

It's an example of what is known 'diffusion of responsibility' and is closely related to what psychologists call the 'bystander effect'.

There's many reported examples of incidents where individuals who get into some trouble in public places - being mugged is common example - and despite there being large numbers of witnesses who could have made some sort of intervention, no-one does.

This is because two common things happen.

Everyone looks around at everyone else to see what to do, no-one is doing anything so that feels like the norm, so that's what they do.

Or, everyone assumes that someone else will be calling the police or an ambulance so no-one does anything.

In fact, if one is going to be robbed or have a heart attack in the street, the less people there are around to witness it then the greater the likelihood there is of someone intervening.

So in our pimp-my-agency example the diffusion happens because everyone who receives the mail sees that it is a mass email and therefore assumes that it's someone else's responsibility to do something.

There's no malice involved, no lack of commitment to the team or anything, it just doesn't feel urgent because it's something that someone else will do.

But the sender then gets miffed and wonders why no-one in the group wants to participate.

The project leader then pivots and does what she should have done in the first place and then goes round finding individuals in the group who are the most prolific tweeters etc and asks them individually and personally to post something, which they then happily do.

Similarly with email or other direct message marketing, don't ever be fooled into imagining there's any personalisation in mass communication where the name and salutation has been interchanged to match the names on a list.

While the tools exist to easily do this with a database of thousands lets not kid ourselves that this equates to personalisation of any sort.

If we really want a response there's no substitute for - firstly, having permission - and a truly personal message crafted specifically for the person whom we are talking to.

And flipping the diffusion of responsibility effect work in your favour by explaining in the message how many others like them are willing to help/give/buy or otherwise acquiesce to your request.

Works every time, simple in theory, but hard in practice.

The other good news is that once someone has done you a favour, then they like you more and will be more inclined to help again in the future.

Because we almost always like to act in ways that are consistent with what we've said and done previously.

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