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  • Writer's pictureKatie Hynes, PhD

7 Strategies for Building Thriving Learning Communities with Influence

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

The Original Problem

Every year, managers at your organization need to complete leadership development training.

Traditionally, the program has taken the form of a two-hour self-paced e-learning module.

The data shows everyone grudgingly checks the box at the last minute, clicking through content about conflict resolution or effective delegation or coaching strategies or whatever is featured from the training library in a given year.

Other than green check marks appearing next to people’s names in the LMS, there’s no indication that the material has changed anything.

Not this year!

You’ve paid attention to the research singing the praises of social learning and transformed the experience from 324 slides with jazzy music and cartoon people into a six-week digital cohort that promises to engage, inspire, and transform your leaders.

The New Problem

Your people are not into the cohort.

How do you know?

No one is participating.

The online community space you thoughtfully set up to facilitate discussion around this year’s topic, goal setting, is silent.


Sure, people checked the first box by joining and setting up a profile. But in the past week, only one person responded to the welcome post.

They’re busy. They’re used to the old way, which was boring but simple.

And even though someone (it was you) was brave enough to be first, no one wants to follow. What now?

Influence

That’s the title of Robert B. Cialdini’s (1984/2021) landmark book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, which the Your ID team recently read and discussed to find ideas for addressing social learning obstacles like this.

So in this post, we’ll take a look at how you might draw on Cialdini’s evidence-based strategies to nudge your people to participate and help grow this baby learning community into everything you know it could be.

First, a quick note that the book presents plenty of examples of how the “levers of influence” have been used for ill but comes down firmly on the side of “applying the principles ethically.”

The ideas that follow assume the learning experiences being promoted aim to actually help people upskill and strengthen a sense of community at work.

To promote openness, you could consider adding a section to the community guidelines that shares the nudge strategies participants can expect to see over the course of the six-week cohort along with your design rationale for these moderation and marketing techniques.

#1: Make a Simpler Request

Follow up on your initial post that kind of died (where you asked for people’s goal-setting ideas and only heard back from yourself) with something like the following:

Still brainstorming? That’s great! We went ahead and gathered a few popular goal-setting approaches below to inspire you—simply tap the emoji to vote for your favorite!

🤓 Use the SMART goals framework

🤝 Find an accountability buddy

👾 Gamify your process

Why it works: Cialdini discusses “the power of larger-then-smaller-request tactics” as part of the principle of reciprocation. When given a second option that’s less demanding, people often choose it.

After the poll in your post closes, you could invite further participation by asking everyone to reflect on the results. At this point, you should be seeing a bit more chatter and activity to continue building on.

#2: Call on Internal Influencers

We’ve written about this in prior posts, but having internal influencers is crucial to the success of your social learning community.

Who are the thought leaders in your organization? Who is admired? Who models the values central to your endeavor? Tap these people to help you get everyone on board and engaged.

For example, as part of your internal marketing campaign, you could ask the internal influencer(s) you identified to submit a brief video sharing why they’re excited about the goal-setting cohort.

You could also tag them in your posts to jumpstart conversation in the community.

Why it works: Cialdini talks about the principle of liking. Unsurprisingly, “People prefer to say yes to individuals they like.” George Clooney was one example cited in the research. But if Clooney doesn’t return your calls, this principle can still work!

(Um, have you met Your ID’s intrepid and spectacular mascot, Evvie the Yeti? 😎)

#3: Engage Your Change Champions

In addition to internal influencers, we’ve also noted the importance of identifying change champions. It really helps if some of those champions are at the top of your org chart. Ask leadership to contribute calls to action to your nudge emails, underscoring the importance of taking part in the digital cohort you’ve created.

Why it works: Authority. As Cialdini explains, “The strength of the tendency to obey legitimate authorities comes from systematic socialization practices designed to instill in members of society the perception that such obedience constitutes correct conduct.”

In other words, a little encouragement from the CEO will go a long way. But as Cialdini notes, “Ordering people to do things often generates resistance and resentment.” So, choose someone in leadership who has a reputation for being a trustworthy expert and ask them to endorse, not command.

#4: Remove Some Uncertainty

Another idea for your internal marketing: Mention some evidence about the trend toward social learning experiences in workplaces and their effectiveness (e.g., this report by Deloitte noting that social learning is “in high demand”).

Why it works: Social proof. Cialdini highlights how folks look to what others are doing as a guide for their own behavior. While your organization’s social learning community might be new, you can reassure your participants that this is a worthwhile approach by pointing to its popularity and success in the wider business world.

#5: Create Something They Won’t Want to Lose

Have a graphic designer make a fun badge people earn at the end of the cohort based on whatever metrics you’ve set for successful participation. Market it as “limited edition.” Subsequent cohorts will have their own unique badges that get retired after each round.

It might seem silly or small, but using the “limited number” tactic with training badges could spark some productive FOMO.

Why it works: Scarcity: “Opportunities seem more valuable to us when they are less available,” explains Cialdini.

#6: Get Their Goals in Writing

A bit meta for a program about goal setting, but at the outset invite participants to post the main goal they hope to achieve by the end of the cohort. What do they aim to accomplish and why?

Pin this post to the top of your social learning platform. Refer back to the post periodically throughout the six-week program and encourage participants to reflect on their stated intentions and progress.

Why it works: Commitment and consistency: “Psychologists have long recognized a desire in most people to be and look consistent within their words, beliefs, attitudes, and deeds,” notes Cialdini. As he explains, to be most impactful, commitments “should be active, public, effortful, and freely chosen.”

#7: Give the Group a Name

Come up with a fun way to refer to folks in the cohort. Or, provide a few options and have participants vote for their favorite. The name should reflect both the cohort’s purpose and audience and ultimately help cultivate a feeling of camaraderie.

For example, in Your ID’s Social Learning Lab podcast community, our members are “labmates” (join us!).

Why it works: The principle of unity. Cialdini describes how a feeling of belonging can spur people to act in ways that benefit the group.

Final Thoughts

We’re betting that trying even just a few of these strategies will help you get this community off the ground. And as word spreads in your organization about how awesome your social learning is, your job will only get easier (thanks to the power of social proof!).

Which ones will you put into practice? Share in the comments!



 

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