Inspiration

Using Social Science Research to Impact Online Behaviors

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According to social scientists, behaviors can’t be coerced, but they can be influenced. Researcher Edward Deci and others have been developing the Self Determination Theory for the last few decades in an attempt to find ways to modify fundamental human behaviors in the context of their health. It has been shown over and over again that this theory can be applied to help people quit smoking, eat better, and get more exercise.

There are three key influencing factors that will get people to change their behaviors over the long run. Understanding what drives decision making for individual users is a critical step in understanding how to change minds and modify behaviors with technology. I have been using this exercise in our technology strategy workshops for years to help companies figure out novel ways to interact powerfully with their customers.

These factors can be applied to your interactions with your customers to influence their choices and improve the success of your technology investments. Developing your content and building your user interfaces with these concepts in mind will give you a leg up on your competition.

Autonomy: The user must be able to make their own decisions while using your website or app. If they feel in control, they’ll feel successful and make better choices. However, if they feel they are being directed or manipulated, your site will have a limited impact. Giving users access to fast, reliable information from any device in an easily navigable, intuitive format is the key to creating a feeling of autonomy for your users. Providing them with personalization tools and choice to truly make the system they use their own will further improve the feeling of autonomy. Using autonomy-supporting language rather than directive language is also key.

Competence: Empower your user. Give them knowledge in a way they can understand. Create a system that is a joy to use and provides valuable educational and support resources and content that will build competence. The system must instill confidence in the users that they are making the right decisions at the right time. Education and content marketing are current trends that support this theory.

Relatedness: The user must relate to the system they are using in order for it to be impactful. Providing a user experience, workflows, content, and access to reliable information will make users feel a greater connection to your content. Use imagery and language that is relevant to the user to help them connect with and consume your content effectively. Most importantly, give your users a choice in the language they use to navigate the site is critical to making it relatable to them.

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