I’m in San Diego this week for O’Reilly’s Emerging Technology Concerence. This morning I’m taking Kathy Sierra‘s Creating Passionate Users 2.0 tutorial.
The first thing Kathy says is that we’ll be talking about passion – not people who like your products, or use products, but the kind of passion that they bring to hobbies like skiing, music, their pets, etc.
Reverse engineering passionate behavior – People with a passion… learn, show off, connect, continuously improve, spend time, elevate the meaning, evangelize, spend money.
Look at attributes of passion, and see if we can encourage passionate behavior by working on those.
The one thing we find where there is passion, there is a user kicking ass. Nobody is passionate about something they suck at. That requires constant learning, growth, and progression – people are not passionate about something that has no potential for growth. Passion requires learning and improvement. Learning increases the resolution of the experience. How can we make that investment of time worth it?
Need to think about what that thing is that we’re going to help users get better and better at. Many companies only help people find out about the company and its products, but don’t help the users actually get better at doing something.
Nobody will stay passionate about something where there isn’t more to learn. Kathy asks how well you’re doing know at helping your users kick ass at what it is they care about.
There are things that the brain cares about – we can use those things to get our foot in the door to get someone’s attention.
The brain has a built-in crap filter – there’s a lot of new research on this, coming out medical research in Alzheimer’s (like Eric Kandell) . What does the brain care about? Weird stuff, that’s new or novel – the brain is constantly looking for expectations to be met, and it’s jogged by that which doesn’t meet the expectation. The brain also cares about sex, and beauty, and innocent and cute, and having fun (all mammals have a high play drive, because it’s how we learn to survive) – don’t underestimate the power of fun. We tend to suck all the fun out of technical things – why? There are simple tricks to use to keep people’s brains awake. Leaving things unresolved can get the brain’s attention – advertisers use this a lot to get your attention.
Things the brain cares about: Unexpected/Novel, Scary, Sexy, Beautiful, Innocent (young, cute), Funny, Faces, Unresolved.
Conversation beats formal lecture!
Conversational language in any form of documentation makes the brain think it’s in a conversation and it has to hold up its end. There’s lots of research to support that conversational tone improves involvement and subsequent recall. Thre’s some study of this in The Media Equation.
We want to talk to the BRAIN, not the mind. They don’t operate on the same goals.
Now that we have their attention we need to keep them involved and engaged. We have to get past the “suck threshold” )how soon do they stop hating it?) – the longer that takes the more chance you have for attrition. But some products have a long term out into the future of progression, but takes longer to get pas the suck threshold.
Why does anybody snowboard twice? There’s a clear picture of what it looks like when you get up that curve. In your product or service, have you painted that picture? And then, make sure there’s a path to get there. It can’t just be “here’s the end state, figure it out”.
You need – A way to recognize expertise, a meaningful benefit, and a clear path to get there.
Why? Who cares? So what? The technically accurate reason is often not compelling. “make sure you connect the abc to the xyz” is common, but not compelling. Then they often explain why you need to do that, (who cares?) and at the end when you’re just about to kill them, they finally give you the answer about why it’s important. Honda calls this the “5 whys” – when you ask “why” five times, you finally get to the heart of the matter – you should give that reason first! One other technique is to get to that final point where you say “because you’ll never have sex again”, or “because you’ll get fired”, and then take one step back, and that’s the thing you should say first about “why”.
Need to think about imparting understanding, not facts. The crap filter controls long term memory – so invoking emotion or providing motivation will make the brain more willing to actually store information.
Neurons must fire! People learn from mistakes. Can you provide users some experiences where things go wrong without pissing them off?
The Smackdown Learning Model – Offer two conflicting but compelling viewpoints – people will think about the unresolved part of this.
Just in Time vs. Just in Case – the “oh crap, oh cool” method. We want users to feel the need for something (“oh crap”) and then offer the solution (“oh cool”). It’s not about the answers, it’s about the questions.
We have to keep users engaged – Flow, the Psychology of Optimal Experience They way to think about when you’re in “flow” – e.g. while you’re programming you keep thinking you’re just one compile away – then you look up and seven hours have passed. You’re so engaged and focused that you don’t even know that time is passing. You get into that state because Knowledge and Skill are in balance with perceived, meaningful Challenge. Game developers have this down. And it’s important that you know it’s important to solve the problem. If the challenge is too hard they’ll perceive it as not worth it and drop out. If the challenge is too easy, people won’t care and they’ll drop out.
Another interesting book: “Don’t Make Me Think : A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (2nd Edition)” (Steve Krug)
Need to think about how to help people stay in character – if they have to break character to think about the interface, for example, they’ve lost the flow.
What do game developers know about putting people into flow? The spiral experience model – build interestt, provide motivation, then give a payoff. What do you do during the payoff phase? The longer you take to get to the payoff, the better the payoff needs to be. Games have the concept of the “next level” – spend some time thinking about levels. There can be obvious explicit levels (like the belt system in martial arts), but it doesn’t have to be so obvious. In Java Ranch, which Kathy founded as a community website, they have the concept of levels for users, based on how many posts people make, and then there are different levels of moderators. They found that people are really motivated by levels. They found the value of the levels went way down when they started offering them for sale instead of by experience.
You want to have as many levels as you can. Now that you have this superpower, imagine what you can do with it – that’s the motivation into the next part of the spiral. Use it to hook them again. The idea of achieving levels can be very powerfully motivating for people.
What do filmmakers and novelists know?
User as Hero – What is the user’s journey?
Life is normal -> something happens to change that -> Things REALLY suck -> Hero overcomes bad things -> Return to a new normal
We need to play the role of helpful side-kick and mentor when things really suck, so they don’t drop out.
Somewhere along this, the user changes. At some point, the protagonist needs to have been changed by the experience in some way. They tell authors they can’t start writing a book until they can tell them what the user’s journey will be and how they will be changed by the experience.
How do you define “meaningful” – if we help someone have a better experience and spend more time in flow, then it’s meaningful.
People who are passionate about something assume that if you’re not, you just don’t get it. Kathy showed Sara McLachlan’s powerful World On Fire video as an example of Meaning (with a capital M).
Do users have a sense of what you’re about – what could be meaningful for them?
The Tribe – where there is passion there is always a sense of belonging. e.g. people who identify with Apple products. The t-shirt metric. The t-shirt first development approach – before you do anything else, create the t-shirt. Start priming the tribe pump. e.g. the ThinkGeek site. The Yard Gnome phenomenon.
What can I do to get people involved – fueling the tribe – bumper stickers and t-shirts matter in much more significant ways than people think.
Part of being in the tribe is that you know things that other people don’t. That creates evangelists. The use of Easter Eggs. People get motivated by sharing the secret information. Are you giving people anything interesting to talk about?
Legends/Gossip/Stories. Where there is passion there are always stories. If you’re not that interesting, find a great user story.
Encouraging community- forums, user groups, affinity clubs, conferences, at least a blog? Can you prime those as early as possible. Help external groups to do it, rather than controlling it yourself. You have to really think about culture. In Java Ranch they’ve been militant about being the anti-Slashdot – friendly to beginners and newbies. Now there’s over a hundred moderators, with one rule – you have to be friendly.
If you have a community where you want people to help others, you have to provide a way for people to take risks and get it wrong in helping folks without getting slammed.
There has to be a way for people to connect. People who are part of the tribe want to connect to others of their own kind.
Experts vs. newbies – experts like to communicate with other experts in the jargon. You want to encourage the experts in using that exclusionary language – that’s part of the reward for being part of the tribe. But you have to find a way to keep the newbies happy and bootstrap them in. One size does not fit all.
How will you know when you’ve got passionate users?
You’ll hear words like this: Sheep, It’s just a Fad, People use that because they’re ignorant, There’s nothing new here… When people start criticizing your users, yolu know you’ve arrived – the Koolaid point- when anyone starts accusing your users of “drinking the Koolaid” you know it’s worked. The more polarization the better.
You’ll feel a magnetic pull towards the center – you’ll never make the people that hate it feel better about it. You have to resist.
Paul Graham – “Dignity is deadly” You loose capability when you become dignified and professional. How can you keep the capabilities?
“The Wisdom of Crowds” (James Surowiecki) – where there’s group consensus, people get dumber. But agregating individual knowledge you gain capability.
You can only get so far with incremental improvements.
Listening to Users – focus groups are notoriously bad – what people say is different than what they really need. Asking people to explain their choices changes what choices they make. If you ask people something, they can’t tell you something new – they can only think incrementally – you have to figure out what they really care about, not what they suggest.
Until recently scientists thought that primates didn’t generate new brain cells once they reached a certain point of maturity – but it turned out that all the studies had been done on animals in raised in cages.
Watch out for going past the peak on the Featuritis curve.
We have to get over our fear of marketing. It’s about helping users get better, not buying ads.
The Secret…it doesn’t matter what they think about you … It’s not about YOU. It’s about how they feel about themselves as a result of their interaction with your organization.
About everything…ask – how does this help someone kick ass? The user must have an “I Rule” experience.
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