Last week we examined 8 Reasons Why People Don’t Contribute To Your Forum. Of course, that research prompts an obvious follow-up question: what steps should you take to increase participation?
Readers of this blog know that one of the things we obsess about is the participation rate. How many visitors are on the forum? What percentage of visitors are logged in? How many users are active in the last month? To improve these metrics we need to understand what compels users to make their first contribution.
When it comes to a user’s first contribution, we call it the “foot in the door” technique. In a famous example, researchers asked property owners to place a small, safety-oriented sign in their front yard. Later, the researchers returned and asked to replace the small sign with a much bigger sign. They found that those who agreed to the first request were more receptive to the follow up request. Similar studies have been done to study recycling efforts and to reduce drunk driving.
Researches who conducted one of the earliest FITD studies back in 1966 summarized their findings as follows:
“Once someone has agreed to a small request he is more likely to comply with a larger request.”
This is a lesson we keep in mind when building a forum community. We keep the registration as fast as possible and we ensure that adding a new post is fast, fun, and obvious.
But a user’s first contribution does not have to be a post or a new thread. Therefore, we offer many other simple ways to participate: upvoting a post, adding a photo to the gallery, or awarding a badge to another user. These activities still have the effect of “loading the trigger” for subsequent participation.
Oh, and of course, we create a friendly, positive, and constructive atmosphere so that users feel comfortable participating. After all, if the researchers in the experiment described above had gone door-to-door with a mean or condescending attitude, we presume that most everyone would have refused even their first request.