How to Energize Your Audience? Start by Wearing the Right Spectacles

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes some social networking, or web 2.0 applications so pervasive resulting in the “tectonic shift” we are undergoing. The applications we are talking about here are ones that you get a craving to check in with – and see what has happened in the last couple of days, hours, or sometimes, minutes. I hear often that these sites are not about the technology, but rather about something more underlying that shapes our relationship with them. Communication? Humans are innately wired to want and need to communicate. Community building? We want to affiliate ourselves with certain groups, causes; some wanting to lead, and some wanting to follow. In both of these cases, any innovation that makes these basic tendencies easier to do will most likely be game changers.

When I consider sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, (and GovLoop!) and consider what qualities these sites have that result in enough energy to shift the current placement of our (tectonic) plates, and push us into a new technological era, it becomes apparent that regardless of whether our need is to Communicate, or Community build, what really results in this kind of motion and transformation, is that these sites are tapping into some of our pretty basic and core needs, and that when given the opportunity, we are naturally energized to act upon these needs.

This past Friday, I was re-introduced to this concept I’ve been mulling over from a new angle. I attended Maryland’s Smith School of Business 10th Annual CIO Forum. A panel was held called “Business Models and Sector Transformation.” Of the speakers, Premal Shah, President of an organization called Kiva.org, a non-profit with the mission to “connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty” spoke about when creating a site with the goal of making a big splash, concentrate on creating an “addictive user experience.”

“Addictive user experience.”

When Premal put this phrase out there, my somewhat amorphous ponderings of what makes people come back to certain sites day after day suddenly took on a more understandable shape. I put myself in the shoes of any random Joe, with access to the internet, a little bit of disposable income, and a penchant for getting that “feel good” vibe when doing something for the sake of “doing good.” Now, with my “addictive user experience” spectacles on, I took a look at the site and noticed what attributes it had that could get me hooked.

1. Easy to contribute and low barrier of entry. Signing up is easy, and any lending amount is accepted. A participant doesn’t have to be Bill Gates to get involved.

2. Specific, recognized cause. A lender can choose a specific cause to get involved with that can be as personal or random as he likes.

3. Gratification through data feedback. Who doesn’t love feedback? The site tracks different pieces of data and reports it back to the lender.

4. Opportunity to be recognized. Most of us like to be recognized, especially for something that speaks well for our character. This site features lenders and entrepreneurs on the homepage with the info they choose to present.

5. Authentic, transparent, something to believe in. The site maintains authenticity and credibility and users can continue to participate knowing they are standing on solid ground.

This is all good stuff. Yet what is better, is the fact that there innumerable sites that can benefit from this type of productive platform and Kiva is proof that it can work. Extending this beyond non-profits looking to support a cause – to simply government agencies – we can observe that countless civilians making up the public have opinions, insight, and talent to contribute. And when a site is constructed with the administrator wearing the right spectacles – considering what will energize its audience and get it hooked, data-driven dashboards can symbiotically bring administrator and user together to benefit all.

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I like that phrase “addictive user experience” – I notice some sites capture that more than others and it depends on the person as well. Foursquare for example is pretty addictive in tapping into that human need to share where you are and compete – become a mayor