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From Ideas to Action: How to Cultivate a Successful Online Community

Human psychology tells us that in order for people to change behaviors, they have to be willing participants in facilitating that change. Whether it’s eating healthier, working out or learning a new skill — leveraging someone’s motivation is helpful to creating long-term positive behavioral change.

On social media, my feed is often full of others wanting to help people make positive lifestyle changes. While it’s commendable to want to help others, it’s important to understand how you can be most effective. It’s amazing how easy it is to turn people off by the wrong message, tone or perceived intent.

When people know they need to change behaviors, it can be a very vulnerable experience. If they don’t feel empowered, it may be that they feel shamed into making changes. Research shows that when people feel empowered to take responsibility for their actions, they are more likely to make lasting changes.

And yet, so many messages from well-meaning community advocates seek to shame, lecture, judge and otherwise alienate the people they want to help. When you’re passionate about something — whether it’s eating healthily, physical activity or social action — it’s easy to become frustrated when others don’t respond the way you want them to. Learning to connect your passion to empathy can help you foster relationships, build communities and facilitate positive behaviors.

As a social media and community manager, understanding the fundamentals of motivational psychology help me better understand my clients’ customers’ behaviors so they can deliver the right message. If you’re looking to help people change behaviors, here are a few ways you can make positive connections that empower individuals.

Encourage and Ensure Commitment

Don’t assume everyone wants to change or has accepted that they need to make changes to correct unhealthy or negative behaviors. To encourage others toward active participation, share stats the reinforce positive outcomes (instead of say “Eating processed foods can make you feel sluggish and tired” say “Eating fruits and veggies can give you more energy!”)

Help Build Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy is a person’s judgment about being able to perform a particular activity. Someone with a low self-efficacy toward a task are more likely to avoid it, while those with high self-efficacy are more likely to attempt the task and will work harder and persist longer in the face of difficulties. Show confidence in those you want to help and acknowledge both small and large successes.

Create a Supportive Environment

Create a safe space — whether it’s private Facebook group, a Twitter chat or online discussion forum — to encourage others to share their experiences, concerns or successes. The best way to get encourage participation is to figure out what kind of appeal is most relevant and likely to sustain engagement.

Instill New Habits

Changing behaviors takes time. Encourage members to make small, substantial changes. Reinforce consistency but also acknowledge that challenges are not setbacks, only learning opportunities.

Share Ideas, Not Judgement

A successful brainstorming session rely on the following tenets: (1) defer judgment (don’t get upset when people say bad ideas) and (2) reach for quantity (come up with as many ideas as possible). Others are more likely to contribute their own ideas or share their own experiences when there isn’t any fear of being judged or shamed. The more you can facilitate a healthy exchange of ideas, the more likely members will be empowered to put ideas into action.

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