Love Drug or Moral Molecule?

[The Language Lab makes it easy for you to put research to work for you and your mission. Each installment gives you research-backed intel on one specific way you can work happier, smarter, and more effectively. To stay in the know, sign up to get Language Lab missives delivered directly to your inbox.]

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The One Thing You Need to Know: You will be more successful if you create trust with your donors/supporters/other important people in your life by avoiding jargon and using easy-to-understand language.

RELEASE THE DRUGS*

Look at this picture. Soak it in.

Look at those two. Cute, right? Want to know something neat? That mum’s brain is awash in a chemical called ‘oxytocin’. Mmmmmm….oxytocin. Frequently referred to as the Love Drug, oxytocin makes us feel happy, nice, and generous.

But here’s the really important thing about oxytocin as it relates specifically to doing more good in the world: oxytocin it’s not just the Love Drug, it’s the Moral Molecule.

You see, we get all those happy, snuggly, generous feelings when social bonding occurs. Super smartie Paul Zak’s coined the term, “The Moral Molecule”. He wrote a book by the same name. In it, he explains that social bonding occurs when you trust someone. The person on the receiving end of a trust-inducing gesture reciprocates trust and also pays it forward. And–voila–you have a generosity fueling trust-fest. See how that could be useful for you?!

Neat news: you can initiate feelings of trust by doing exactly the same things I recommended you do not seem like a fraud. To review:

There’s actually another cool thing to know about oxytocin and its (practically) magical ability to get people psyched about your work. Oxytocin explains why telling a story that focuses on one person in need, vs. lots o’ people in need, works so well. But I think we’ve covered enough for today. We’ll cover the Story of One research in the next Language Lab, okay?

Want a deeper dive?

Check out Paul Zak’s piece on what narrative exposure (yes, that’s an actual term) has to do with charitable giving.

Also think about signing up for Claxon University–home of clear and compelling communication that raises awareness, increases, and does more good in the world. Fall Quarter registration is now open!

*Technically, a drug is a foreign substance that you introduce into the body. So, if you make it yourself it isn’t a drug. It’s a chemical. But “Release the Chemicals” wasn’t as zippy. And hey, check you out. Reading the fine print. Way to go, word nerd!

Don’t be a fraud

[The Language Lab makes it easy for you to put research to work for you and your mission. Each installment gives you research-backed intel on one specific way you can work happier, smarter, and more effectively. To stay in the know, sign up to get Language Lab missives delivered directly to your inbox.]

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The One Thing You Need to Know:
Avoid jargon and keep readability high if you want to avoid coming off as deceptive and, in turn, turning off your supporters.

What’s all this about being a fraud?
When you’re communicating, you want people to trust you, right? You don’t want them wondering if you’re legit.Turns out, there are specific cues that send a “I’m not being straight with you” message, including:

  • Using longer words
  • Using fewer unique words
  • Using lots of punctuation
  • Having lower readability
  • Being full of jargon

Are you making matters worse?
Based on research done by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, we know that one in three Americans lack faith in charities. What if you’re sending out those “I’m not being straight with you” cues without even knowing it?

From the Wordifier research, we know one thing that’s definitely making matters worse: on average nonprofits only use 810 unique words on their websites. That’s a mere .03% of the words available in the English language. Does the miniscule number of words nonprofits use reinforce mistrust?  As a sector, could we increase donors’ faith in charities by increasing the number of unique words we use?

So what can you do to increase trust?

Want a deeper dive?
Check out this report and this one for text analysis of fraudulent writing.

Also think about signing up for Claxon University–home of clear and compelling communication that raises awareness, increases donations, and does more good in the world!

If you use ‘if,’ then…

[The Language Lab makes it easy for you to put research to work for you and your mission. Each installment gives you research-backed intel on one specific way you can work happier, smarter, and more effectively. To stay in the know, sign up to get Language Lab missives delivered directly to your inbox.]

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The One Thing You Need to Know: If you want to achieve your goals, then use the words if and then. (See what I did there? Neat, eh?)

What Works?

Last week, we talked about multi-objective optimization–a concept and term that can give even the sharpest social sector trailblazers a brain cramp. So this week, I wanted to give you something that you could instantly and easily use!

This week, we’re focusing on you, you, you. Can you apply this research to your organization? Likely, yes. But this is meant to make your life easier, happier, and more fulfilling.

Here goes.

Studies have identified a ridiculously easy way to increase your chances of success by roughly 300%. (Oh yeaaaaah.)

In her book, 9 Things Successful People Do Differently (a petit book that packs a big punch), Heidi Grant Halvorson advises that you decide in advance on when, specifically, you will achieve your goals. The in advance part is key. And that’s where ‘if’ and ‘then’ come in.

For instance:

If it is 11:30 on a Tuesday or Thursday, then I will go for a 30-minute walk.

If I drink a cup of coffee in the morning, then I will drink a glass of water as well.

If it is 8pm on Sunday, then I will call my parents.

If you really want some goal-achieving magic to happen, put these things on your calendar.

That’s it. Nothing this week on what doesn’t work. Just what does work.

Want more?

If you want to read about the other eight things that successful people do differently but you don’t want to commit to buying the book, then read Halvorson’s Harvard Business Review article.

Hat tip to the magnificent Eric Barker at Barking up the Wrong Tree for putting this research on our radar.

Tackling Tough Trade-offs

Hand with marker writing: To Do List: So Many Things

[The Language Lab makes it easy for you to put research to work for you and your mission. Each installment gives you research-backed intel on one specific way you can work happier, smarter, and more effectively. To stay in the know, sign up to get Language Lab missives delivered directly to your inbox.]

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The One Thing You Need to Know: If you want your messaging to work, get super clear on for whom and for what you are optimizing.

What Works?

With the Claxon Method, we encourage organizations to identify one organizational goal and then, based on that, one marketing objective. This clarity of focus allows you to optimize your little heart out.

But sometimes, you have two or more objectives you have to take into account. What do you do then? You do a little thing called multi-objective optimization. (Scary term, I know. But not a scary concept AND extremely useful. Stick with me.)

Even if you don’t know the term, you have experienced multi-objective optimization first-hand. Multi-objective optimization simply means making the best decision when faced with two or more conflicting objectives.

For social sector organizations, you might recall Sharon Oster, in her 1995 book Strategic Management for Nonprofit Organizations (chapter 7 on product mix and pricing), talking about a Product Portfolio Map, and suggesting you plot different programs according to contribution to mission and contribution to economic viability. It was a ground-breaking way to look at the dilemma of the double bottom line. Although she didn’t use the term, she was suggesting you do multi-objective optimization.

This type of analysis isn’t limited to the trade-off between mission and revenue, however. You may need to optimize your website for two different audiences or encourage your supporters to both donate and volunteer. Or maybe you’re like NPR and need to figure out whether short or long Facebook post works best.

Real-world example: NPR wondered what length of Facebook post worked best for them. Initially, their stated objective was driving traffic to their site. So they were looking at click-thru rate. Fair ‘nuff.

But their mission is to “…create a more informed public — one challenged and invigorated by a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas and cultures.” That got them wondering: isn’t it possible that someone could learn just as much from a longer post even if they didn’t go to the site to learn more?

And just like that, NPR had two objectives for which they were optimizing: click-through rates and ‘show more’ clicks on longer posts. But rather than say which one really was more important, they mushed things together and came up with an “adjusted click-thru rate”.

After the mushing, they decided they should do more posts that are under 120 characters, but still do some longer posts now and again. This is a fine decision if click-thru is their tippy top priority. If people learning  is their tippy top priority, then the longer posts might be the better way to go. Either way, the question is: what’s the trade-off between longer and shorter posts?

Bottom Line:

We live in a world of trade-offs. Keep your objectives prioritized. If you have to re-write your website and get an annual report out the door, that’s a lot of words to crank out (trust me, I’ve been there!). What’s the trade-off between spending more time one over the other? How much are you willing to sacrifice on the annual report in order to write dazzling website copy? Or vice-versa.

Often, a chart is the easiest way to see where you want to land. If we plot the NPR example, it looks like this:

npr trade offs title.png

Want more?

If we had had NPR’s raw data, we would’ve created a 3D plot. Cuz those are super fly! If you want to create a super cool 3D plot of your own, check out the spiffy Plot.ly. If that sounds scary BUT you still want to know what length your posts should be, or figure out how to optimize your words for another set of competing priorities, hire us. We like this stuff.

Should you ask people to “help” or “give”?

Four old, scratched chrome typewriter keys with black centers and white letters spelling out "HELP". With drop shadow, isolated on white.[The Language Lab makes it easy for you to put research to work for you and your mission. Each installment gives you research-backed intel on one specific way you can work happier, smarter, and more effectively. To stay in the know, sign up to get Language Lab missives delivered directly to your inbox.]

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Should you ask people to “help” or “give”?

The One Thing You Need to Know: People like to help rather than give. Frame your requests with this in mind.

What Works?

The Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago looked at whether people preferred to “help” or “give”. They had two groups of people. Both groups were asked to imagine that they worked a job as a street vendor who sells popsicles. (Why popsicles, we don’t know. Maybe they were also trying to see what people really would do for a Klondike bar!)

Okay, so one group was then asked if they would donate the equivalent of a day’s wage. Another group was asked if they would volunteer for a day, and then told they could work their regular job selling popsicles and donate what they earned.

Turns out, the idea of “volunteering” for a day was much more enticing than donating the equivalent of a day’s wages.

Why? The authors propose that when the ask is initially framed in terms of money, it prompts people to think about what they are giving up. Framing in terms of helping prompts people to think about the impact of their assistance, which they are happy to offer.

This is consistent with research on loss aversion, i.e. we are more unhappy about losses than we are happy about gains. In this scenario, giving up money is a loss and the warm feelings we get from benefiting an organization we care about is a gain. Be careful about which side of that balance you draw attention.

 

Bottom Line: If you want people to give, ask them to help.

Future research we’d love to see

  1. A real-world test so we have a better sense of what happens when people envision their actual wages vs. hypothetical wages. The success of the organization One Day’s Wages would lead one to believe that people can get behind the idea of giving a day’s worth of wages. But it might still be true that language that uses “help” is more effective than “give”.
  2. Research (again, real-world) on the effectiveness of starting with “help” and then switching to “give”. Can you switch or do you have to stick with helping language throughout? Inquiring, inquisitive minds want to know!

Want more?

Peruse the paper that we’re citing here. Sending out a spring appeal? Test this for yourself. Do two versions of your appeal: one using “give” language and one using “help” language. A/B test on 10% of your list and then use whichever version works best. If that sounds daunting, we love testing and are here to help!