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How to Win Fans & Influence People

January 25, 2018

In 2017, everyone was following stories about social-change movements, including the Women’s March, #Me Too, and the NFL Anthem protests. But here’s some social-change news from the past year that maybe you haven’t seen: a sampling of the latest findings from research about advocacy, storytelling, and audience building, revealing evidence-based ways to make an impact.

If you’re hoping to change people’s behavior, a certain way of messaging can help—and for starters, it doesn’t involve asking them to change. Instead, a Stanford University study showed, you may influence them by pointing out that other people are in the process of making the shift. In one experiment, the researchers posted signs at community laundry areas during a drought. In some cases, the sign noted, “Most Stanford Residents Use Full Loads” and urged, “Help Stanford Conserve Water,” while in other locations, it stated, “Stanford Residents Are Changing: Now Most Use Full Loads,” followed by the same call for water conservation. The researchers call the messaging that describes what people generally do as “static,” in contrast to “dynamic” messaging, which refers to people in the process of starting to do something differently. Compared with laundry areas where no signs were posted, those who saw the static message decreased loads by 10 percent in three weeks, but those who saw the dynamic message reduced loads much more, by close to 30 percent. Dynamic messages seem to motivate behavior change by conveying that it’s possible and that cultural norms are shifting, according to the study’s lead author, Gregg Sparkman, who is interested in the possible implications for other sustainability initiatives and activism efforts.

Seeing transgender characters on television can significantly affect viewers’ attitudes, according to research from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. People who viewed just a brief subplot about a character going through a gender transition (played by a transgender actress) were more likely to feel supportive of transgender people and of policies related to their rights compared with regular viewers of the show who didn’t watch this particular episode. In addition, seeing more transgender characters across different TV series was linked with increased positive attitudes—and this was true even for politically conservative viewers. Interestingly, exposure to related real-life news stories, such as Caitlin Jenner, did not have this effect. The researchers cite viewers’ ability to become more deeply absorbed in a fictional narrative and emotionally affected by it, as well as potentially identify with aspects of a character.

Entertainment value, good reviews, audience turnout. All these things play into the success of entertainment media projects—but what’s one of the biggest drivers of all that shouldn’t be overlooked or underestimated? Fans. Core enthusiasts, who are passionately connected to a film, TV series, or brand and what it represents, may be relatively small as an overall audience percentage, yet they drive the majority of business value, according to a 2017 Entertainment and Media Trends report put out by PwC’s strategy consulting group, Strategy&. Fans binge watch, they spread the word, and they turn others into fans too. The upshot: Identifying, analyzing, and engaging with a project’s fans, as well as determining which groups can be brought into the fan-base fold, offers a strategic edge. (And of course, ProSocial can help with that!)