Practical nudging

Nudging is a gentle push. Nudging is cool and indirect communication. An effective nudge consists of elements from professional competences such as political development, behavioural economy, service design and communication. Stop screaming; nudging is a whisper that works.
af Line Groes
Using artistic effects and consideration, nudging creates more of the behaviour we want. This article focuses on the communication aspect of various types of nudging that our behaviour is influenced by – and it will give you methods and examples of how to use this knowledge in communication.
Knowledge is conveyed – reproduced – through a network of equals. This is nudging with messengers
Use trustworthy communicators as messengers
The sender is – more than the subject itself – crucial to how we receive and evaluate information. We are more likely to believe information brought to us by friends (or experts) than by companies or organisations. This means there is a potential for both private and public corporations in exchanging old-school campaigns and mass communication for communication strategies that make use of people rather than organisations as ambassadors of knowledge. We must, for example, facilitate meetings between, and create communities of, super users and ordinary users.
When SKAT, the Danish tax authority, holds info meetings for start-up companies, it would create more of an impact if the audience was not just presented with a few dried-out civil servants and an endless row of PowerPoint slides. Instead, meetings between beginners and veteran business owners who know all about SKAT should be facilitated.
BRF-Kredit, a large Danish mortgage provider, has had great success with sending out handwritten letters instead of window envelopes since a lot of hard-pressed house owners have a fear of window envelopes and therefore do not open them. BRF uses personal communication, which the handwritten envelope symbolises
Another good example of the messenger method is, an online community for the chronically ill, where patients interact and share experiences of dealing with their diseases. It covers part of the need for information that doctors use to communicate and hereby it gives the doctors a new role.
Make people do what the prudent do
We act considerably in terms of norms and what is accepted. We even enforce the norm if someone steps outside it. In the train’s silent section it doesn’t take a lot of talk before fellow passengers become angry.
The American organisation MOST of US focuses on health and security questions and addresses both citizens and fellow organisations. MOST of US works from a so-called Positive Community Norms Model
We can use and play on norms when we communicate to citizens. An example of this is the American organisation that uses social norms in its campaigns. The organisation had great success with the traffic safety campaign ‘Most of Us Wear Seatbelts’ campaign, which informed about how many people actually wear a seat belt. The number is bigger than most people think – and this information got more people to buckle up.
Another example is recycling. A hotel tried various forms of communication to make guests reuse their towels. By neutrally asking people to reuse their towel, the hotel had a success rate of 35 per cent. By using social standards, and telling that most of the guests would use a towel a minimum of two times, the number grew to 44 per cent.
Make use of people’s competitive instincts
Competition can make us act, do or change behaviour. It tickles both social needs: our identity and our competitive instincts. For decades the advertising business has used competitions to draw attention to products or brands, by giving away prize trips and cars. Here the incentive is clearly visible, but it doesn’t constitute a nudge. For this we need the social aspect of the competition – we have to compete with someone, and preferably someone we know.
Some of the best examples are about sport. The DHL Relay Race (a nationwide event for Danish companies, held in September every year) has over the years had a great impact on people's level of exercise. I know it personally. During the summer holiday I start seeing the DHL race coming up in the autumn, and my running is intensified. You want to look (and run) good in front of your colleagues, and the ultimate proof of success is beating your boss to the finishing line. 
(Vi cykler til arbejde = we bike to work)
It’s fun to compete with people you know, like colleagues. A fact used by Dansk Cyklist Forbund (the Danish Cyclist Association) in its yearly commuter campaign
The ‘We ride our bikes to work’ campaign is another example of mixing competitive and social needs. Social media provide an excellent platform for this kind of nudging. There doesn’t have to be a real competition embedded in the campaign; it’s enough that you can show (off) your results and compare them with others. The runners-app from Nike is an example of this. Self-monitoring alone is a heavy incentive. I know several people who only started running regularly when they got a training watch. A scale with built-in WiFi can work miracles on your weight, and for the nerdy statistics you can connect with, an online big-data community, tracking their patterns of mood, sleep, diet, movement, work etc. Here you can meet the like-minded, share experiences and help each other find new insights from the abundance of data.
Make it possible for people to commit in public
A good nudge is the possibility to commit to something in public. It doesn’t have to be to a real contract, such as a commitment to a dissertation, even if this can make the student graduate within the standard time limit. Less can do.
For example, you have a much bigger incentive to go through on your New Year’s resolution, when you post it on Facebook. There are even internet services specialising in making people commit to behavioural change. On you can commit yourself to quitting smoking, taking up exercise or losing weight. You commit by giving your friends’ email addresses so that they can support you in your resolution. In addition you can bet money on whether you succeed or not.
Do a good deed, if others want to join – that’s the idea of PledgeBank
On you can commit yourself to doing good deeds for society together with others. The smart thing here is that you suggest the good deed and at the same time define how many other ‘pledgers’ it takes for the deed to come through. Social control is also used in the app ‘The Eatery’, where you take pictures of your food before you eat it. Other users can then rate your meal on a scale from fit to fat and you can track the healthiness of your meals over time.
Nudging as a communication strategy
Almost all examples in this article are connected to the three upper steps in Maslow's hierarchy of needs – self-actualisation, self-esteem and love/belonging. If we can communicate to one of these needs, and preferably more, we optimise our chances of making people change behaviour through communication.
I personally see great potential in using the knowledge of nudging in the strategic development of communication. Especially, the public sector needs to upgrade its toolbox when it comes to communication and developing action plans. Regulations, threats, taxes and infomercials do not always bring about the changes we are looking for. Try nudging.

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