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Home / News / iKnowHow: building a wiki for the voluntary sector (part ten) - Online persuasion, communications and motivation

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iKnowHow: building a wiki for the voluntary sector (part ten) - Online persuasion, communications and motivation

Apr 19, 2012 by W Editor

The role of good design, persuasion techniques, effective communications and an understanding of motivation

by W Editor last modified May 03, 2012 11:26 AM

Guest-post from Madeleine, KnowHow's WEditor about online persuasion.

A flurry turns into a drip

We launched the first iKnowHow wiki section (collaborative working) just over a month ago and instantly got a flurry of contributions. It was very exciting after all our planning to see people keen to try out this new 'thing' and join in with the fun - sharing their knowledge. However in recent weeks contributions have dripped rather than flowed. Why? And what can we do about it?

Online persuasion techniques

We've done lots of thinking and reading about designing for persuasion. We have applied good practice to remove barriers and create an online space which is easy and appealing to interact with. For example:

  • we made the language and design of the wiki pages as clear as possible
  • we tested and tested and tested the usability and amended as needed
  • we built in many different levels of effort so that people can interact in very small ways (by sharing a page or editing one word) or more substantial ways (adding new pages or case studies)
  • the contributors gallery gives a sense of community and activity to inspire others and recognise effort
  • we award BlueDots for effort; using an established sector currency rather than coming up with a points / kudos scheme of our own.

Communication vs 'noise'

So, assuming we have got the 'build' right, the slow-down in activity must be down to awareness. We used all our channels and networks to shout about the launch and this generated lots of activity. But now that that's over, we can't just rely on people finding the iKnowHow pages on their own and deciding to take action. Instead we need to remind people what iKnowHow is all about and write about it in a way that inspires them to do something.

So we've used our usual channels (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, our newsletter) as well as this blog and contacted off-line groups and individuals. Each of these reaches a wide audience and we've talked about iKnowHow in different ways depending on which channel we were using. We're being cautious of generating too much 'noise' - there is a danger that we communicate too much about iKnowHow to the same people and turn them off completely - but at the same time, this is a 3-month project and we need to give it everything we've got!


But persuasive design and frequent communication is really just scratching the surface. In order to be properly persuasive we need to understand someone's motivation for contributing (sharing their knowledge) and the barriers which mean they won't.

Simply saying "iKnowHow is a wiki for the sector, add your knowledge to help others" sadly isn't enough. How many people are motivated by altruism when the barriers of time are so significant?

We need to think about what drives individual action and build these into our communcations. Motivators may include:

  • ego / confidence - "iKnowHow is just another way I can share my expertise"
  • self-interest - "My contribution shows that I know what I am talking about" (good for job seekers and consultants)
  • frustration - "everyone gets this task wrong, I can share my insight here to help change behaviour".

Barriers may be:

  • time - "I am too busy"
  • fear / shyness - "I don't want to appear online"
  • self-doubt - "I don't know anything / enough"
  • laziness - "someone else will do it".

Of course there will always be people who just aren't going to be active but for those who could be encouraged, we need to be better at incorporating these thoughts into our communications. This is easier on some channels than others. For example a 140 character limit on Twitter presents challenges.

Focus on Twitter

Twitter is great as a call to action for small, immediate tasks. So it should be a great opportunity to inspire small edits. Here's what we've tried so far and some of the dilemmas.

Here's a tweet inviting contributions to a particular page:

Please take 5mins to add links / tips to our 'what I wish I'd known before I set up my #charity' page.

But which is more effective - a politie plee (please) or a question?

Could you spare 5mins to add links / tips to our 'what I wish I'd known before I set up my #charity' page.

This tweet is quite long and not easy to RT but shortening it is hard without losing some meaning.

What links / tips helped when you set up your #charity? Spare 5mins to help others.

In these cases there is no space to mention BlueDot rewards or other motivators. We have to choose a primary motivation for each tweet and hope that it does the trick. However, this does mean sending out multiple tweets over a period of time trying different things. It is hard to work out which words / terms / methods will spark interest.

Given that one of the barriers is time, we have experimented with sending messages outside office hours. Evenings, Bank Holidays and weekends are when people are more likely to have time on their hands. We use a different tone of voice and show that we are in the now but other than a few RTs, it's not generated any action. Maybe everyone has switched off from work and is just watching the football?

Bored? Nothing on the telly? Eaten all your eggs? Do something useful - share your nonprofit knowledge?!

One month to go....

With just over a month of the project left to go, we need to make sure that we are doing all we can to make iKnowHow a success. Our aim is to find out whether the sector is ready to share its knowledge in this way. We can spread the word about the project and invite people to contribute but actual activity is the real marker of success.   

Share your tips

We'd been keen to hear your ideas of effective motivational persuasive communications. What's worked for you? What could we do better?

We've been looking and couldn't find much about key motivational words to use within a 140 character limit for example! Please share links / tips here and help make iKnowHow a success.

Useful links

For those interested in this topic, here are some of the references we found about online persuasion:

This post is also published on the NCVO and Nominet Trust blog sites.