How do you hook new users in?

You give them a super-slick, frictionless on-boarding experience that delights them and makes them want more.

it easy and taking away barriers will make them love you — won’t it?

We’ve been prototyping a new on-boarding process for our digital writing coach Prolifiko and found that giving our users a harder task to complete resulted in a far better .

Why? It all comes down to how people perceive value, how they get invested and two psychological states we all experience called reciprocity and cognitive dissonance.

How do academics write?

Prolifiko is a digital coach for writing.

We’re often dubbed ‘Fitbit for writers’ because we use the same kind of persuasive tech that exercise apps use to help people hit their 10k step count or stay away from the cookie jar — but apply it instead to writing productivity.

Last month, we launched a Typeform survey to academics, researchers and PhDs — our current market focus — to understand more about how they write. More here if you’re interested.

We wanted to find out how these super-busy people find time for writing in their day; when they write, where they write, how they stay focused, what techniques they use to combat procrastination —and how they keep going.

Asking tough questions

The participants weren’t known to us and were recruited mainly through social media, word-of-mouth and PR.

We didn’t incentivize or compensate people in any way — we just explained what the survey was for and offered our thanks for taking part.

The survey’s pretty lengthy. It contains 14 in-depth questions which on average, take around 13 minutes to complete.

It’s challenging too. You need to find quiet time to do it. It’s not the kind of thing you can dash off.

The questions were designed by us and our academic partners to make the participant think hard about their own writing practice and reflect on what they do well — and not so well.

It was a big ask.

Results please!

To date, 405 academics have taken the survey — so not bad—but we want over 1,000 to make it the largest ever academic study into writing practice.

But of those academics who took the survey, 246 gave us their email when we asked whether they’d like to be involved in the next stage of the study.

246 of those who took the survey volunteered — with no incentive or renumeration on offer — to be part an even longer study where they would track and record their writing process over the course of a month.

So what’s all this got to do with on-boarding?

Make them work and they’ll love you for it

Aside from genuinely wanting to understand academic writing habits, we also wanted to use the survey invitation process to test out a few theories we had around on-boarding for our digital coaching product.

We wanted to understand how best to engage people, how best to delight people — and what we found was that the more we made people work, the more they were willing to engage.

Putting this another way, the 14 question survey was on-boarding.

The invitation at the end to ‘learn more’ through submitting an email is the user activation — the upgrade.

And when you look at it like this, our prototype on-boarding system had just achieved a % conversion rate from first use to activation.

Make it too easy and they won’t value you

At Prolifiko, the kinds of problems we solve for our writers tend to be psychological in nature — procrastination, lack-of time, overwhelm, lack of confidence or low self-esteem.

These problems are universal but the initial market we serve is niche: PhDs, academics and early career researchers.

The startup rulebooks tell you when you give people a quick early win, you make it more likely that they’ll refer and you’ll reach that all important viral co-efficient.

Any in most cases that’s bang on the money of course — but it’s not right in all cases and it’s not right for us and our audience.

3 reasons why cranking up the difficulty works

  1. Value: Making our survey questions but valuable for the user means they received real benefit from taking part — they learned about their writing process and we gave them a space to reflect. It gave them ‘me time’.
  2. Reciprocity: When you give something of value to someone (like ‘me time’) psychologist Robert Cialdini says this induces feeling of reciprocity which means that they in turn, want to give us something of back. In this case, their email address.
  3. Investment: Making the survey something people had to work at and expel some brain power on made them feel more invested in the whole process — and when you’re invested, you’re more likely to continue.
  4. Consistency: When you’ve expelled brain power on something you don’t want to think you’ve done it for nothing, because if you do, you experience what psychologists call cognitive dissonance — you want to be consistent and this means you’re less likely to quit.

In conclusion…

Raising the bar and making it more difficult for your users early on isn’t right for everyone — I get that.

But in some cases, challenging people to stretch themselves — as long as they derive value from completing that task — can lead to people feeling more fulfilled and so more invested in what you do.

Many people see that technology dumbs down human experience but we believe that done well, technology can help people lead better, more fulfilled lives.

So, make your on-boarding frictionless but don’t underestimate people’s desire to learn, change and grow as human beings — because taking on a really hard task where the real fulfilment comes.

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