Behavioural Design Digest
July 1st, 2019

Dear reader, 

This week we'll delve a bit deeper into how Boris Johnson's campaign is using a frightening understanding of how media influence works, to get into power. Meanwhile, at SUE, we welcomed the 28th, 29th and 30th nationality participating in our Behavioural Design Academy this week: Canada, Brazil and The Azores. Our first Behavioural Design and Finance Edition (Dutch) is almost sold out, and Cleo and Maaike are about to leave to work on an exciting Behavioural Design Sprint for the UN Refugee Agency in Sydney, Australia. 

Enjoy this read, 

Algorithm hacking  

Last week, Boris Johnson was able to suck all the attention of the national and international press with a surprising story. He confessed in an interview that his favourite way to relax is by carving out busses out of old wine crates. He even loves to paint "happy passengers" on them. 

An attentive reader could smell the stinking hand of Steve Bannon and his team behind this - at first sight trivial - story. Because what happened in the days after this story went viral, was digital magic. Stories about Boris and his toy-busses started to push away another Boris-bus-story from the search results. The far more explosive story about the flagrant lie that he had put up a campaign bus that the EU costs the NHS 350 million pounds each week. Coincidence? Of course not. It's a public secret that Steve Bannon is helping Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage with the same techniques he applied to help Donald Trump to get elected. Bannon perfectly understands that you can beat the odds to win elections if you know how to game the algorithms of media

The simple law of market share growth

If you read the book "How Brands Grow", you will know that growth in market share, beautifully correlates with mental and physical availability
The more people hear and see you, the more likely they will buy you. Furthermore, the best way to be seen and heard is to be distinctive. The more you look objectively different from the other competitors, the easier it is to be remembered. In political marketing terms, this means that the more you control the public debate with outrageous stories, the more distinctive you will become and the more the media will reward you with attention. Both elements - distinctiveness and mental availability - create a perfect storm for rising in market share. 

The nature of the algorithms

These laws are understood for a long time, but a recent phenomenon extremely amplified this effect: an algorithmic preference.  Steve Bannon (and the Russians) exploited this knowledge to get Donal Trump elected. The AI that is running the Facebook and Google Algorithms learned over time that the best way to get people to spend as much time as possible on social media is to make them angry. In other words, media algorithms love outrage and indignation. So they promote and amplify shocking content, which in turn gets more amplified by offended users. A recent analysis of the success of Nigel Farage's spectacular victory found that although the Brexit Party published only 13% of the content, they accounted for 51% of all the content being shared. At the same time, the Remain camp invested more than 100.000 Pounds in Facebook ads but got only 1,1% of all the attention. The secret: Farage used simple and negative messages that got shared a lot.  

Gaming the system

What seems to look like a bizarre chain of outrageous lies, at first sight, is nothing else than an incredibly disciplined strategy to build market share by gaming the algorithms. Even worse, while progressives get outraged by the shamelessness of Johnson or Farage, they paradoxically fuel the indignation-machine even further. The more indignation, the more attention. More attention leads to more extreme counteraction, and more extreme counter-reaction gets delivered at the right people in the right filter bubbles by the social media algorithms. 

We saw this phenomenon happening at the first Democratic Candidates TV-debates last week. As soon as the Democratic candidates took a soft position on immigrants, a coordinated right-wing social media attack instantly kicked off, quickly spreading the message that Democrats much rather help "illegal aliens" than American citizens. Fox TV amplified this message even further to non-digital savvy audiences. If it bleeds, it leads, is one of their mantra's. 

What this all means?
I guess Social Media Marketing or Influencer Marketing is for beginners. Algorithmic hacking is the next level. As I said many times before in Behavioural Design Digest: if progressives or moderates want to win again, they will need to learn how to put up a fight. 

Join us at Behavioural Design Fest

We just finished the line-up for the second edition of Behavioural Design Fest, our conference on Behavioural Design on September 20th in Amsterdam. We have Dutch Politician of the Year Klaas Dijkhof on politics, Sony Music CEO Benelux Toon Martens on how to influence employee behaviour in turbulent times, bestseller Author Mark Tigchelaar on how to regain your focus, TUDelft Professor Nynke Tromp on Design for Societal Change, Fundraising guru Alan Clayton on how to design fundraising campaigns that work, SUE founder Astrid Groenewegen on designing happy workspaces and Ruurd Oosterhout on how to design a trolling farm and how to spread fake news. 

PS: Not an unimportant detail, but the conference is in Dutch. We wanted to test-run the potential of Behavioural Design Fest first in our home market, before taking it abroad. 
Get your Early Bird Ticket Now (Dutch)

Three great ways to re-energise your brain this summer

We decided to do a couple of extra editions of our Behavioural Design Academy this summer. Treat yourself with two days of high-intensity training on the art and science of influence: 
  • July 4th and 5th: Behavioural Design and Finance: A two-day masterclass for people working in finance on how to design positive financial behaviours and habits. (Dutch) 
  • June 27th and 28th: Behavioural Design Academy - Two-day foundational course (English)
  • July 18th and 19th: Behavioural Design Academy - Two-day foundational course (Dutch) 

Do you consider hiring SUE? Book 60 minutes with SUE. Get to know the people behind SUE / Behavioural Design Academy and get a Behavioural Design perspective on your challenge. Who knows where it could lead to...

Book 60 minutes with SUE
That's all for this week, we hope to catch you next week!

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