A few weeks ago on the Hobson and Holtz Report (For Immediate Release 493), Shel Holtz mentioned that participants at this year’s Blog World Expo had been requested to use the Twitter hashtag #fightcancer during the day in order to raise awareness for the fight against the disease. At the time, I remember thinking, “So what? What impact did it have?” Cancer is hardly an orphan disease for which basic awareness is required, so what action did this lead to? How were people incited to take their support forward, for example, by making a donation to cancer research? I know that Neville (@jangles) and @shel are stauch defenders of measurement and evaluation, so I was rather surprised that Shel didn’t address this issue. Wouldn’t it be more helpful to retweet a link to a cancer research charity’s donations page? Or to dietary guidelines to help prevent cancer?
Another cancer awareness piece has just crossed my desk. This time it’s the Pink Glove Dance put together by employees at the Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, Oregon and posted to YouTube.
According to an e-mail I received, Medline, a company which manufactures latex gloves and which just launched a line of pink gloves to support breast cancer awareness, would make “a huge contribution to the hospital, as well as offering free mammograms for the community” if the video reached a million views (the total was about 1,200,000 when I watched it). Neither the hospital’s website nor Medline’s make any mention of this contribution, although the video is prominently displayed on both sites. But even more bizarrely, now that they’ve raised your awareness, neither organization gives you any help to act on your new awareness. No links — either on the sites or embedded in the video — not even to the hospital’s fundraising office, let alone a cancer charity or tips for healthy living to prevent cancer.
What a wasted opportunity…grab the attention of 1,200,000 people…and then do absolutely nothing with it.
These two examples are especially disturbing for another reason: the single action bias*. Briefly the single action bias means that when responding to a call for action or threat, human beings are likely to rely on a single action, even when it only addresses the issue to a small degree. People often take no further action, presumably because the first one has calmed the nagging feeling that they should respond. Therefore you need to make it very, very easy for them to take the next step(s) up the chain. Neither of these initiatives did that. In fact, they may actually have discouraged people from making donations if tweeting the hashtag or forwarding the YouTube link gave people the warm, fuzzy feeling of having done “something”.
Ways to counter the single action bias include making people conscious of its existence, providing suggestions for getting incrementally more involved, supplying checklists to remind people over time what else they could do, or issuing renewed calls for action periodically.
*The single action bias was first discussed in Weber, E. U. (1997). Perception and expectation of climate change: Precondition for economic and technological adaptation. In M. Bazerman, D. Messick, A. Tenbrunsel & K. Wade-Benzoni (Eds.), Psychological and Ethical Perspectives to Environmental and Ethical Issues in Management (pp. 314-341). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.