2011-06-20 11:39:53REQUIRED READING FOR ALL SkSers: How to make your blog posts 'sticky'
John Cook


I've been talking with Don McCubbin and Tom Smerling from climatebites.org about issues of climate communication. One book they recommended was Made To Stick on what makes ideas "stick" - attract people's attention and stick in their minds. I've been reading through the book and I see it as an imperative read for any climate communicator (in fact, for any communicator).

It's not enough for SkS to just explain the science. There is plenty of psychological research and evidence that tells us that merely outlining the facts will not cut it. When we post feedback on each others' blog posts here on the forum, we mainly post feedback on improving the science. But what we need to be doing is taking it up to the next level - we also need to be posting feedback on how to communicate the science more effectively. Not just get the facts right but tailor your message so it engages the reader, holds their interest and the message sticks in their head afterwards.

So what I'm going to do on the SkS forum is publish a series of forum threads summarising the key messages of the book. I highly recommend (nay insist!) all SkSers read these threads (I'll be linking to them from this thread). If you're writing blog posts, it will help you to improve your posts. If you're someone who posts feedback to other blog posts, it will help you post helpful feedback with suggestions helping authors improve their messaging. So this is not just for me and Dana and the others who post regularly - we can all benefit from this and by regularly exercising our brain into thinking how to communicate better, we can all train each other in becoming more effective communicators.

What will happen then is our blog posts will engage readers more effectively. The comment threads will be more active (note how comment threads explode with an engaging post). Our posts will go more viral as other websites link to it, tweet them, Facebook them, etc, thus attracting more readers. And most importantly, our messages will stick in people's heads - our primary goal is always to make a difference, have an impact - and being better communicators will achieve that.

For starters, an overview. The book examines "sticky" ideas - proverbs, urban myths, ideas that achieve broad public consciousness. What makes an idea stick in people's minds? Sticky ideas usually share some of the following traits:

  1. Simplicity - very simple but profound at the same time (eg - the Golden Rule, a single sentence so profound, one could meditate on it their whole life)
  2. Unexpectedness - either by surprise (build expectation then defeat it) or curiosity (open up gaps in their knowledge then fill the gaps)
  3. Concreteness - our brains are wired to remember concrete data so encode your abstract truths in concrete language
  4. Credibility - help people test your ideas for themselves
  5. Emotions - we're wired to feel for people, not abstractions
  6. Stories – people think in narratives so we should communicate with stories

Of course sticky ideas don't include ALL these traits - just some of them, usually. But these are the traits that reoccur in all sticky ideas. The most important point is Simplicity - that every message must have a core truth. I'll flesh that out in a subsequent thread. As I unpack all these traits, I hope to see upcoming blog posts attempt to incorporate these ideas and as we post feedback to blog posts, we're posting suggestions and ideas of ways to make our blog posts "stickier".

2011-06-20 11:54:59Added Simplicity
John Cook


Just added a thread on Simplicity:


Another thought to add to my first post - I am thinking about doing SkS blog posts about science communication and the psychology of climate change. I may do posts on this "Made to Stick" theme but I'll see how things play out in the forum and in subsequent blog posts. Ideally, would like to see concrete examples in SkS blog posts of us using the 6 traits in practice, so in our blog posts, I can cite our own examples.

2011-06-20 23:14:30I read that book too
James Wight


I consciously used some of the tips in my “It’s not urgent” rebuttal. The last three (credibility, emotion, story) are kind of hard to do when you’re talking about science.

2011-06-21 06:40:35credibility, emotion, story
John Cook


I'll get into how we can use those in later threads. Story especially is a very valid technique for science communicators because our journey to greater scientific understanding is a story in itself. Or we can use creative techniques like Rob Honeycutt uses - but he's a bit of a freak, I doubt we can all be as creative and out-of-left-field as he is.

2011-06-22 09:56:03Added Part 2 - unexpectedness
John Cook



Additional thought to James' comment. Our messages don't need to contain ALL 6 techniques at once - the point of the book is when they analysed all the various sticky ideas, they all have SOME of these techniques in common.

2011-06-23 14:51:59Part 3 - concrete
John Cook



Also added a Metaphor database: