Social Pressure and Startups

Last night, my good friend Nick made a gentle reminder that I hadn't published anything yet this week. So today, before doing anything else important, I sat myself down in front of the computer with a cup of coffee to write. The knowledge that even one person in the world is going to notice if I don't write this week was enough to pressure me in not putting it off. 

Social pressure is a very powerful force. Most of our regular behaviors are formed and reinforced by social pressure - brushing our teeth, dressing well, holding the door open for others, and saying "please", "thank you, and "I'm sorry". Social pressure forces us to act our best, even when we're tired and really don't want to go to another charity event and make small talk. As social creatures, we're generally grossly concerned with how we're perceived by others, and social pressure stems from that fear of being perceived as a lesser person than we're expected to be.

It's interesting how startups have been able to leverage social pressure to influence human behavior. Kiva Zip uses social pressure to offer 0% interest rate lending using what they call social collateral, requiring borrowers to invite people in their network to lend a portion of their loan: "By requiring borrowers to invite 15 of their friends and family to lend to them, we take social collateral in the form of these relationships between borrowers and their social networks."

Similarly, apps like RunKeeper are using peer pressure to help users meet exercise goals. By tracking in real-time the frequency, duration, and intensity of a user's workout, these apps provide additional social incentives for users to push themselves - similar to running alongside a friend or performing on stage. If you slack, everyone can tell.

There is still a lot of room in the startup ecosystem to use social pressure as a feature. When done correctly, social pressure is a powerful motivator to help users develop good habits. With advancements in Internet of Things and quantified self, bountiful data on user behavior, and increasingly better access to a person's social network, there are huge opportunities to fine-tune how we leverage social pressure in new technologies so that all of us can live up to the person our mothers wanted us to be.