Meet Asterisk, your most demanding employee

(Reading time: 2m, 55s)

One of the things I often write about is finding ways to humanize interactions with online visitors. Piecing together different technologies can lead to weird, antisocial interactions with visitors — interactions we would never accept in real life.

Seeing examples of that weirdness all around me, I wrote a series of emails on the topic a while back, which many of you have read.

One of those emails — ”Retrain your creepiest employee” — has elicited the most responses of any in the series. People reply with nods of approval or “Yeah, but …” comments; They say the email makes them laugh or that it made them rethink their online forms.

In a nutshell, the email questions why organizations require anyone and everyone to share tons of personal information when they fill out a form — phone numbers and home addresses especially.

To be clear, I know why they want the information — They’re looking for more ways to reach members and donors, so they can persuade them to give more. The question is why everyone gets treated the same — whether they’re trying to give a thousand dollars after careful consideration or just ten bucks on a whim.

I’m not going to rehash everything in the original email. I just want to add one different way to view this initial exchange between someone who may want to make a small, one-time donation or become a member at a low level because I keep finding myself having this discussion with clients and readers.

You know how you run into those offers on websites where you get something in exchange for sharing your email address?

You might take a quiz and then have to enter your email address to see the results, or you may have to subscribe to a mailing list to download a white paper.

There’s a trade happening — you give us your email address, and we’ll give you x.

Many organizations don’t seem to understand that at least some people won’t just hand over their personal information for free. (I suspect but I cannot prove that this is a trend — more people are becoming less willing to hand over their personal info, no questions asked. The robocalls we all receive every day may be a contributor.)

If someone joins your organization or makes a small donation, they probably understand why you ask for their email address. You at least need to send them a confirmation.

But why do you need their home address and phone number for them to give you ten bucks?

You know why, but they don’t.

And yet, there they are on the screen — a required home address field and phone number.

There’s no explanation below the little angry red asterisk indicating that the field is required.

That asterisk is such an arrogant man. (Asterisks are always men. We all know it.)

What if that asterisk spoke?

What if, instead of sitting there pouting, he made some sort of promise?

“Here’s what we’re going to do with your address.”

Perhaps even — “Here’s what we’re not going to do with your address.”

Oh! What if he said, “Here’s what you’ll get if you share your address with us.”

Remember, people will gladly hand over their email address in exchange for something of value. What if — at least for some people these days — you need to promise something of value in exchange for their phone number or home address?

Is the stuff you’re sending by mail or calling people about providing unique value? If not — why?

If your online forms are populated by an army of asterisks, first ask if you need all the information right now.

Could you ask, but not require the home address right now?

Could you follow up with an email offering something of value in exchange for their home address? (I know — this means you’d have to get creative as well as understand what might of value to the individual.)

Short of that, if your organization wouldn’t trade one of those little soldiers for all the trust and goodwill in the world, could you at least explain why you’re asking and what you’ll do with the people’s personal information?

They may still enter fake information, but at least they’ll be more likely complete the form.

Thanks for reading,

Kyle