Ten principles for creating more human connection online with your users

Published on
July 15, 2020
How Tos
Joe Roberson
What if it was possible to make your online service more empathetic, more relational and more supportive for your beneficiaries? 
Principles image

It is. And Deepr have been discovering how. The Catalyst collaborator has been working on a bold, never-been-done-before project to find out how to generate the same type of relational wellbeing online that services do offline. 

“Relational wellbeing is the piece of the wellbeing pie that is influenced by the way we relate to one another. For many people their interactions with charity and public sector staff bolster their relational wellbeing.” Matthew McStravick, Deepr

For three months they’ve been testing and learning with more than 60 charities. And soon they will release a simple guide that shows you how to create these better connections. This article introduces the underlying principles emerging from their work. 

Reading about these principles now will help you think about the foundations needed to move your services in this direction. And you’ll be ready to get started with Deepr’s Simple Steps guide and 40 Method Cards when they are released in 2-4 weeks' time. 

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Warning ;)

Deepr’s work is experimental and at the cutting edge of what Catalyst is doing. Applying these principles and the upcoming methods could lead to stronger two-way human connection and better relational wellbeing for your users. Only read on if you’re curious about introducing this into your digital services. 

1. Reduce separation

Reducing separation between us is the gateway to human connection. Human connection leads to relational wellbeing. This principle governs all others. It can act as shorthand for you as you work to develop digital services with high opportunities for human connection. When considering each element of your service ask, ‘Will this bring us closer together or move us further apart?’

2. Design for the Five Conditions

Our research has shown there are Five Conditions that are conducive to human connection: Presence, Equality, Autonomy, Accountability and Whole Self. When a balance of these conditions is present in a service, they support and reinforce each other, acting as a dynamo for human connection.

The Five Conditions are two-way. They are less about anyone ‘levelling up’ and more about everyone ‘levelling out’. Sprinkle them liberally across your service, rather than concentrating on one large point of connection e.g. bring your whole selves into your communications, equality into your triage, presence into your home page.

3. Meet people where they are

Be mindful not to make assumptions as to when/where/which people will be open to particular opportunities for connection. Involve your community as much as you can in your initial research and ongoing design work. Then, take baby steps by introducing the smallest possible version of your solution. This both tests your idea and provides a gentle runway to engagement for your community. Design for those most and least open to connection.

4. Go fast – Go slow

Go fast: There may well be ways to weave the Five Conditions into every layer of your service from beginning to end. However, some points will be easier than others. Where connection seems a struggle, design your service experience to be fast, requiring as little energy from people as possible. In other words, aim to make it ‘friction free’. This will enable you to preserve people’s attentional energy for human connection elsewhere in the service (and their lives).

Go slow: When there is a clear opportunity for human connection within the service, slow down, engage people’s attention and give space and opportunity for human connection. In other words, create more ‘friendly friction’. There is considerable neurological evidence to suggest that slowing down for positive experiences, or ‘staying with the good’, is a way to make them sticky, achieving the positive effects on wellbeing you’re working towards.

5. Be intentional and open

Beginning by sharing with your community a clear intention to develop deeper human connection is a valuable practice that will help you to achieve it. Whenever we talk openly about working in a way that connects us more fundamentally as human beings we, and those we’re communicating with, are likely to have heightened presence and our connection ‘receptors’ will be switched on. Knowing that someone else is keen to connect with us on a deeper level can be a wonderful experience in itself. 

Even high-connection organisations can increase their impact by codifying their best practice and making it explicit.

6. Be invitational

Being consistently clear that the power and choice lies with people you’re working with can enable the most introverted amongst them to become more open to new practices.

7. ‘Be’ human connection as you ‘do’ human connection

Human connection within services starts with human connection within your team. Explore this work with your colleagues and in your approach to the design process. We’ve found that organisations that succeed in running services with high relational wellbeing, have this mirrored in their internal cultures. The opposite is also true. 

8. Embrace new rituals of human connection

Offline communication contains many non-verbal cues – subtle facial expressions, hand gestures and physical contact, as well as spontaneous moments of connection, like chatting whilst waiting for the kettle to boil. Because digital interactions tend to be more structured and time bound, they require a new language of communication and space to achieve the same level of understanding, connection and the resulting relational wellbeing. Don’t be fearful of trying out new behaviours with your community. They are necessary.

9. Stay safe

Human connection hinges on a paradox: in order to experience it, we must open up and expose some vulnerability. The appropriate level of vulnerability will differ from service to service and person to person. You’ll want to explore this and make decisions at every stage of the design process based upon conclusions you come to. A brilliant resource to help with this is DigiSafe.

10. Let the magic happen 

Connection between people is one of the most natural things for us to do as a species. And the Five Conditions for human connection are not rocket science. Hold the whole process lightly and be ready to spot the warm fuzzy moments happening between people. 

There’s more to come!

These principles are just the beginning. There’s loads more amazing stuff to come from Deepr. This includes a Simple Steps guide and 40 Method Cards you can try out across your services. 

Sign up to their list to receive download links when it’s all available.

Please share this post to help other charities learn about how to build stronger human connection into their work too. 

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