Business and behaviour change series: An interview with Ashley Friedlein from Guild

As an agency, we’re all about applying behavioural science in our marketing and creative work so we’ve seen first-hand the benefits that adopting a behaviour-led approach can bring. 

We’re delighted to announce we’re launching a series where we’ll be talking to interesting businesses and startups that are driving behaviour change in their business. 

With that in mind, we caught up with Ashley Friedlein, Founder of Econsultancy and Guild, to hear which behaviours he wants to influence with Guild, how Guild uses behavioural science to influence behaviour and his thoughts on habit formation in messaging apps.

First things first, could you tell us a little bit about Guild?

Guild is a platform for professional communities and networking. It’s almost like the lovechild of WhatsApp and LinkedIn. The platform offers a messaging first experience so it’s easy, quick and intimate but it’s purpose built for professionals and businesses and offers all the important things businesses need like privacy and GDPR compliance, and other benefits like admin and user management, custom branding and support.

Which opportunities and gaps did you see in the market that led you to create Guild?

I am passionate about communities, particularly professional communities, especially where there’s a strong digital or online component. My first business, E-consultancy, is a community for marketers learning about digital marketing and e-commerce. We started E-consultancy as a web based community, then we went into training and events from there. 

I’d seen the growth of mobile that happened in the last decade or so and then more recently, the growth in messaging, WhatsApp in particular in the West and WeChat and others around the World. And so I thought, if this is a growth medium, are the existing options out there providing the right kind of experience to create a successful, positive professional community? And I felt there were lots of failings there.

With WhatsApp for example, it does a good enough job on the consumer side of things, but I felt for professional communities there was a whole bunch of things that were missing, like profiles, threading and moderation as well as account management support, custom branding, access to the data, etc, etc. 

Which behaviours are you looking to influence with Guild?

Within professional communities, people are sharing insights, contacts, knowledge, information with each other. I think if it’s done right, that can be a very positive force. Some behaviours we see in social media and messaging, particularly from those from the likes of Tik Tok for example can be more damaging and toxic and encourage vanity, ego, addiction and self image issues. These negative behaviours are being manipulated, particularly by the likes of Facebook, and Instagram, to monetise our data through advertising and keep us addicted, which I feel is a negative force in society. 

So with Guild, I’m hoping to encourage positive contributions, giving as well as taking and placing more of a focus on the community and social groups that help people to learn, get better at their job or find a new job, etc. 

Do you use behavioural science in your approach to influencing behaviour as part of the platform? And if so, how?

Yes, we do. Behaviourally, there is a bit of a trend in messaging towards anonymity, or quasi anonymity, even secrecy and end to end encryption. We know that people want things to be frictionless and convenient, so from a sign-up or joining process that would typically mean platforms ask for very, very little information or data. As part of the Guild sign up process, we deliberately require a little more effort, for example, we require a photo of you. We feel that this is important to create trust, and reciprocity and all these sorts of things that you need to be present and accountable.

How important is habit formation for Guild?

I’d say there’s a fine line between habits and addiction. In many ways habit formation is our greatest challenge and opportunity. It’s a challenge because people have a habit of checking WhatsApp often and some people may have a habit of checking Facebook every day. Messaging apps tend to be more habituating than web platforms just because they tend to be phone based.  Email on the other hand is sort of asynchronous and you can come back to it. I think messaging as a medium has the opportunity to cut through and therefore be a bit more habit forming and there’s also a certain urgency to it. I think that the dark side of this is that low level anxiety increases, where you’ve got to try and stay on top of it all the time and feel the need to respond otherwise you feel like you’re falling behind. 

We find that our super users have already formed a habit of checking Guild very frequently. We know that if somebody belongs to only one group on Guild, they are on average going to be less engaged, and less likely, therefore, to have some sort of habit. If they’re in three or four groups there is probably overall enough activity going on that it’s not overwhelming, but it’s enough to get them coming back, say once a day, or once a week. On the other hand, it appears that if you belong to too many groups it can become overwhelming and people switch off. 

So it’s an interesting balance for us to encourage habit formation in the sense of repeat usage and repeat visiting, but we want people to feel that they’re still in control.

What do you want Guild to be famous for?

For communities, ultimately, to do networking and marketing, through a community lens. Historically, lots of people thought about networking as working the room or building out LinkedIn contacts. But if we can think of being part of a community, whether you’re running it yourself or contributing to it, or even just listening in on it, this is actually a hugely effective way to raise your own personal or professional profile for betterment and advancement. 

For businesses that either host groups or are part of groups, it’s a very effective way to do business. If you go back to early human days of mediaeval guilds, that’s how business was done and it’s fundamental to human behaviour, it’s actually how Guild got its name. 

It feels to me like the early kind of euphoria or promise of the internet, which was based on personal connections and communities of interest didn’t materialise, specifically with the ad funded model platforms. So, in an ideal world Guild would be famous for a fight back against this and a move back to our fundamental human behaviours, with communities of interest and mutual support,  helping others out and getting help back in return, albeit in a digital and professional environment, which isn’t about harvesting data to sell more ads. Ultimately, I think if we were part of turning a tide towards a better internet more like it was in the beginning, that would be nice.

Which brand do you admire for having created a behavioural change? 

I would say Patagonia. There’s obviously a move towards greater sustainability and environmental awareness but I’m impressed by the brand, not just because of the amount of effort they appear to be putting in to do the right thing but also that they’ve been doing it for so long, 10 years, or so now. 

For example, on Black Friday, which is arguably a massive buying consumer fest, where everyone’s buying stuff that you don’t really need, which is not hugely helpful for the planet, Patagonia only sells used garments. They also offer lots of guidance on their website around how to mend clothes or reuse them. You think surely you need to be selling clothes, not encouraging people not to buy them and mend them instead, and sometimes these things feel a bit hollow, but in their case it feels genuine.

Want to know more?

To find out more about Guild, check out the platform here.

As always, if you’re interested in using a behavioural science-led approach in your marketing, get in touch with us here.