Audience Building · · 3 min read

Public Homework

I remember watching Ship30for30 take Twitter by storm.

It seemed like, overnight, Dickie Bush went from a few hundred followers to a few hundred thousand followers.

Everywhere I looked in my feed, photos of atomic essays. Everyone was jumping into the cohort and there was this incredible feeling in the zeitgeist of, "Everyone is doing this – maybe I should too."

Ship30for30 grew like wildfire. But it wasn't alone...

Soon after, I started seeing a ton of posts on Instagram from my friends participating in something called 75 Hard.

Every day, those friends would post time lapses of their outdoor workouts.

"I want to get fit, maybe I should look at this too," I thought.

I started to understand what was happening and I created my own challenge – #Tweet100. This was a 100-day challenge to tweet once per day. We had a public leaderboard and users were required to use the hashtag #tweet100 in order for the leaderboard to function.

It grew like crazy – sometimes, I wonder what my business would be like if I had simply focused on growing THAT challenge for a couple of years!

Since that time, I've learned a phrase for the beautiful mechanism that spreads these ideas like wildfire: public homework.

What is public homework?

Public homework is an aspect of a program that encourages (or requires) the user to talk about that program publicly. With Ship30for30, students are encouraged to publish their daily atomic essays on Twitter.

It's homework – but completed in public.

Whether students use the design tools Ship30 provides or simply publish themselves, they're encouraged to share the hashtag #Ship30for30.

Why public homework works

It's long been known that people are more likely to stick to their goals (commitments) if there are stakes involved. Those could be positive or negative – money, reward, public accountability, or even shame.

So when I commit to a goal within a program, I can increase my likelihood of success by creating stakes. By announcing to my followers that I'm doing a thing and you can follow along – I'm creating public accountability.

Do I want to let my followers down? Show that I am not a person of my word – that I'm untrustworthy?

With so many concurrent students, it's not uncommon for you to see the #Ship30for30 hashtag on Twitter – a signal that this person is making progress and their goals AND an invitation to explore how you can do the same.

75 Hard has 7 requirements in order to keep your streak alive – and one of those requirements is to take a progress photo. It's encouraged to share that progress photo on social media with the hashtag #75Hard.

And why not? It's free content, and it shows your progress.

The dark side of public homework

You can probably see the beauty of this mechanism already. You may already be asking yourself, "How can I create an element of public homework in my own programs?"

That's a good question – and a good answer to that question can unlock a viral loop that grows your program on autopilot.

But there is a risk to be aware of:

Public homework can serve your business – but you need to design the experience to serve the customer first.

Designing the experience to serve the student first is not only more ethical, but it's also more effective. If the mechanism helps the student reach their goal, each individual student is more likely to share in public more often – because they stuck with it.

If you add a step to your program to share something but it doesn't raise the stakes or benefit the STUDENT directly, it'll fall flat. Plus, it'll feel kinda gross.

Your homework

Think about your own programs. What is the student trying to accomplish? How can you increase their commitment and improve their likelihood of success by introducing an aspect of public homework?

If you want to hear more about Dickie's story growing Ship30for30, I was lucky to capture the journey in two separate interviews (one at the start of his growth and one after Ship30 had grown quite a bit).

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