What you can learn from a gang.

So with the nice weather out I’ve been noticing all of the motorcycles on the road and I recently saw a “Prospect” ride by enjoying the day.   For those that don’t know a prospect is a term used for candidates of Motorcycle Clubs (MC’s for short).  I began to think about their club and how people go about becoming members.  Pushing the perceived “criminal element” aside these are regular people – tough people – but just like you and me when it comes to clubs and memberships. The Hells Angels Motorcycle Club (HAMC) has an interesting way of recruiting individual candidates – they don’t.

So how do you go about joining as an individual?    Only a “patch holder” (a full member) truly knows the process, but there seems to be some basic methods that clubs use.  The first step in membership is becoming a “hang around”.  Being seen, is what a hang around is all about. Eventually a member will talk to you about becoming a prospect if they like you (I assume behind the scenes stuff happens as well). Once you accept the prospect status, you get introduced to the club. After your prospect period is over and you have proven yourself you earn your “Patch”.  The patch carries benefits I’m sure and if you really want to know, ask a patch holder. Only a patch holder, truly knows and they probably won’t tell you.  After your main patch – clubs utilize a system of earned patches or badges. Although the specific meaning of each patch is not publicly known, the patches identify specific or significant activities.

Who does this sound like:

Exclusivity – “You gotta know someone to get in” works.  The exclusive nature alone creates buzz for a product you know nothing about.

Hang Around – Freemium, Bloggers, Beta Users, Early Adopters. Getting a taste of what it’d be like to be an active first member of the community.  Getting the first taste works but now you’ve got to be an advocate “Wow what a great group of fellas”. Getting bragging rights to others within your community helps the overall buzz recruitment.  “Oh, you’re not on Facebook” – “I can’t find you on Pinterest“.

Community:  People join MCs because they offer something that’s missing. It could be a community, a sense of family, partying, spirituality, or just hanging out with like minded folks.  They give them a place in the organization, inclusive messaging, a framework to work with, and support no matter what.  Was Pinterest missing from my life – hate to admit it but if Facebook had the visual feel and functionality I wouldn’t have been joined.  Same with Instagram and Foursquare.

Brand:  If a club has a well-established reputation, be it positive or negative, that reputation will reflect on you when you wear the patch.  The same way BMW’s convey a sense about a person and what matters most to them being a member of the HAMC means something.  People join because they are seeking out 3rd party endorsement or legitimacy in their definition of who they are in others eyes.

Purpose: Organizational structures help people move forward. A sense of order and purpose in life regardless of what the larger goal is, is a strong motivator.  They require a place in the flow and feel like they are a contributing source. In these interests they don’t mind being a product as they are helping the broader community. If Facebook went away tomorrow would people die? No I don’t think so.  I do think people would suffer though through lost connections and missing information about subjects and problems that support their purpose driven existence.  Take a look at their new groups for schools and tell me who’s NOT going to be a member at that school in that group.

Patches: A patch is a visual representation of the organization or achievement that typically designates in its design the organization awarding it. It cracks me up every time I see a Nike logo on a shirt I paid for. The design of the badge acknowledges that the organization has agreed upon what counts as the minimum requirement to get it and legitimizes anyone wearing it.  Getting the patch becomes the beginning, additional patches represent authority, knowledge or skills for which the various patches show accomplishment. This type of gamification creates the habituated user and motivates to achieve more. I currently have a little Foursquare badge competition going on with my wife – my kids brag about their Xbox unlocked achievements.

It’s a pretty good proven process to follow

I’d be curious as to what drives membership spikes and declines.   Did a lack of content out in the community drive the decline in membership for the Freemasons or have reports of their influence on society increased it? Do news reports of clashes with other gangs, movies about their secret ways drive people away or towards the Hells Angels.  It’d be interesting to find out but regardless we should all be using these tested techniques to get people continuously using our products whatever they are.