A professor of Psychology named Robert Cialdini changed modern marketing with one book: ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion’. To write it, he spent years studying sales and compliance professionals to learn their best techniques for influencing others. He then categorised the top ‘Weapons of Influence’ into six areas and supported each with academic research and experiments to explain how and why they worked.
Here, we’re going to talk about how a brand can apply Cialdini’s influence principles to a website. A considered reading with a thoughtful reflection based on your individual situation would be required to do this work justice, so please treat this blog post as a primer for those with limited time at the moment.
1. Reciprocity: owing a favour
Definition: People generally feel obliged to return favours offered to them. This trait is part of our evolution in tribes, helping the whole group to survive.
Book example: Companies providing free samples. People who want donations for a religious organisation offering a flower as a ‘gift’ to passerby’s as a gesture of ‘kindness’, followed by a donation request.
Website application: Create and share valuable content through blogging and downloadable whitepapers/e-books/resources/tools/guides, to help your audience in their understanding of what you provide or how you can help. Make it easy to talk to your team if someone has a question. Give the ability to self-service at scale by having FAQ website content that’s fun to engage with.
2. Liking: it’s my friend so…
Definition: People are more likely to agree to offers from people whom they like.
Book example: Companies that use their customers to sell to friends, e.g. tupperware and make-up.
Website application: Warm up your messaging by eliminating corporate speak and writing for humans instead. Let the world know who the people in your company are with photos, videos and if you’re so inclined, a podcast. Talk about your approach to serving the market if it’s unique, e.g. Moz TAGFEE
3. Authority: I was just following orders
Definition: People will tend to obey authority figures, even if they are asked to perform objectionable tasks.
Book example: Milgram experiment where people administer electrical shocks as punishment for an incorrect answer to a test question. Derren Brown recreates the experiment here (starting at 30 seconds), answering the question: would otherwise good people apply a lethal electrical shock to an innocent person just because a guy in a white coat instructed them to?
Website application: Share awards, certifications, memberships, achievements, case studies and conference attendances.
4. and 5. Commitment and Consistency: I said I would so I guess I have to
Definition: If people provide a commitment, they’re more likely to stick to it.
Book example: In one control group, experimenters asked people to put a large sign in their yard. Most people refused. In another group, experimenters changed tack and asked for a small sign instead, which was easier to say yes to. After some time with the small sign, experimenters then requested the upgrade to the larger sign. More people said yes because the request was aligned with the commitment of having a sign in the yard.
Website application: Give your new visitors something to commit to, then over deliver on what you’ve promised to exceed their expectations. E.g. subscriber only content.
Give your returning visitors an optimal experience. These are people who have committed to you in the past so are therefore more likely to again in the future. E.g. if your website sells online, make it easy for returning visitors to check an order status, make changes, add a special note, re-order, etc.
6. Social Proof: Other people do this so I should too
Definition: People generally look to other people similar to themselves when making decisions, especially during times of uncertainty.
Book example: Group think. A restaurant with a line out the front door is likely to be good.
Website example: Build and show your social popularity as measured by audience size, likes, shares, tweets, etc. Obtain and showcase endorsements from experts, celebrities, current users, associations and peers. Highlight most popular ‘best sellers’.