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Online Persuasion: Cialdini's "Weapons of Influence"


If there is one classic book on persuasion techniques — and if you can only read one book on the topic — it must be Robert Cialdini's "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion".

First published in 1984, this book obviously precedes the Internet. Yet most of the techniques it describes can easily be adapted to this new medium.

Cialdini describes dozens of persuasive tactics, neatly arranged into six major categories. I'll briefly describe each category, to give you a flavor of this remarkable book:


1. Reciprocation

When someone does us a favor, we feel a strong impulse to repay the "debt".

A great example is the Easter Seals mailings:

  • When asked for donations, 18% donated.
  • When the request included free customized address labels, 35% donated.

It's very easy to apply Reciprocation on the web: free software trials, downloads, etc.

For more, see my post on The Rule of Reciprocation.


2. Commitment and Consistency

Once we have taken a position or made a statement — especially publicly — we feel compelled to act consistently with that statement.

For example:

  • When asked if they wanted a "Drive Carefully" sign installed, 17% said yes.
  • When first asked to sign a public-spirited petition, then (two weeks later) asked if they wanted the sign installed, 50% said yes.

As we're now in the age of active engagement, there are many ways to implement this principle on the web. (Blogs, Mailing Lists, Discussion Forums, Reviews, etc.)

For more, see Fostering Commitment Via Public Written Statements.


3. Social Proof

When deciding on a course of action, we look to see what others are doing... and simply follow the pack.

There are countless ways to harness Social Proof on the web, including Reviews, Ratings, Testimonials, etc.

See Social Proof.


4. People We Like

We're most likely to be persuaded by people we like. And we especially like those who:

  • We know
  • Are attractive
  • Are similar to us (In terms of age, sex, race, background, beliefs...)
  • Like us (Say nice things about us, etc.)
  • Are involved in group effort with us

See Look and Act Like Your Target Group.


5. Obedience to Authority

People will do the most incredible things, if ordered to do so by an authority figure.

There's an obvious dark side to this phenomenon, but you can put it to positive use on your website.

Think about what the "markers of authority" are in your line of business, then make sure you look and act like someone in authority.

See last week's post on Obedience to Authority.


6. Scarcity

When something appears to be in short supply (or otherwise hard to get) we want it that much more.

"Low stock indicators" are one obvious way to implement this principle on your website. Offering items "for a limited time" is another.

For more, see Scarcity.


The above just scratches the surface, but might be useful as a checklist of potential tactics.

Take a look through my posts Persuasive Web Design. If you find them helpful and compelling, you will definitely enjoy Cialdini's book.


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