Paul M. Banas on Consumer Insights, Marketing Research, and the Digital Media Landscape
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4 Principles Of Persuasive Social Media Marketing

Having spent a lot of time recently behind the glass at focus groups, I had a chance to pick up a recent copy of the Qualitative Research Consultants Association magazine, Views.

In it was a very insightful interview of Dr. Robert Cialdini by Sharon Livingston of the Livingston Group for Marketing.

Dr. Cialdini is a professor of Psychology at Arizona State University and is president of Influence at Work.

In the interview, he mentions several Principles of Persuasion that he developed by studying how different companies and organizations approach influencing their consumers or members.

Of these principles, I found four that led me to direct corollaries or implications across different aspects of Social Media Marketing.

1.) Social Proof:
Social Proof is when someone is confronted with something new or uncertain, they tend to look to the behavior and opinions of others, which then plays a strong influence on their own behaviors and attitudes. This behavior tends to snowball, which then can lead to a phenomenon I’ve written about before, crowd cascades.

A simple example from the interview is that when a restaurant flags a particular entree as “This is our most popular dish,” it generally becomes more popular. Another restaurant example I’d add is how the number cars in the parking lot can influence someone’s opinion of the quality of the food or the atmosphere inside, simply by providing Social Proof that the restaurant is popular.

  • From an online marketing standpoint, Social Proof is the engine behind the exponential popularity growth of certain posts on social news sites as soon as they manage several thumbs up or votes.
  • Receiving a certain amount of votes leads to Social Proof, which then creates even more votes as a post’s popularity cascades.

2.) Authority:
In social environments, most people look to legitimate experts and authorities to provide guidance. The more someone develops themselves as an authority, the more likely they’ll be able to influence behavior and have people follow their lead.

I really like the example Cialdini cites of a sociological experiment that tried to get at the effect of perceived authority:

“They put a man on a street corner and had him cross the street against the light, against the traffic, against the law. Half of the time he was dressed in jeans, an open-neck shirt and running shoes and the other half of the time he was dressed in a business suit, pressed shirt, tie and shiny shoes. Then they counted how many people followed along behind him. An amazing 350 percent more people followed him when he was wearing a suit.”

  • Authority in Social Media is both a perceived thing (You look like you know what your talking about, so I’ll listen to you) and a tangible thing (The higher the PageRank and network of friends, the more likely someone can drive traffic to sites or garner votes in social news).
  • These are both factors that Robojiannis has covered extensively on his blog and in his master thesis on “Attention and Participation In The Social Web”.
  • Tangible social media authority was also the underlying topic of a very interesting blog post by Kimberley Bock about new users and voting patterns on Sphinn. I felt the subsequent comment exchange also added a ton of insight into the concept of authority as well.

3.) Reciprocation:
By providing something to people first, you increase the likelihood that people will want to do something for you as well.

The example of Reciprocation mentioned in the interview is of a direct mail campaign by the Disabled American Veterans association.

“When they send out their direct mail requests for contributions to their organization, they get about an 18 percent hit on their rate. But, if they include a little packet of personalized address labels in the envelope, their hit rate of contributions goes up to 36 percent because people have received something. Now they feel obligated to give back.”

  • From an online marketing standpoint, the Social Media best practice of mutual Diggs and Stumbles is an example of the principle of Reciprocation in action.
  • Additionally, providing white papers, widget tools, calculators, etc., are all value adds that engage users and bring them back for more.

4.) Liking:
Liking, not surprisingly, is based upon the fact that we are more likely to listen to and follow the actions of people we know and like.

Cialdini breaks Liking down to two key aspects:

“One is similarity; we like the people who are like us, especially in values and attitudes and opinions and so on. Secondly, we like the people who like us and say so by giving us compliments.”

  • Social Media, by its very nature, tends to cluster people with similar attitudes and values. I believe what sets effective Social Marketers apart is their ability to respond to others in a group with empathy, to publicly recognize the achievements and good thinking of group members, and to always treat others the way you yourself would want to be treated.
  • Flaming social group members and their opinions may generate buzz and controversy, but its long term negative effect will far outweigh its short term bump in interest.

Since this is by no means an exhaustive list, I’d be curious to know what other principles people have when it comes to persuasive Social Media Marketing.


1 robojiannis { 03.25.08 at 8:54 am }

Although you say, that this is not an exhaustive list, I would say that it covers the major parts of social marketing.
I would add presentation, the look and feel of the product, but it is a minor subject compared to the ones you mention.

2 Chris { 03.26.08 at 7:49 am }

Nice article and as robojiannis says, it certainly covers the major apects of social marketing. I’ve read a few people recently complaining about companies becoming involved in social marketing, but as you rightly say,

“I believe what sets effective Social Marketers apart is their ability to respond to others in a group with empathy, to publicly recognize the achievements and good thinking of group members, and to always treat others the way you yourself would want to be treated.”

3 Paul M. Banas { 03.27.08 at 7:38 pm }

I think presentation is a good point to bring up. Sometimes it’s the only thing emphasized, and the result is pretty, but in the end, fairly hollow. Sometimes it isn’t emphasized enough, and engagement suffers.
Thanks for the compliment. I would also add that it’s not just about companies. You could substitute the word “Bloggers” for “Social Media Marketing”, and the result would be just about the same.

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