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The 6 Forces of Persuasion of Dr. Robert Cialdini

December 1, 2020 | Social Proof on Websites
An image of the 1984 book called Influence: the psychology of persuasion
An image of the 1984 book called Influence: the psychology of persuasion

Dr. Robert Cialdini’s Six Forces of Persuasion

Dr. Robert Cialdini describes these six forces in his 1984 book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.   Small business owners should should understand how customers respond to these common, and legitimate, behaviors.  

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Commitment and Consistency
  3. Social Proof
  4. Liking
  5. Authority
  6. Scarcity

Dr. Cialdini describes these six forces as ‘weapons of influence’ since they are, by themselves, neither good nor bad. How these ‘weapons’ are used by small business owner and entrepreneurs, and the intent behind their use, is what makes their impact either positive or negative.

Reciprocity

The first, and perhaps, the most powerful of Dr. Cialdini’s rules of persuasion is the Reciprocity Rule.

Sociologists have observed that every human society have unwritten rules of reciprocity. This rule says that all humans have an internal need to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us. If a friend pays for dinner, we must pay for dinner in the future.

According to Dr. Robert Cialdini…

“…by virtue of the reciprocity rule, then, we are obligated to the future repayment of favors, gifts, invitations and the like.”

Anthropologist Dr. Richard Leakey ascribes the Reciprocity Rule to the development of societies and civilization:

“We are human beings because our ancestors learned to share their food and their skills in an honored network of obligation.”

One coercive example of the Reciprocity Rule that Dr. Cialdini shares is the once-common sight of yellow-robed Hare Krishna cult members in airports around the country. The Hare Krishnas rely on donations for support. But, perhaps because of their appearance – yellow robes and shaved heads – many people considered them weird. So, the Krishnas devised a brilliant strategy to coerce donations from hurried air travelers. They would give a passing traveler a single, long stemmed flower. Not wanting the flower but also not wanting to appear stingy or mean, many hurried travelers were persuaded to give the Krishnas a small donation. Hurrying on, many travelers tossed the flower into the nearest garbage can from which the Krishnas would fetch it to present to the next traveler.

Commitment and Consistency

The second rule is the Consistency/Commitment Rule.  In the words of Dr. Cialdini…

“…it is, quite simply, our nearly obsessive desire to be (and to appear) consistent with what we have already done. Once we have made a choice or taking a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment.”

People who are waffling or inconsistent in their behavior are seen as untrustworthy and unpredictable.  Politicians lose elections based on changing their positions even when changing circumstances require new behaviors. 

Public Commitments

“Public commitments tend to be lasting commitments… “  – Dr. Daniel Cialdini

Social media influencers who make public commitments to your product or service can have a positive impact on your business.  Kodak Black and Snoop Dogg include lines in rap songs about Miami plastic surgeon Dr. Michael Salzhauer, aka:  Dr. Miami.

Rapper Fetty Wap and his entourage hang out with Dr. Miami
Rapper Fetty Wap and his entourage hang out with Dr. Miami

Rapper Fetty Wap and his entourage hand out with Dr. Miami at his Bal Halbour office.

Particularly relevant is the impact of the Commitment/Consistency Rule on individuals who give small business owners a video testimonial for use on social media.  In other words, once your customer has DECIDED to become your customer they are invested in their decision to support you.  Assuming you have done a good job and treated them well they would appear inconsistent TO THEMSELVES by refusing a request for a testimonial.

Dr. Cialdini continues,“…whenever one takes a stand that is visible to others, there is the drive to maintain that stand in order to look like a consistent person.”

In other words, Dr. Miami can continue to count on public support from Kodak Black and Snoop Dogg.  

You can, too!  Just ask your current, happy customers for a video testimonial.

An Experiment in Public Consistency:  An interesting experiment designed to test public consistency illustrates this internal force acting on human beings.

Famous social psychologists Deutsch and Girard divided college students into three groups. Each group was asked to estimate the length of a line drawn on the wall.

The first group was asked to write down their estimation and sign their names to a paper. The paper was then shown publicly to the other members of their group.

The second group spoke their estimation allowed in front of their peers.

The third group merely noted there estimation of the length of the line but did not report.

Professors Deutsch and Girard then gave their own estimation of the length of the line to the students. The students were then asked if they would like to change the estimation they had given previously, based on new and conflicting information from the professors.

The third group was most ready to change. The majority of this group adjusted their estimate.

The second group that had spoken their estimations were less ready to change; fewer than half of this group adjusted their estimation.

The first group, who had written down and publicly shared their estimations, were least ready to change. The majority of this group did not adjust their estimations even in the face of new information in the form of the estimations provided by the professors.

Social Proof on Websites

Dr. Cialdini discussed Social Proof long before today’s social networks gave us our modern concepts of ‘Influencers’ and ‘Followers’. However, this chapter of his book remains one of the most relevant and exciting today insofar as video testimonials are concerned.

Here is a personal example of social proof:  When my kids were young, my wife and I would pack them in the car drive two hours and take them to Disney World in Orlando.

We would arrive in Orlando, thoroughly lost after getting off the interstate. We would park in a massive parking lot approximately the size of Manhattan. At this point, my mobile phone GPS useless, I would turn, look at my wife and say, “What do we do now?”

My wife is much more intelligent than I am and has gotten used to my uselessness in certain circumstances.

She quickly re-oriented the boys’ strollers, pointing them in the direction of a crowd of people laden down with backpacks as they strolled passed.

“We are going to follow them,” she said.

Social proof is the way which human beings use to determine what is correct behavior, in uncertain situations.

Normally. this rule works quite well since in strange situations. On average, we will make fewer mistakes by acting how other people act rather than contrary to their behavior.

Usually, when a lot of people are doing something, it is the right thing to do.

Positive Social Proof:  Cialdini cites a famous example of children with phobias – fear of dogs or fear of water. He describes a colleague, Dr. Albert Bandura, who treated school-aged children with fear of animals with videos or live demonstrations of other children playing with dogs, cats and other small animals. Children who were afraid of the water were given time with other small children at a pool while monitored by adults.

Despite failing conventional therapy to eliminate the phobias, the children were able to overcome their fears when they observed other children engaged in these behaviors. 

One humorous example of positive social proof came from Dr. Cialdini’s own son who conquered his fear of swimming, saying “Well, I’m three years old and Tommy is three years old and Tommy can swim so that means I can swim, too!”

Liking

Tupperware parties (and their like) are the best example of marketers exploiting the Liking Principle in the marketplace – as of the 2007 edition of Influence, Tupperware revenues exceeded $2.5 million per day.

The model is simple: Hostesses (most are women) invite their close friends and social group to a home setting where refreshments are served, sample wares are displayed and a presentation is made of features and benefits by the Tupperware salesperson. The hostess sits and watches the presentation along with her friends. Afterwards, an offer is made and some of the women buy product.

Interviews with the women indicate they are fully aware of the influence of the Liking Principle on their purchase decisions – and yet they still purchase from Tupperware.

Physical Attractiveness:  One key to the Liking Principle is physical attractiveness.

For purposes of video testimonials, physical attractiveness seems to be necessary. A handsome young man, a beautiful young women or adorable kittens tend to attract peoples’ eyeballs while scrolling on the Internet.

But, physical attractiveness doesn’t have to just be limited to facial features, body characteristics or cuteness.

Clear speech and an authentic manner are all conveyed via the video or audio properties of the technology. Passion or emotion, conveyed via video,

Video will also convict a presenter who is inauthentic, wooden or poorly-prepared.

Similarity:  One study of insurance salespeople who were similar in age, religion and politics to their customers found them more likely to close a sale successfully, all other factors being equal.

Another study found that salespeople who were taught a “mirror and match” sales technique had more positive results that salespeople who were not taught that approach. “Mirror and match” is a technique where the salesperson matches the body posture, mood and verbal style of the customer they are trying to influence.

Authority

Simply the appearance of authority can have the same persuasive effect on people as a real authority.

Titles:  For years, Robert Young played Dr. Marcus Welby on television commercials telling viewers that Sanka was healthier to drink than regular coffee.

Robert Young pretended to be Dr. Marcus Welby even though Robert Young was not a doctor.

Sanka sales went up substantially and Robert Young was paid very handsomely for his advice built largely on his perceived authority due to his perceived medical credential.

Clothes:  The uniform of the police or the military, the white coats of doctors or the robes of the priest or the business suit and tie of the salesman all convey the Authority Rule to observers. Zig Ziglar, the Worlds’ Greatest Salesman, used to describe the ‘uniform’ of the the most persuasive salesmen – a dark blue suit, a white, button-up shirt and a red tie.

An interesting experiment of the effect of clothes involved a 31-year old man to cross the street without a crosswalk – ‘jaywalking’. In this case, a negative example of the Authority Rule in effect.

The experimenters observed from a distance as the man crossed the street multiple times. Half of the time, he was dressed as described above in a dark blue business suit. The other half of the time, he was dressed in a work shirt and trousers.

The researchers counted the people who immediately followed the jaywalking man – people were persuaded to commit this minor traffic infraction at a rate 350% greater when dressed in his authoritative dark blue suit!

Scarcity

A time-honored technique in marketing – “Buy Now!  Supplies are limited!”  Scarcity plays on the modern concept called ‘Fear of Missing Out’ (FOMO).  Buyers are encouraged to accelerate their decision rather than ponder and wait.

Summary of Dr. Cialdini’s Six Forces of Persuasion

Written in 1984, the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion is as important as ever to the general public and internet marketers.

For entrepreneurs, the internet has dramatically changed how all of these forces, especially social proof, can be used to communicate with our customers, share our message and grow our businesses.

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