Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Managing Persuasion

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And now to this month's article...

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I was fortunate to attend my first IABC World Conference last month. One of my favorite presentations was by B. J. Fogg, a psychologist and director of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University. In the presentation I attended, he talked about why some technologies, Facebook in particular, had become so effective in persuading people. He defined persuasion not simply as changing a person's attitudes, but as getting them to do something. That is, to be persuaded, they had to act. What I found particularly useful in his presentation was his list of factors necessary for persuasion (or behavior change) to occur:
  1. Motivation
  2. The ability to do the behavior
  3. A trigger for the behavior
He noted that if any of these factors were absent, the persuasion would not happen. He offered the example of listening to public radio in the car during pledge week. You might be motivated to make a contribution, and the radio station's request that you do so is the trigger. However, you're in your car, so you do not have the ability to make the contribution. Consequently, the appeal fails. What I like about this model is its simplicity and how it immediately offers a way to diagnose why a behavior may not be occurring. And, once you've made the diagnosis, you can manage the three factors to increase the likelihood of persuading. The questions for communication then become:
  1. Who is our target audience and what do we want them to do? (Hopefully, the answer to this comes from your business or communications plan. But whomever you target, you want the subset that is motivated and able to act, and time is well spent trying to identify them.)
  2. What would motivate these people to do this, and what, if necessary, can we do to increase their motivation? (It seems to me that almost all advertising is intended to increase motivation. Certainly the little gifts of return-address stamps, etc., we get in letters from organizations trying to get us to donate, are attempts at motivating us to give through the desire to reciprocate.)
  3. Does our target audience have the ability to do what we want them to do? If not, what can we do to give them that ability? (Dr. Fogg said one of the ways to manage this variable was to make things as easy as possible. An example would be automobile companies lending money to their customers to enable them to buy cars.)
  4. What are the triggers that will launch the activity? (Consider the baskets new mothers receive of merchandise provided by baby food and care companies when they leave a hospital after giving birth. The obvious trigger for these products is a new infant entering a household.)
If you want to learn what all of this has to do with Facebook, I recommend you read the new book Dr. Fogg is writing, "The Psychology of Facebook," when it becomes available.

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Thanks very much for reading. If you have questions you'd like me to address, or other topics you'd like me to write about, please let me know.

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I work with organizations going through a change in strategic direction (merger, acquisition, building program, new product launch, change program, etc.) and that are concerned about what will happen with their relationships with key stakeholders (customers, employees, investors) if they send out the wrong, or confusing, messages. After working with me, my clients have a clear understanding of what their messages should be. I also provide them recommendations on other actions they can take to enhance their relationships with stakeholders.

I also work as a PR and communications research director for hire for agencies and other organizations.

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The Institute for Public Relations, (IPR) is dedicated to the "science beneath the art" of PR. It focuses on PR research and education. If you are interested in the topics I write about, you will almost certainly be interested in IPR. You can find it at While you're there, check out the Essential Knowledge Project at

Best wishes,


Forrest W. Anderson
Founding Member
Institute for Public Relations
Commission on PR Measurement and Evaluation

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