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Social Media: Influence and the Psychology of Persuasion January 4, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in social games, social media, social networks.

In the past I’ve recommended Cialdini’s book, Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion as a “must read” for people designing social media sites. I recently had dinner with the CEO of a major social media company who shared with me his summarized notes from the book and allowed me to publish them here. This is a great summary, but no substitute for reading the book.

Anyone thinking about how to get viral growth, user generated content or user to user interaction should see if there are any interaction lessons to be learned from this book.


Asking for a favor has a much higher probability of positive response if you provide a reason. The reason does not even have to make sense. e.g. “Can I use the copier because I need to make copies” has a similar acceptance rate to “Can I use the copier because I am in a hurry.”

Contrast principle

People are more likely to react when they have something with which to compare. E.g. When a $5000 suit is placed next to $800 suit, the $800 suit seems inexpensive although on an absolute basis it may not be.

Giving things to others triggers a need for reciprocation. This also applies to a large request which after being denied is turned into a smaller request (as the person feels obligated to give in due to the fact that you gave them a concession).

You are more likely to do something after you’ve already aligned yourself. E.g. before placing a bet you are unsure of who will win, but after placing a bet you feel your team has a better chance of winning.

You are much more likely to head more strongly in a particular direction if you have made a public commitment. This holds (though less strongly) even if the commitment is not public but written or spoken.

If a great effort is required to obtain something, this enhances commitment (hazing rituals etc.).

People are less inclined to follow a rule if they are told they must under duress. It is much more effective to simply convey the rule. They then feel they are in control and own the rule.

Social Proof
People think that if others are doing something, then it is probably right. This has a greater impact in times of uncertainty; you look to others to see what to do. E.g if a person is injured on the street sometimes no one checks to see if she is okay. Why? Because on a crowded city street everyone looks to everyone else to see if there is a problem. Since no one reacts, everyone assumes it is fine.

The more someone likes you the more persuasive power you hold. The elements of liking are
o Similarity
o Physical attractiveness
o Compliments

Familiarity and working together also foster liking, as does close association with something positive. The converse is also true – e.g. weathermen suffer when they have to deliver bad news – recipients of death threats and the like.

Authority figures are extremely powerful. People have innate deference to authority and are willing violate common sense to carry out orders from perceived authorities.

Rareness naturally makes something more desirable. However, accelerating rarity makes things even more desirable. This explains psychological reactance. When freedoms that previously existed are suddenly taken away we react very strongly. Revolutionary wars provide evidence for this theory – often begun after period of rising freedoms followed by pull back of freedoms.

Need for Affiliation (this is a bit controversial)

• “Unless I miss my guess, they are not merely great sports aficionados; they are individuals with a hidden personality flaw – a poor self-concept. Deep inside is a sense of low personal worth that directs them to seek prestige not from the generation or promotion of their own attainments, but from the generation or promotion of their associations with others of attainment.”
• “There are several varieties of this species that bloom throughout our culture. The persistent name-dropper is a classic example. So, too, is the rock-music groupie, who trades sexual favors for the right tell girlfriends that she was ”with” a famous musician for a time. No matter which form it takes, the behavior of such individuals shares a similar theme – the rather tragic view of accomplishment as deriving from outside the self.”


1. preetam mukherjee - January 4, 2008

very interesting post!

typo in the title…”persuAsion” might work better. 🙂

2. jeremyliew - January 4, 2008

Thanks – now corrected!

3. Teresa Blaes - October 8, 2008

I found the thing about people wanting to be led espishally ingreeging. On that note, I think that it could be said that we are all sheep longing to be lead, or put another way, we all long to belong to a tribe, while still waiting for someone to take the lead.

4. How to use popularity lists to influence your users behavior « Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog - May 20, 2009

[…] findings are consistent with one of Cialdini’s principles of persuasion , social proof. The WSJ article mentions another study where a hotel tried to get customers to […]

5. David - June 10, 2009

Its true, we all like to feel like we belong to something that is beyond or more than ourselves.

6. How a change in wording increased response rates by 15 percentage points « Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog - July 9, 2012

[…] on getting the “copy” (the words on the page) right to drive behavior. I’ve posted in the past about Cialdini’s great book, Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion, and how the principles […]

7. People still can’t do math – and what it means for pricing « Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog - August 19, 2012

[…] Really fun post from ConversionXL about pricing experiments, many rooted in people’s inability to do math, and the lessons of Influence and the Power of Persuasion. […]

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