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What are we really talking about when we’re talking about conversions?

Persuasion, right? Influence.

When we talk about conversions, we are, most of the time, discussing

ways we can bemore persuasive, more influential. We’re interested in
meeting the needs of customers, fans, and followers and doing so in a
way that truly speaks to them.

So how can you persuade--i.e., convert--better?

Perhaps not surprisingly, the hacks for conversion and persuasion begin
with psychology. Understanding why someone clicks or why they
retweet requires you to look at the way the person is wired, the way we
are all wired. To understand persuasion and social media influence, to
get at the heart of conversion and likes, it helps to understand how your
audience thinks and feels. Here’s a primer.



One of my favorite places to learn about psychological theories is Dave

Straker’sChanging Minds website, which is full of theories written in
layman’s terms, organized neatly into specific categories and clusters
for easy reference. One of those categories is persuasion, and Straker
lists that deal with how to influence others.

Here is a brief snapshot of each of the 10 theories, many of which might

sound familiar to you--either because you’ve employed them in the past
or because you’ve had others try them on you. For more information on
any of these, click through the links to see Changing Minds’ cited
research and examples.

1. Amplification Hypothesis

When you express with certainty a particular attitude, that attitude

hardens. The opposite is true as well: Expressing uncertainty softens the

2. Conversion Theory

The minority in a group can have a disproportionate effect on influencing

those in the majority. Typically, those in the majority who are most
susceptible are the ones who may have joined because it was easy to do
so or who felt there were no alternatives. Consistent, confident minority
voices are most effective.

3. Information Manipulation Theory

This theory involves a persuasive person deliberately breaking one of

the four conversational maxims. These are the four:

 Quantity: Information is complete and full.

 Quality: Information is truthful and accurate.
 Relation: Information is relevant to the conversation.
 Manner: Information is expressed in an easy-to-understand
way and non-verbal actions support the tone of the statement
4. Priming
You can be influenced by stimuli that affect how you perceive short-term
thoughts and actions. Here’s a really smart example from Changing

A stage magician says ‘try’ and ‘cycle’ in separate sentences in priming a person to think later of the
word ‘tricycle’.

5. Reciprocity Norm

A common social norm, reciprocity involves our obligation to return

favors done by others.

6. Scarcity Principle

You want what is in short supply. This desire increases as you anticipate
the regret you might have if you miss out by not acting fast enough.

(Note the “Just for Today” text in the example email below.)
7. Sleeper Effect

Persuasive messages tend to decrease in persuasiveness over time,

except messages from low-credibility sources. Messages that start out
with low persuasion gain persuasion as our minds slowly disassociate
the source from the material (i.e., a presumably sleazy car salesman and
his advice on what car is best).

8. Social Influence

We are influenced strongly by others based on how we perceive our

relationship to the influencer. For example, social proof on web copy is
persuasive if the testimonials and recommendations are from
authoritative sources, big brands, or peers.

9. Yale Attitude Change Approach

This approach, based on multiple years of research by Yale University,

found a number of factors in persuasive speech, including being a
credible, attractive speaker; when it’s important to first or go last; and
the ideal demographics to target.

10. Ultimate Terms

Certain words carry more power than others. This theory breaks
persuasive words into three categories:

God terms: those words that carry blessings or demand

obedience/sacrifice. e.g, progress, value
Devil terms: those terms that are despised and evoke disgust. e.g.,
fascist, pedophile
Charismatic terms: those terms that are intangible, less observable
than either God or Devil terms. e.g., freedom, contribution

(We’ve written before about the power of specific words, including the

five most persuasive words in the English language: You, Because, Free,
Instantly, and New.)

You might consider these 10 theories the building blocks of the

persuasive techniques explained below. With this foundation of
psychology in place, let’s move on to some applications of these theories
in your social media marketing, website planning, and content creation.

We all know how important food, water, shelter, and warmth are to

survival. Any ideas what’s next most important?

The Hierarchy of Needs pyramid, proposed by psychologist Abraham

Maslow in the 1940s, shows the advancing scale of how our needs lay
out on the path to fulfillment, creativity, and the pursuit of what we love
most. The version of the pyramid you see below (shared by the Doorway
Project) shows the five different layers of needs.

The three steps in between the physiological needs and the fulfillment
needs are where marketing most directly applies.

 Safety
 Belonging
 Esteem
In Maslow’s pyramid, the descriptions for these needs don’t exactly have
a marketing perspective to them, so it requires a little creativity to see
how you can tailor your message to fit these needs. Christine Comaford,
an author and expert on the subject of persuasion, has found safety,
belonging, and esteem to have incredible value for our everyday work
and our creative lives:

Without these three essential keys a person cannot perform, innovate, be emotionally engaged, agree, or
move forward … The more we have of (these three keys) the greater the success of the company, the
relationship, the family, the team, the individual.

Her experience has helped her hone three phrases that are key for
influence and persuasion and for creating this sense of safety,
belonging, and mattering that we all need. Here they are:

1. “What if.” This phrase removes ego from the discussion and
creates a safe environment for curiosity and brainstorming.
2. “I need your help.” This flips the roles of dominant and
subordinate, engaging the other person and providing a transfer of
3. “Would it be helpful if.” This phrase shifts the focus from the
problem to the solution.
4. Here’s an example from Nick Eubanks of SEO Nick who
uses the phrase “I Need Your Help” directly in the subject line of
an email. (Come to think of it, each of these three would be fun to
try as email subject lines.)