Robert Cialdini’s 1984 book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, should be read cover to cover by anyone in the advocacy business. If you’re trying to convince people to change their minds or take action, you must be familiar with how human decision making actually works.
Reading through this book recently, I was struck by how many of these six tactics – “weapons of influence” as Cialdini calls them – could be better leveraged in the issue and corporate advocacy. The most effective organizations that consistently spread their message, pass legislation, and shape the conversation use all six.
The reciprocity rule, Cialdini writes, “says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided to us.” This, of course, is obvious with tangible items like favors or gifts, but for our purposes it works in other instances just as well.
Making a concession, for example, can make the other side of a negotiation feel obliged. If you’re advocating for a policy and yield on items that are less consequential, hold-outs may be motivated to respond in kind by supporting your new position. This is most effective in winning the public to your side, if you’re able to demonstrate the many accommodations you’ve made and yet your opposition remains unmoved.
Commitment and Consistency
We have a “nearly obsessive desire to be (and to appear) consistent with what we have already done,” Cialdini writes. “Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment.”
This explains why flip flops are so damaging to politicians – it lays bare their own inconsistencies and leads voters to question their credibility. This is why signed pledges or commitments are such an effective advocacy tactic. It forces an unambiguous, public commitment that the politician will strive to follow.
If you’re advocating for a specific policy, you should demonstrate how the proposal is a consistent extension of the principles they already hold.
The principle of social proof “states that one means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct.” I’ve written elsewhere about how the Left are leveraging this principle in campaigns with relational organizing.
Any time you’ve cited a poll, you’ve leveraged social proof, but new technology and better data are making it possible to find out who the right advocates are and how best to reach them.
It’s simple, “we most prefer to say yes to the requests of someone we know and like.” But how do you get someone – especially if they’re hard to reach – to like you? Flattery.
It can be as simple as honoring someone with an award or reception, but we like people who like us first.
Of all the “weapons of influence” described in his book, authority may be the one that’s undergone the most change in the intervening three decades. The principle states that “information from a recognized authority can provide us a valuable shortcut for deciding how to act in a situation.”
Anyone who has opened Twitter, scrolled through Facebook, or read a blog knows that a lack of trust in our public institutions – which were once viewed as authoritative – is a global crisis. But note that the definition says “recognized authority.” You don’t just need an authority on your side, you need the right authority.
Increasingly, in our connected world, the right authority is frequently the individual, brand, organization, or cause with the biggest audience.
“People seem to be more motivated by the thought of losing something than by the thought of gaining something of equal value.” Loss aversion is the reason you’ve bought a flash deal on Amazon for something you didn’t need.
Deadlines can drive action in advocacy, too. Sign this letter before we go public. Take action now before our members are affected. Lead on this issue before someone else does.
If you want to build a successful advocacy campaign, you must build it upon these six pillars of influence.