June 18, 2008

Universal Principle of Influence #5: Consensus

If many others have done this, then I'm likely to do it too. But if those many others are similar to me too, I'm even more likely to follow. --- Robert Cialdini

Professor Robert Cialdini identified six universal principles of influence: Reciprocity, Scarcity, Authority, Consistency, Consensus and Liking. This time, we're looking at #5: Consensus.

We follow the lead of people like us. We like to do what people like us are doing --- especially when faced with uncertainty. We look for social proof. The many influence the few.

We can say things like "Our most popular choice for individuals in you circumstances is"

Small changes can improve results. Here's an example from the world of informercials
  • original: Operators are waiting. Please call now.
  • improved: If operators are busy, please call again.
The second version implied consensus: others are eager to buy. When asking for donations door-to-door, showing a list of other donors in the neighbourhood increases donations. The longer the list, the better the results.

Teenage Smoking
Peer pressure has a dark side too. Here are factors which make a teen more likely to smoke.

Factor Increase
Delinquency + 14%
Depression + 14%
Parent smokes + 26%
2 friends smoke + 1,000%
3+ friends smoke + 2,400%

You may set a good example, but that has little effect. What can you do? Surround your children by the children you'd like them to emulate.

"The best communicators realize when they're not the best communicators and get the person who is: use testimonials. --- Robert Cialdini
The more similar the prospect to the satisfied customer, the better the outcome. We like to do like people like us like to do.

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