Introduction to “Webs of Influence”
In the spirit of continuing our #QuarantineReads series, we’d like to share our review of another book we’ve read recently: “Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion” by Nathalie Nahai.
This book consists of three main parts on how to create a persuasive website design. The first is titled Know Who You Are Targeting, followed by how to Communicate Persuasively, and finally, Nahai wraps up with Sell with Integrity. Going forward, I’ll primarily focus on sharing the key concepts in those three sections and then give a brief summary of each.
Know Who You Are Targeting
The primary focuses for this section are how the human brain breaks down information and makes decisions, and how differences in culture, gender, and power affect what people prefer to see during the purchase process.
When it comes to purchasing decisions, Nahai explains that while there is one brain, there are two systems:
- Automatic (emotional): is intuitive and operates below the level of ‘conscious’ thought, also known as ‘thinking fast.’
- Controlled (cognitive): is more analytical, deliberate, and rational, also known as ‘thinking slow.’
To successfully convey why someone should be purchasing what you are offering, you need to address both systems.
Additionally, different cultural inclinations and preferences could make a user more or less likely to purchase. So, if you are trying to target other countries, this section would be especially salient.
These factors are based on the Hofstede model. A few examples are:
- Individualism vs. Collectivism: group preferences vs. individual preferences
- Power Distance: the difference in inequality levels between people
- Masculinity vs. Femininity: how closely gender roles are adhered to
- Uncertainty Avoidance: how comfortable/uncomfortable people are with ambiguity
- Long-Term Orientation: how people view values and gratification (instant gratification or long term goals)
- Indulgent vs. Restraint: how much people feel that they have control over their life and happiness
That said, these factors should be used more as general advice and not a strict guide—culture is not static. It is more important to be familiar with and genuinely understand the preferences of the specific audience you are trying to target.
The second section covers how to communicate your brand message and promotions in the most compelling way.
This can be done with the content you put on your site and social platforms (CTAs, articles, videos) as well as the design of your site (the colors, typography, and images used).
Starting out, Nahai introduces the two main ways to go about the general concept of persuasion. First is systematic persuasion, when you appeal to a person’s logic or reason. The second is heuristic persuasion when you leverage cognitive rules of thumb. This is usually the more common option due to human’s limited cognitive capacities and how much information we process daily.
This leads us to the concept of fluency, which means that, typically, people prefer messages that are fast and easy to process.
To implement these persuasion concepts online, on your website, or however else people access your brand or content (mobile, app, or social media), needs to be optimized.
These persuasive tactics can be done in many ways:
- By using images that are high quality and accurately depict your product or service
- By grouping important information together (proximity) or by using the same color or boldness for important information, so it stands out (similarity)
- By making content concise (clear out the clutter)
- By using certain colors and hues to evoke different emotions
The list above is not exhaustive, but they are the most common ways to relay your site’s information credibly and quickly.
One of my personal favorites is the use of color to elicit specific emotions or feelings. And while these color guides can vary from culture to culture, there has been a sizable amount of research regarding how different colors can influence buyers’ emotions or portray particular messages about your brand.
For example, one study cites that using pale, unsaturated colors, such as light blue, cream, and grey, are perceived as more trustworthy, benevolent, competent, and predictable than more colorful websites.
Sell With Integrity
We’ll start with the easy part: what you can expect from us.
Speaking of being trustworthy, the final part of this book is aimed at gaining the trust of your visitors and using familiar selling techniques to which that visitors can easily relate.
After a brief explanation of what persuasion is and how it’s paramount not only to understand it, but to implement it credibly, Nahai discusses the six principles of influence by Professor Robert Cialdini. By using reciprocity, consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity, you can appeal to several common heuristics (mental shortcuts) that humans often rely on to influence their online behavior.
Chapters that follow mainly focus on pricing and some of the quirky ways human brains interpret prices and a common psychological model called the behavior chain.
The behavior chain sums up the process of how persuasion is structured over time and what a business can do to keep the persuasive process going.
- First, you have to understand how users find out about your product or service and how they access the information you provide.
- Next, once customers know about your brand and products, how do you encourage them to interact or take action (sign up for a newsletter or buy a product).
- Finally, by creating content with value, optimizing your outreach on all your channels, and following up with customers regularly, you can keep the cycle of trust and persuasion going.
I found this book especially helpful and appealing in the sense that while it confirmed many things I already knew, it also introduced me to adjacent concepts with ease. Additionally, Nahai makes it easy for people with even the slightest background in UX, persuasion techniques, or interest in psychology to understand these topics by including countless graphics and examples.
“Webs of Influence” by Nathalie Nahai is a must-read for sure! Also, let us know in the comments if you have read this book and what you think about it or if you have any similar book recommendations.
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