Web as a “platform for persuasion”… barrier-free sites will win

Persuasion Technology and Online Marketing

At the J.Boye Aarhus09 conference in Denmark earlier this month I attended a half-day tutorial by BJ Fogg, director of the Stanford University Persuasive Technology Lab.

A single blog entry can’t do justice to the full presentation, but here are a few notes that seem relevant to those of us who focus on creating stronger marketing impact at higher education websites.

  • The web as a “platform for persuasion” is an important concept for marketers building a new website or enhancing an existing one. Let’s admit that a primary, if not the most important, purpose of the website is to generate new enrollment and to gain funding support from alumni and other “friends” of the university.
  • Keep conversion expecations realistic. BJ suggests that 1/3 of website visitors will do what we want without much persuasion if it is easy to do it and 1/3 will never do it. That leaves about 1/3 in the middle open to persuasion points as they visit the site.
  • It is important to remove as many barriers to task completion as possible for the middle 1/3 or they won’t do what we want.  
  • The more complex the website, the less persuasive it will be.

Remove task completion barriers

And so there is a need for constant attention to these persuasion barriers: 

    • Navigation built around organizational rather than visitor preferences.
    • Language that doesn’t connect with visitors as Carewords do.
    • Broken links and out-of-date content. Be ruthless about this.
    • Long inquiry forms. The brevity of the Creighton University form is admirable. 

Every barrier means less conversion from that 1/3 in the middle cluster. Some barriers will even reduce conversion from the 1/3 that really want to do what you hope they will do.

Social media and online persuasion

BJ believes social media sites are strong persuasion tools.

    • Social networks are “platforms for persuasion” and Facebook is the “#1 persuasion tool of all time.”
    • Amazon makes good use of social media techniques by empowering community comments and by recommending new items based on the preferences of the visitor.

Don’t be afraid to experiment

One note stands out: don’t be afraid to experiment with change. Victory, BJ believes, will go to those who are not afraid to take online initiatives without knowing in advance that every one will work. Discard initiatives that fail and expand those that succeed. Getting proof of success before trying anything new makes it likely that your more adventuresome competitors will leave you behind.

J.Boye Conference: Philadelphia 2010

Check the developing schedule for the J.Boye conference May 4-6 in Philadelphia. There is a higher education track, as well as 7 others, including “online communication” and “online strategy” where you can meet and mingle with people working outside higher education.

That’s all for now.



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