illustration of persuasive emotions - happy, sad, love and anger

We can learn a lot from psychologists about how to write persuasive Facebook posts. In this post we are going to look at how to spread the word and get your message out there and generate action. What is more persuasive, facts or emotion? If you want to cut to the chase, I can tell you right now it is not facts.

Writing for social media

With so many messages flashing across our screens, getting people to stop, read and act is more and more difficult. If you want to improve your success rate, take into account how we humans think. A little understanding of the psychology of persuasion will help you write more successful posts.

The theory of persuasion.

Think of your beliefs – vaccines, food, health care, politics, religion, race. Where did they come from? On what is your knowledge based?

You probably mix with people with similar views. Right or wrong, true or false doesn’t come into to it. Because we don’t find out things for ourselves, we believe the people around us.

According to Cailin O’Conner, a philosopher and mathematician at University of California Urvine and co-author of the book “The mis-information age,” we are extremely dependent on the opinion and knowledge of other people.

Nearly every belief you have comes from another person. Just think about it. You don’t go out and prove things yourself, you take your facts from people you trust. This has been a natural safety mechanism from the times we lived in small social groups with terrifying things with huge teeth lurking around the corner.

We naturally gravitate to groups of people that have the same beliefs as ourselves. It used to be tribal, now it is digital.

Social trust drives our beliefs

Our beliefs were grounded in social trust. We have to decide what sources and what people we trust and therefore what beliefs we are going to take up because we just cannot go and verify everything that we learn directly, we have to trust the people that give us the information.

Whether this is the historian, the man from Nasa, your teacher, the lady that does your hair or company you buy your shoes from. It is trust that is the compelling factor.

We rely on people we trust to shape our beliefs. And trust is an emotional state.

Tally Sharat – professor at University college London. Author of the Influential Mind – what the brain reveals about our power to change others.

“Even with very persuasive facts and data – people will not believe you unless it is communicated in a way that taps into the consumer’s needs and desires,” she states.

For example, flying in planes can be scary. You know statistically that flying is a lot safer than driving a car but you are still scared when the plane hits some turbulence. The facts might help relieve some of your anxiety but not always.

Tally carried out an experiment with the idea of climate change. He chose two groups – one that believed and one that denied.

She found with both groups that when the statement confirmed what they already thought, this strengthened their beliefs but when it challenged them, they ignored it.

Confirmation bias

This is called confirmation bias, the tendency to take in data that confirms our prior convictions and ignore data that does not conform to what we already believe.

We try to distance ourselves from it. We say it is not credible – we try to reframe it to discredit it. We are by nature hesitant to believe new things.

She states that there are four factors that determine if we will change our beliefs.

  1. Our old belief
  2. Confidence in that belief
  3. New data
  4. Our confidence in that new piece of data.

The further away that new piece of data/info is away from your current belief, the less likely you are to change your belief. For that reason, false beliefs are very hard to change. Data and facts don’t work. What does that mean for companies, how do you make your writing persuasive?

What motivates people to act?

You can try scaring them – insurance companies do this all the time, alarm companies – even washing powders.

Tally says fear works in two situations.

  1. When people are already stressed out.
  2. Works when you are trying to get someone to not to do something. An in-action – ie not to vaccinate your child

Hope is a better motivator for inducing action.

She gives an example of a study in a hospital on the east coast. A camera was installed to see how often the medical staff sanitised their hands before entering a patient’s room. The staff knew there was a camera there but only 1 in 10 staff sanitised their hands before entering a room.

An electronic board was then installed above each door and it gave medical staff in real time, positive feedback. It showed the current percentage of staff that washed their hands in the current shift and weekly rate. A thumbs up message, “well done” was displayed.

The result was that the likelihood that they would sanitise their hands went up from 10% to 90% and stayed there.

Positive feedback worked rather than negative facts.

Emotions are more motivating than facts.

Emotion becomes very important to influence action.

If you are very sad and I tell you a joke, but I appear very happy, you will not perceive the joke in the same way that I do.

But if I can make you happy first and then tell you a joke you are more likely to perceive that joke in the same way that I do. So first get emotional states to match.

Being influential or ignored comes down to whether or not you can illicit an emotion. Can you tell a story, are you considering your reader’s state of mind when you are speaking to them? Are giving them data that confirms to their preconceived notions?

What has all that got to do with a Facebook post I hear you say.

Moral of the story – emotions sell harder than facts. Facts are your substantiation but emotions will drive a sale. Persuasive writing triggers emotions and builds empathy and trust. Once someone has bought into your brand, they will listen to what you have to say.

To find out more about writing techniques you can use to write your posts, click here.