How to Influence Your Audience: Turning Scans Into Fans
“It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.” — Leonardo DaVinci
How's your traffic? Are your readers just briefly scanning your content, or do you have a tribe of stark raving fans? Which would you prefer?
In my last post we discussed how to use story elements to create content for your website.
Today, I’d like to expand on that idea a bit. Let’s begin by discussing the foundation of any good story… theme.
What is a Theme?
As previously discussed, any good story (or good content) requires several elements such as characters, plot, and so on. But stories also require a purpose, which in creative writing is known as a theme.
The theme is merely the central meaning of the story. In its most simple form, it is what the story is ultimately about.
There are hundreds of potential themes, but here are a few to get you started so you can get a feel for what a theme is:
- Good vs. Evil
- Coming of Age
- And so on...
What is the Theme of Your Content?
When you begin writing a piece of content, regardless of your niche, you should consider what the theme of that piece is. The real key to a solid theme is to try to keep themes as tight as possible.
For example, if you are writing a review of Wealthy Affiliate, you might talk about wealth (it’s in the name after all.) But you could just as easily write a review from the point of view (or "theme") of freedom from the rat race, or escaping from their current circumstances.
Naturally there will be some overlap in related themes, but you should try to focus on one primary theme and write everything from that perspective. It helps the reader stay on track; too many themes in one article can begin to confuse readers.
Communication Has Changed… We Didn’t
60 years ago families sat around the dinner table and talked about their day. Today, we’re lucky if we pass one another in the kitchen as we load up our plates and head to our respective rooms.
30 years ago mothers would spend hours on the phone talking to the neighbors and friends. Today we’re just happy if we get a text message.
Today theaters are being slowly replaced by streaming platforms. Television is slowly being replaced by YouTube. Radio has all but been replaced by podcasts. Print is practically dead with the advent of ebooks and blogs.
But do you know what hasn’t really changed? You and me.
Sure, communication is much faster today with everything practically available at the click of a mouse. Yet human psychology hasn’t changed since the days of running from saber-tooth tigers.
When creating content, consider your potential audience and what forms of communication they prefer.
For example, if your target audience is more aged folks like me, they may have declining eyesight and experience trouble reading online. Perhaps they may prefer a podcast or audio post.
If your target audience is of the younger, hipper crowd, they may actually prefer shorter content via social media.
Once you have decided on which theme your content will be about, and you have decided on the medium you intend on using, the next step is to explore various cognitive prompts that work best within that particular theme.
And don’t let the fancyspeak worry you. A “cognitive prompt” is just a gaudy university way to say the psychological triggers that human beings respond to. (I’ve noticed that professors always seem to try to use words and phrases that make them feel smarter than us mere mortals.)
First things first: the goal here is to persuade or influence your reader to make a positive decision for their life. It is not — I repeat, NOT — to manipulate them into making a bad decision just so you can make a dollar.
If your content comes across like a chain-smoking, plaid blazer wearing used-car salesman from 1972 (”I’d like to open your door. I’d like to be your friend”), then I promise your readers will hit the back button in a nanosecond and never come back.
Approach your content ethically, however, and you will build an audience loyal for life. Ethical persuasion is about adding value to your reader’s life.
Here is a list of the major cognitive prompts:
“A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.” ― Robert B. Cialdini
In his seminal work, Influence, Robert Cialdini shares the idea of reciprocity. Essentially, when someone does something nice for us -- without asking for anything back, by the way -- then we feel compelled to want to return the favor.
This works better when you provide a reason for the favor (even if that reason doesn't make any logical sense.)
What can you offer your readers for free that provides value and may trigger their feelings of reciprocity?
One of our most basic survival instincts is the idea of belonging. We’re social creatures at heart; thus, most people prefer to be in some type of group. We all know that.
What you may not know is that beyond just belonging to a group, most people want to belong to a “special” group. We want to be part of the inner-circle, so to speak, that makes us feel a bit better than others.
What makes your readers special? What can you offer a prospective member that makes them feel part of an elite group?
One of the most powerful prompts is what I call the “me, too”. For our purposes, think of it like this…
People will not respond to your content, and certainly will not purchase anything from your links, unless they believe “me, too.” In other words, if you are promoting making money online, losing weight, or beating an addiction, the reader has to believe they can do it, too.
Your reader may read your “success” stories and be mildly inspired; but, unless they are truly convinced that they can achieve the same level of success, they won’t budge.
This requires two changes to their belief system:
First, they must believe in you and your offer. This comes down to trust, which is why building an audience first before you add a ton of affiliate links to your site is emphasized so much here at WA.
Second, you must find a way to help them believe in themselves. Now, this sounds more difficult since you don’t know them on a personal level, but stick around to the end and I will share the number one, absolute best way I have found to help someone believe in themselves almost immediately. :-)
Here’s where our psychology can get a bit wacky. The “I’m Unique” prompt is the direct opposite of the Me, Too, but it is just as powerful.
For instance, your reader may want to belong to the Marvel Fan Club (because, I mean, who wouldn’t, right?), but they don’t want to be like everyone else who likes Iron Man or Thor. No, no… they are a Hawkeye fan. They’re unique.
What makes you or your products unique? What separates you from your competition? What makes your content worth consuming in the first place?
And speaking of Marvel…
Marvel. Amazement. Wonder. Astonishment. Regardless of what you call it, we all desire to be filled with awe.
The best way I have found to create marvel and wonder is to simply create curiosity. This is why you may have noticed that many of my headlines are posed as a question.
By triggering your reader's curiosity with a question or statement, you will draw them into the content. You should then continue creating curiosity with your subheadings, and even the content itself.
What can you offer that creates a sense of curiosity and marvel in your reader?
On sale. Limited time. Limited quantities. Now or never. Soon to be gone forever.
One of the most fundamental “laws” of sales is creating as sense of urgency. Selling is about creating desire. But without urgency, the sense of desire wanes. After all, if I can get it any time, why do I need to bother right now?
What things can you do within your content to create a sense of urgency for your reader causing them to take action immediately?
I Want It… Badly
Notice the key word in this prompt: want. It is not “need”.
Your reader might need a new car to get them back and forth to work. What they want, however, is a new BMW.
They might need a new $300 mattress from Costco. What they want is that $7000 luxury mattress that they slept on at the Hilton last weekend.
Need is about survival. Want is about feeling.
The key for turning needs into desires is the language you use. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details.
We’ve discussed this topic before when discussing creative writing.
Instead of saying, “I ate my dinner at the kitchen table,” you say,
“Sitting at the long oak table, the warm sun shining through the kitchen window, I stirred the fluffy scrambled eggs with my fork. Dreaming about what was to come later when my partner and I got to the beach, I thought about the hot sand between my toes, the sweet salt air in my lungs, and the soothing sound of seagulls and crashing waves all around me.”
You can almost smell, feel, taste, touch, and hear it, can't you? That's the key. Try to engage all of their senses.
What details can you include in your content that changes a reader’s needs into desires?
Make Me Laugh
Okay, technically this prompt doesn’t need to be about humor, per se, but it definitely needs to be about enjoyment.
Let’s face it. If your reader is bored, they won’t stick around. Give them a lesson to learn. A story to ponder. Or, yes, even a joke or two to laugh at. Just keep them entertained.
What can you add to your content that entertains the reader as well as educates them?
As you can see, there are myriads of ways to engage your readers and influence them to improve their lives. And you don't need to use all of them all the time. Even one or two of the above prompts will dramatically improve your content. And that's what it's all about, right?
Please share a few answers to the prompt questions above and let us know how you engage your readers.
Thanks, and as always, keep writing.
P.S. Thanks for sticking around. As a reward, here is the tip I promised earlier. It ties into the DaVinci quote at the beginning...
The fastest and easiest way I have discovered for helping someone to believe in themselves is to give them what I call a “quick win”. This is a simple tip that they can apply immediately and quickly achieve a result.
For instance, if you were teaching photography to beginners, you might share how they can frame an image using the rule-of-thirds that easily and instantly improves how their images look.
Once they have successfully completed the quick win, they will be much more likely to believe they can do everything else you suggest, even if it seems difficult or impossible in the beginning.
Consider this: every straight A student in Calculus began with 2+2. :-)
What quick win tip can you share with your readers?