Let’s be honest. Most content stinks. It’s not particularly useful, fun to read or compelling to it’s target audience. It doesn’t persuade anybody. But should it? Does persuasion really matter?
I know how I feel when people talk about persuasion and it’s not good. My first reaction is to think of selling or convincing. Persuasion, however, isn’t about being president of the debate club. It’s about expanding your influence. Those two things are very different. You can expand your influence without making an argument of any kind.
If you thought I was about to coach you on making stronger arguments, that would make sense, because most talk about persuasion is about arguments– fundamentally, though, persuasion isn’t even about words. Never has been.
So don’t go writing a long form ad for your product, service, or point of view. I won’t read it. And I’m not the only one. Wait… isn’t content marketing the thing that’s supposed to save us from ads? Well, that’s the idea, it’s just that words and arguments can’t do that. Only actual engagement can.
It doesn’t matter if you have lists of reasons. Reasons don’t make you influential. Reasons don’t change minds.
Written Content is Easy, but Words aren’t the Cues We Read Best
Imagine meeting up with friends for drinks, bouncing ideas off a mentor you really respect, or attending a conference of experts who you try to emulate in your work. How do experiences like that make you feel? What do you remember?
We humans, we’re built for that kind of stuff– reading the cues of those around us. When we meet in person, talk, listen and exchange ideas and information with each other, our brains light up in ways that reading words can’t accomplish. Just because we can publish unlimited online content, doesn’t mean we should. Writing is a flawed way of communicating. It just so happens that it’s super easy to do.
When we listen to people we perceive as experts, our brains engage in something called semantic elaboration. In very simple terms, we naturally try to process and remember what experts say. Not because of what they’re arguing but because of who they are.
When we see others looking friendly, hear a welcoming tone of voice, or pick up on cues about their authority, we tune in. We can’t really help it. We’re wired to make connections with other people we like.
In fact, we empathize with other people, just because they are people. Our brains have what are called “mirror cells” which literally create shared experiences between us. How we feel and learn about things because other people around us have already felt and learned those things for us might be the single biggest reason why the human race has achieved all that it has. Don’t take it from me. V.S. Ramachadran is an expert on the subject.
Persuasion Isn’t About Making an Argument. It’s about Making a Connection
We aren’t computers, we’re social creatures. Intellectual processing is extraordinarily slow compared to the sensory processing we do when we see and hear things that evoke strong feelings. You don’t choose to make your mirror neurons fire– they just do.
And so it is with most aspects of persuasion. We don’t choose to tune in to voices of authority, for example. We’re trying to do what’s best for us. That’s all. Persuasion is about connecting with others in a way that they feel that connection is good for them.
Nathalie Nahai, author, speaker and consultant who’s known as The Web Psychologist, has a whole lot of practical advice to share about how exactly you go about achieving online success through persuasion. She’s got a handy intro to it in the video below, as part of Moz.com’s highly valuable Whiteboard Friday Series.
If there is just one takeaway… OK, I can’t keep it to one… If there are just THREE things you remember from this article and these videos, it should be that:
- Persuasion isn’t really about words. It works on a much deeper (and faster) level.
- To know how to communicate with your target audience, you have to know exactly who they are.
- If you have people’s best interests in mind, and they also believe you do, then you can be genuinely persuasive.
So let me ask you again: Did you change any minds today? How might you change your site, your online presence or your approach to content so that you can tomorrow?