Persuasive Web: Where Psychology Meets Conversion

DAY 16: Bloggers Persuade With Authority

Posted in Uncategorized by persuasiveweb on June 16, 2009


If a police officer stopped you in the street and told you to move because there was a parade about to begin, would you comply? What if a policeman said you matched the description of someone who was wanted for burglary, and that you should go with him to clear it up… would you go?

Most people in these situations obey without questioning. We see the uniform and never think to question the possibility that the policeman may not, in fact, be a policeman.

Then there is the story of the doctor who prescribed eardrops for a patient with an earache, but in his haste to attend to a more pressing emergency wrote on his pad, “Place in R ear” instead of “Place in right ear.” Guess where the patient received his eardrops? Obviously rectal treatment of an earache makes no sense at all, yet neither the patient nor the administering nurse questioned it. The fact that a legitimate authority gave the instructions completely clouded the common sense of another highly capable professional.

The dual effect of authority is that not only are we compelled to obey it, but we are not permitted to challenge it! This makes authority a very powerful persuasion principle.

How did that happen? It turns out that from a very young age we are trained to obey authority figures: first our parents, then teachers, policemen, managers and so on. Eventually our need to comply extends to anyone who seems to be our superior. We effectively divide the world into those who are superior to us (and who should be obeyed) and those who are inferior (and who should obey us!). We then make the critical error of equating superiority with authority.

Indicators of authority

What are the cues that tell us when someone else is in a position of authority?


Uniforms are overt symbols of authority. They show membership in and allegiance to specific groups. We typically associate uniforms with police and military forces, but we extend our belief to water inspectors, security guards, postmen, and more. Of course, less-than-honest individuals can take advantage of trusting folks by simply donning a uniform.


We assume that if someone is wealthy, then they must be successful. And if they are more successful than us, then they must somehow be superior to us. We hurry to help and obey those who seem richer than us, perhaps also in the hope that they will share some of their wealth or impart some wisdom that will help us attain what they have. Just like with uniforms, this is not the most difficult form of authority to ‘fake’.

Physical attributesschwarzenegger

Evolutionary programming tells us that, in general, a taller, stronger person could hurt us – so we tend to associate authority with taller men and women. It is also a fact that more executive positions are held by taller people. Interestingly, there is also a reciprocal effect at work here: we actually perceive people in positions of authority to be taller than they really are. Although it is an expression not often used today, ‘Walking tall’ is a reference to this aspect of authority.

Knowledge & experienceeinstein

With age come knowledge, experience, and wisdom (hopefully!), and although it’s not necessarily true of all cultures, authority is extended to people of more advanced years – especially in Asian societies. But age is not a pre-requisite for knowledge and experience; in fact, everyone has the ability to develop themselves as an authority by demonstrating their abilities to the people they wish to influence. Even the youngest player on a professional hockey team can still be team captain if he demonstrates the ability to lead and play to a consistently high level. Experts (i.e., people with significant experience) are typically authorities in their domains.

How can the authority principle be applied online?

It has become clear over the last few years that a very effective way to establish oneself as an authority on the Web is through blogging. And to be successful at blogging, one does not need a uniform, wealth, size, strength, or membership in the AARP. Blogging gives everyone an opportunity to establish their authority – by demonstrating expertise – on a topic, process, product, service, etc.

If you also happen to be in the business of selling online, blogging can pay off even more. Your ability to persuade site visitors increases with authority, so becoming a trusted authority through blogging can actually help you sell to your target audience.

Here are a few examples of bloggers who have established themselves as authorities in their respective areas – and who have translated blogging success into business success:

Danny Sullivan (Search engine expert)

Avinash Kaushik (Web analytics expert)

Bryan Eisenberg (Site conversion expert)

Mike Arrington (Silicon Valley start-up expert)

  • Blog: TechCrunch
  • Company: TechCrunch
  • Products or services: Research and reports about Internet companies and products

Lance Jones & Joanna Wiebe (Online persuasion experts)

If you want to set yourself apart as an expert and gain the authority needed to persuade people online, blogging is low-risk, high-reward endeavour – but it requires passion and a tremendous commitment in order to be truly effective. Just ask Joanna and me… writing the ’30 Days of Persuasion’ is turning into one of the most intense – and rewarding – periods in my life. My hat goes off to all the people who have made the commitment and continue to deliver week after week, month after month, and year after year.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: