Persuasive Web: Where Psychology Meets Conversion

DAY 27: Commitment, Consistency and Really Crappy Free Stuff

Posted in 30 Days of Persuasion by persuasiveweb on June 27, 2009


You and I’ve both noticed how much free stuff there is floating around the Internet. Free software. Free email accounts. Free [legal] music downloads. Free information — in the form of blogs, ebooks, podcasts and webinars. Free, free, free.

But have you noticed how crummy a lot of that free stuff is? There’s the really bad free: Free software downloads that come with free viruses. Free email that comes with free spam. Even free music lyrics that leave you with a screen full of free! annoying “smiley face” pop-ups. And there’s the less-bad free: Free ebooks that are pure fluff. Free music that’s interrupted with “Music now!” mid-way through the song. And free webinars that promise one thing and end up being about something quite different.


Webinars are great ways to share useful info worldwide... for free. But when they're empty, webinars can backfire.

I recently attended an hour-long webinar by David Meerman Scott (the uber-bright “New Rules of PR and Marketing” guy). It was called something like “Creating an Effective Social Media Strategy” — a timely, relevant topic pour moi, given that I was working on creating exactly that for the global division of Intuit. My colleague and I signed on to the webinar… and, after 10 minutes, we thought, K, this’ll get on topic soon. And then another 10 minutes passed. By the time 35 minutes had passed and we’d sat through a very general introduction to the power of social and how social can support PR and marketing initiatives, we decided to cut our losses.

We’d heard nothing of developing a social media strategy — not what to do, not why or how. We’d been taken in. Promised one thing, and delivered something else. We’d given up over an hour’s worth of combined time on, basically, nothing. Not cool.

When Free Goes Bad: Beggars CAN Be Choosers Today

I guess the idea with giving something away free is that people who take your free offering should just be happy with anything you give them. “Beggars can’t be choosers.” Kinduv an old idea, though, no? ‘Cos the thing is that ‘beggars’ using your freebies are, of course, potential customers. (You knew that! That’s why you were giving your stuff away to begin with, right?) The beggars on the phone for Meerman Scott’s webinar are people who might’ve purchased his books at minimum… or even advocated to invite the man to consult with their Fortune 500 companies. So why the lack of quality, on-topic content? Can’t ‘free’ be ‘great’???

So here’s the deal: If your webinar or ebook’s title promises something, the content had better deliver on it. When it doesn’t, we as consumers — even ‘free’ consumers — get offended. We shake our heads and say, “Why’d you waste my time like that?” — and what we really mean is, “Why did you make a commitment to deliver something, and then act inconsistently with that commitment?”


If (When!) Obama lives up to "Yes we can", there'll be relatively little persuasion work to be done for re-election. 🙂

It speaks to Cialdini’s “commitment and consistency” persuasion principle. If you want to persuade people, you should:

  1. Make a commitment to do something, and then
  2. Act consistently with that commitment

Acting consistently with what you promise — also called a high say:do ratio — builds trust in you. It emulates an ideal that society has reinforced since we were knee high to a grasshopper. If you say you’re going to do it, do it. People like it. And likeability is persuasive.

The Reverse: Persuade Users to Do What You Want by Asking Them to Make a Commitment

Just as people expect companies to act consistently with their commitments, so will people act consistently with the commitments they make. I mean, no, this isn’t always the case — if it was, no one would ever default on a loan, and no contractor would ever skip town before finishing the drywall in your basement. But, by and large, when you give people the opportunity to act consistently with what they’ve said/thought/felt, you will find them persuaded to do so.

What does that mean, practically speaking?

It means that when you want someone to give you a $25 donation, you say, “Will you please commit to a $25 donation to the SPCA?” rather than asking them simply to donate (e.g., “Please give to the SPCA”). It means that you ask the people who download your free plugin to rate your plugin 5 stars. Not just to rate it. But to rate it at 5 stars.

So here’s the trick: Write calls-to-action that closely mirror exactly what you want users to commit to doing, and see your conversion rates skyrocket. Avoid ambiguity. Instead, get right to the commitment you want them to make, and in doing so set expectations as to what they will be doing  to follow through on that commitment. Check out these examples.


Nature Canada


Long story short: Get your users to make a commitment, and they will be more likely to act consistently with that commitment. It’s all about commitment and consistency — for your users and for your company.


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One Response

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  1. Laundry Bag said, on December 1, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    when it comes to free email, i found gmail to be the best and yahoo the worst “,*

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