Yes! – Influence, Persuasion and Libraries

I finally had the opportunity to read “Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive” by Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin, and Robert B. Cialdini (2008, Free Press). I had been lucky enough to have an introduction to Cialdini’s research on influence through the work of my SJSU-QUT Gateway PhD colleagues Cheryl Stenström and Maria Otero-Boisvert who used his work as the theoretical framework for their dissertation research on funding decisions in public and academic libraries (I will include posts on their research in the future). The book was heavily informed by research but was written to be accessible and applicable to practitioners. Research on influence should be read by all librarians regardless of their rank within the institution. Whether you are trying to get people to attend your library information literacy sessions, convince your manager to allow you to modify a procedure, or persuade a city council to allocate more funding to your library system, you need to understand persuasion and what strategies will help you influence others.

I have selected three influence tips from this book and outlined them below. Each strategy is followed by a section called “Library Application” where the advice is applied to library settings. As the title indicated there are 47 additional persuasion techniques included in the book which are not discussed here.

Social Proof

People are more influenced by the behaviour of others around them than they tend to admit. Providing testimonials or statistics showing that people who are “like” your target audience have performed a certain action can help you to convince your audience to do the same. Be careful, however, of providing negative social proof – or demonstrating the prevalence of negative or undesirable behaviour in crafting your message. Also be aware that people will tend to gravitate toward “average” behaviour for their social group, so if you have someone who is doing more than you would like, telling them that they are above average may actually lead them to decrease their efforts. Focus on showing them appreciation instead.

Library Application:

When you are trying to convince people to use the library, focus your communications on how people like them are using your services. This is where your market research and knowledge of market segments becomes very important. If you want to get children to read, then focus your messaging on convincing them to join others in their school or age group in obtaining reading goals (for example, “Last summer students from your school read over 10,000 books through our summer reading program”).

Place Value on What You Are Offering (Ideally from Your Audience’s Perspective)

When people are offered products for free they tend to develop lowered perceptions of their value. Even if you don’t have a dollar value to ascribe to a product or service, you can still link it with a benefit such as time saved or quality of results achieved for the audience.

Library Application:

Libraries tend to offer goods and services to their communities free of charge which can lead their customers to believe that these items are free. We as librarians know that there are actually a lot of expenses involved in offering quality library services. Many of the tools offered by libraries, like research databases or electronic journal subscriptions, would be well out of the price range of the average person (for any non-librarians reading this blog some of the products that libraries purchase for you to access online cost more than a car and some cost more than a house). Some libraries have developed return on investment and return on value calculators that they have used to explain to library users how much value they are receiving per dollar spent in the library. If you can’t offer dollar values for items, you can certainly highlight the benefits that your help provided (the research that the library offered helped a client to finish an important report / publish an article / write a funding proposal / decide which car to buy / etc., etc., etc.)

Personalize Whenever Possible

People recognize when someone undertakes extra effort on their behalf and provides a personal touch. The example provided in this book was included a hand written post-it note on requests. They found that the more personalized a request, the more likely it is that someone is going to agree to that request.

Library Application:

For people working in small libraries, whether they are in special, public, academic, or school settings, we have the opportunity to build personal relationships with our clients. These relationships are strengthened by every personalized interaction that we undertake. Knowing your clients means that you may be able to proactively provide them with information that you think they might need (for example, if you know that a research is interested in a particular topic, you could send them a copy of any articles that you find on that topic before they even request them from you). If you are at a larger library where you don’t have an opportunity to learn peoples’ preferences and interests over time, you can try to learn as much about them as possible during your reference interview. This doesn’t necessarily mean probing them for details about their personal lives. If you are providing reader’s advisory services, you should try to ask the client about books or authors that they have enjoyed reading in the past and tailor your recommendations to suite their taste. We don’t always have the opportunity to offer handwritten notes to library users, especially with more automated circulation procedures, but social media offers us the opportunity to take the time to offer personal responses and to thank those who have taken the time to chat with us.

Featured image by Antti T. Nissinen

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