Authority is one of Robert Cialdini’s 6 principles of persuasion from his book Influence. People respect authority; they take advice from experts, and are influenced by business titles, expensive clothing and even luxury cars. Even the appearance of authority often increases the likelihood that people will adhere to advice or requests.
Brain Massey (see above), from Conversion Sciences, uses a white coat to project an image of expertise. Many companies now use white papers and guides to demonstrate their knowledge on a subject to improve their conversion rate. Awards and testimonials are a powerful way of communicating authority and should be used as part of a conversion rate optimisation strategy.
Authority can come from a number of sources including:
- Position: A person’s position such as a business owner or teacher can give them authority to undertake certain activities because of rules and regulations. This also creates power and authority over people they supervise, employ or instruct. Businesses can position themselves in a number of ways including demonstrating their credentials to operate in a market (e.g. Established since), being the market leader or the first to introduce a new innovation to the market.
- Resources: Where someone has control over resources, even seemingly unimportant items such as stationery, this creates a certain amount of dependency and control. Ownership of scarce resources in particular can give a person a great deal of power and authority because people value scarce items above that of things that are more common. Organisational size or characteristics (e.g. market coverage) can be used to demonstrate control of important resources to position the brand as having an advantage over competitors (e.g. offers greater choice of games than others).
- Social connections: Authority often comes from who you know rather than what you now. Our level of authority can be greatly increased through our ability to demonstrate or activate support from a large and influential social network. Social proof, such as testimonials or likes can provide evidence of how popular the site or product is.
- Expertise: Professional or technical knowledge and expertise can give people greater authority than those without such skills. People have a tendency to respect and listen to individuals who they believe have superior and professional expertise in an area they lack skills in. Awards, logos of established partners and professional bodies can be used here.
- Information: Information is power can still be true and people who control knowledge can act as gatekeepers and exert power via their ability to restrict such information. A blog with well known and expert writers can enhance how your website is perceived.
- Characteristics: People who act with confidence, have charisma and are respected by others can more easily establish authority over others than people who do not have these kind of personality traits. First impressions matter and so ensure your site looks professional and is well designed. Celebrity endorsements are also a powerful way of using the characteristics and popularity of well-known people to establish influence over visitors. Your brand can benefit from the reputation and credibility of a celebrity. However, there is also a risk to your brand if the individual’s behaviour or communications do not align with your brand values.
Authority can be a powerful form of influence because people will often respond to directions from someone in authority without even thinking. This is because of our brain’s over-reliance on System 1. This is our fast, automatic mind which makes most of our daily decisions. However, ensure you provide clear evidence of your authority and be careful not to over-claim as this can backfire if customers believe you are misleading them.
Heuristic evaluation – How to undertake a heuristic evaluation of a website.
Framework for heuristic evaluation – Lift Model framework for heuristic evaluation.
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