Simplicity vs. consistent behavior (influence)

I just completed writing an e-mail to dr. BJ Fogg with a CC to dr. Bob Cialdini which I would like to share with you. It is a question that came to mind when looking at the webcast of BJ Fogg where he explains the concept of simplicity. I hope to receive response soon and share this with you guys.

Hello BJ,

I enjoyed reading your weblog and looking at your webcast on simplicity at As a media psychologist, I have spent the past few years looking into influence through mediated communication. I started out by applying Bob Cialdini’s PoP’s for use within social media environments. Bob thought I did a good job when I met him a few month ago on his European ‘tour’. Now, when looking at captology, I see a lot of similarities but also a few questions come to mind.

The most obvious one for me I will describe below.

According to the PoP’s, in particular commitment & consistency, people want to show conistent behavior, act in accordance with previous actions or even in accordance with a label given to them by a third party (“you seem like a person who ….”). In short, when someone says A he or she will be more likely to say B than when asking for B without A. Bob states that this principle has more effect when the A action is public, written and/or requires a certain amount of effort.

The effort is where I see the two theories overlapping. From a captology point of view, you state the the ‘Ability’ to do something consists (amongst others) from the actual or perceived simplicity. Yet, when we want to influence someone to show consistent behaviour in the future, we want to make sure that action A will require a certain amout of effort.

For instance, clicking a Facebook ‘Like’ button. It is written (or at least captures), public (the public are friends, even stronger, see ‘sympathy’) but doesn’t require a lot of effort. When looking at captology it seems a perfect interface. Doesn’t cost time, money, physical effort, brain cycles, isn’t social deviant (at least, that’s the presumption at this point) and probably routine. If we want to use this ‘like’ action in the future to influence these people into complying with a similar (but more demanding) request, the ‘like’ button probably doesn’t take enough effort to trigger commitment & consistent behavior.

Now for the question: What do you think, if any, would be the part of ‘simplicity’ that is best made ‘less simple’ in a task (A) in order to appeal to a sense of consistent behavior in the future when confronted with a request (B), without putting up too much of a treshold for the subject to perform the task?

Pretty complicated question, hope you understand. Maybe Bob has some thoughts on it as well?

Anyways, thanks in advance for your time and effort reading my question, hope you can ‘shine a light’ on it. I realize this will probably not be scientifically proven or researched, but I’m looking for an expert opinion and you seem like someone willing to help a fellow social scientist in combining theories.


Mischa Coster

UPDATE 2010-12-14: Also sent a concrete example to BJ for clarification of the question:

Situation: A political party wants all their twitter followers to enable a green border around their avatar/profile picture to show support for their green cause. The call upon the twitter community to go to a website where you can modify your avator using overlays.

Influence: They want to use Cialdini’s principle of Commitment and Consistency so that their request for this small action now will result in more compliance with a bigger request in the future (vote for them, participate in online discussion, you name it).

Simplicity: According to your behavior model, their target group must be motivated (check; they follow the political party so their motivation is probably intrinsic), able (simplicity) and ‘hot-triggered’ (the request of the party). Let’s presume the hot trigger is attractive enough to trigger behavior. What remains now is simplicity. And here the subtle balance between little and just enough effort comes into play.

You want the action to be simple enough for them to perform when presented with the hot trigger. Yet, for the commitment and consistency to work, the action must require just enough effort for a sense of commitment to be triggered in the future. Cialdini states that the more public, written and ‘effort’ the first action, the more likely they are to comply with a bigger, future request.

So, what part of simplicity do you think you could easily be made ‘less simple’ in order for people to still act? It has to be something that they will perceive as an investment for the sake of commitment, but not enough effort to NOT do it. For instance, low time, low money, low social deviance, low physical effort but moderate brain cycles and moderate non-routine? What would be the best ‘simplicity profile’ for this purpose?

UPDATE 2010-12-30: BJ replies that in his experience it is better to always take ‘baby steps’ in order to move people down a conversion tunnel. He doesn’t see any advantage for making the behavior difficult in order to invoke commitment/consistency.