I recently had a conversation with the CEO of a university (we’ll call her Sarah), and she had a lot of marketing questions for me. But the question that struck me most is when she asked, “how do you influence people to do whatever you ask, without money?” There’re multiple answers to this question depending on the context. Are you looking for volunteers, ambassadors, or maybe you want people to buy your products? No matter the reason, there has to be some kind of reward attached, otherwise, trying to influence will be very difficult.

Secrets to Motivation

In order to influence, it’s good to know what naturally motivates people. This way you can avoid working double for lackluster results. According to BJ Fogg a behavior scientist at Harvard, there are three things that motivate behavior: pleasure, hope, and social acceptance. And there are three things people like to avoid: pain, fear, and rejection.

#5 The Heroes Call

To influence an action you first must identify a need. Does your target audience need help alleviating pain, fear, or rejection? Maybe they don’t have an obvious need, but internally desire pleasure, hope, or social acceptance.

For example, people didn’t know they needed Facebook, but the creator’s understood the human desire for social interaction and acceptance, so they created a platform to fulfill that need.

In the case of the university CEO, she wanted to know how to influence her staff to write articles and whitepapers for the universities website. She told me these people were experts in their field, and they had useful information that could help prospect students register for classes. 

Influencing her staff became a problem because there was no reward, only work. There were no bonuses being handed out, or no real incentive to take on such a tedious project. And if they did it once, how many more times would they be expected to comply?  These are scary thoughts for someone being asked a favor.

Time is valuable, and no one likes to waste it… So what’s the reward?

By using “the heroes call” Sarah’s staff can be compensated with affirmation, which is rooted in social acceptance. 

What good is it to be an expert if no one knows you’re an expert. Therefore, the heroes call is a call to be acknowledged as such. 

Have you ever created a post on Facebook or Twitter about a subject you were an expert on? Did you receive a good response? If so how did that make you feel? Probably good.

On the contrary, have you ever asked a question on social media, calling for an expert to respond? Were people more engaged? Probably so… Nonexperts even find it hard to resist answering the heroes call. People love having the answer. But what’s even more rewarding is being recognized for it.

So my advice to Sarah was this, “give them an audience.”

If I wanted to find an audience for myself, I can ask something like, “what’s your greatest marketing struggle?” I can even pull out an ad for this, or take it to the streets. I’ve done it before, and you’ll be surprised how many people will participate. What’s even more surprising is how willing they are to give their personal information for follow up. 

If Sarah can find a way to give her experts an audience, they’ll jump to the opportunity to show off their expertise.

In fact, I wasn’t paid anything for this advice, but I was more than happy to help Sarah out. The fact that a CEO of a large university was interested in hearing from me about marketing, was an honor in itself. I had to answer the heroes call.

#4 Foot in the door effect

I also told Sarah that she shouldn’t start by asking her staff to write articles and whitepapers. Initially, that sounds like a lot of work. You first have to ask people to do something small, and later they will be more willing to do something larger. This is called “the foot in the door effect”.

In 1966 psychologist studied this phenomenon by first asking people to put a small sticker in the window of their house or car. Later they asked the same group to put a much larger sign in their front yard. Those who responded positively to the first request were more likely to respond positively to the second, 135% more to be exact. But the majority of subjects that were asked to put the large sign in their front yard first, declined. This proves that you have a better chance to influencing people if you ask them to do something small first. 

Imagine if Facebook asked you to upload all your images and personal information at once… It would discourage you. Therefore, they prompt users to add content in increments by sending reminders and push notifications. Now after years of investment, you have a portfolio, photo album and collection of home videos. Facebook no longer has to ask you to post updates or share information, you do it willingly. This all started with your name and email address.

#3 Make it easy

A few years ago, when I thought of featuring a psychologist on my blog, I didn’t ask her to write a guest post for my website. I told her I had gotten a call from a family member with questions about dating (which is true), and wanted to know if I was giving him sound advice. We talked about it, and I asked her could I feature our conversation on my blog. She happily accepted. So I wrote down all my answers and emailed them to her. This turned into a beautiful article on my website co-written by a psychologist.

So if you want someone to do you a favor, make it easy for them.

#2 Make it a trend (network effects)

Testimonials, reviews, comments, likes, and shares are important when you want to influence a decision. “Everyone else likes it, so it must be good”. “Oprah uses it, so it’s probably the best”. This is called network effects. No one likes to be the odd one out, so if you can prove that others are on board, people will follow suit.

Steve Jobs did this when he was trying to get buy-in for iTunes. He had an idea to sell music online to help music industry execs compete with file sharing sites like Napster and MP3.com. His challenge was to persuade them to sell songs for $.99 opposed to $14 albums. The RIAA was afraid. But once Jobs got Warner Music and Universal to sign on, other companies soon followed.

In Sarah’s case, if she can get a few experts to start writing articles, the network effect will cause others to hop on board.

#1 Offer them what they can’t refuse

Now the easiest way to influence someone is to offer them what they can’t refuse. Most people make the mistake of giving people what they think they should have… Like your book, or your awesome pair of undergarments. Is this what people really want?

When Apple started selling the iPhone 1, they knew people would love it because they loved the iTouch. In contrast, Nokia sold flip phones and Blackberry continued to sell phones with qwerty keyboards. As a result, Apple stole 50% market share while Nokia and Blackberry fell below 1%. The two former giants had difficulties because they were forcing their products on their audience. It’s easier to sell what people want.

This is what makes the job of a telemarketer so difficult… Nobody wants their crap.

But if you build a relationship with your audience and began to understand their deep-rooted needs, you should have no problem coming up with a valuable solution.

So how can Sarah use this in her persuasion strategy? Easy! She can create some kind of rewards program to have one expert publicly acknowledged for their work with other incentives they can’t refuse. That’s why the Nobel Peace Prize is so coveted. This is another one for social acceptance.

Here you have my top 5 ways to influence people without money. There are many other ways to influence. But what it comes down to is knowing your audience and how to reward them.

If you have any questions about your industry, don’t hesitate to ask using the comment field below.