Cialdini’s 7 principles of persuasion applied to websites, web shops and social media

Online Marketing

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Every day we make more than 30,000 decisions! Did you know that 95% of these are made on autopilot? This means that we make decisions without really thinking about them. All of these choices are influenced by a variety of internal and external factors. According to American psychologist Robert Cialdini, there are 7 principles of persuasion that play a huge role when we make “unconscious” choices.

What are Cialdini’s 7 principles of persuasion?

Naturally, you are heartily curious about Cialdini’s 7 principles of persuasion. They are these: reciprocity, scarcity, authority, commitment and consistency, sympathy, social affirmation and unity. These 7 principles of persuasion can all be applied in our everyday lives: in stores, at work and at home. But did you know that these principles can also be very well used in the world of online marketing? In this blog we will tell you what Cialdini’s 7 principles of persuasion are, how to recognize them and how to apply them to your website, webshop or social media account.

Who is Cialdini?

Robert Cialdini is a former professor of psychology and marketing. He has taught at two major American universities: Arizona State and Stanford. Cialdini is known worldwide for the book Influence: the Six Secrets of Persuasion. The book describes the six (scientifically proven) principles of persuasion. In 2016, he wrote an updated version of his book, to which the seventh principle was added.

The 7 principles of Cialdini

Like Robert Cialdini, we believe that anyone can learn how to influence another person in an ethical way!

Principle 1: Reciprocity

‘One good turn deserves another’ is a well-known Dutch saying. When you know you are getting something from another person, you are more likely to give them something in return. Conversely, of course, this also applies! When you treat your employees well, they will perform their jobs well. Are you buying a birthday gift for a distant uncle or aunt? Then they will do the same for you when you turn another year older.

This first of the 7 principles of persuasion is so strong, that it almost feels like an obligation!

As an entrepreneur, you can apply this phenomenon well to all your online platforms. Offer something free and/or valuable to visitors to your site or social media account. This will make them more likely to take action and buy something from you!

Examples to use the principle of reciprocity on your online platform:

  • Offer valuable content, such as an e-book or an exclusive PDF file.
  • Offer a free service or product.
  • Give a discount when someone signs up for a newsletter or email list.
  • Add a free gift to the order.

pop-up on Seepje's website. Elaboration of the principle of reciprocity.


The principle of reciprocity encourages the benevolence of your visitors to do something in return. When you apply any of these ideas, the visitor will subconsciously feel that they owe you something.

Principle 2: Scarcity

Have you ever heard of FOMO? This Fear of Missing Out occurs when you experience social pressure to have to do something. The influence principle scarcity plays fantastically into this. People place enormous value on things that are hard to come by. Companies like Booking.com know this like the best. As you scroll through this app, you constantly see notifications such as “Only 1 more room at this price on our site.” On the Vakantieveilingen.nl website, you are enticed into action by the countdown timers.

People get greedy when they get the idea that they will miss out on a product or deal. As an online business, you can be very responsive to this.

Examples to use the principle of scarcity on your online platform:

  • Offer free shipping for fast decision makers.
  • Use terms like “gone=out.”
  • List real time inventories on product pages.
  • Offer daily promotions, where you can cleverly use a countdown timer.

Generating a sense of scarcity encourages visitors to your online platforms to take quick(er) action.

Note! It is important to act ethically when applying this principle. Don’t lie about your supplies and have actions actually expire when the timer runs out. Are you not doing this? Then visitors lose confidence in you and your company.

Principle 3: Authority

“He’s a doctor, so he must be right,” “She specializes in graphic web design, so it’s all right.” Whether we consciously choose it or not, we often prefer the opinion of experts. From an early age we are taught that certain people have authority: think of your old school teacher or the neighborhood cop.

As an entrepreneur, you can also make sure you have authority. When you achieve this status, people will accept things from you more and more easily.

Examples to use the principle of authority on your online platform:

  • Display nominations or awards won in the bio’s of your social media accounts and in the footer of your website.
  • Show that you are affiliated with a seal of approval.
  • Provide a reliable, fast and responsive site.
  • Write blogs and articles about your specialties and show how far your knowledge extends.
  • Take advantage of influencer marketing.
  • Appear high in search results by employing a good SEO strategy.

Screenshot from Moyee Coffee. Elaboration of the principle of authority.

Build status and in no time people will take your word for it. After all, you are the specialist! It is very important not to abuse your authority. Be honest with your customers so that trust can be built.

Principle 4: Commitment and consistency.

Yes, yes, yes, yes.” The more enthusiastic people are about something, the more often they simply say “yes. The influencing principle of commitment and consistency is all about getting a person excited and holding their attention. It is the path to building a group of loyal customers.

This is a process of small steps. Ask for something low-key first. As a result, people are more likely to give in and then remain loyal. You can apply this principle very well online as well.

Examples to use the principle of commitment and consistency on your online platform:

  • Does a customer order something from you? Then ask for a limited amount of information, consider just a name, e-mail address and address.
  • Do you acquire customers by sending emails? Then don’t ask them to call you right away. Simply ask if they are interested.
  • Make use of a newsletter.

Screenshot of Dopper. Elaboration of the principle of commitment and consistency.

Make sure a (potential) customer only has to perform simple actions. As a result, he or she is more likely to actually do so. When loyalty develops, the customer will (voluntarily) want to do much more for you and your company!

Principle 5: Sympathy

One of the most used principle out of the 7 principles of persuasion is sympathy. “I trust her, she’s always so nice!” When you like someone, you unconsciously believe that person faster than when you dislike a person. Persons for whom we feel sympathy, we often also favor more. We would rather buy bread from the friendly and good-humored baker a little further from home than from the grumpy vendor on the corner.

Robert Cialdini, in his book, lists four factors that create more likability:

  • Physical attractiveness. Handsome people are often more likely to be found sympathetic.
  • Contact and collaboration. The better you know someone, the more sympathy you have for them.
  • Similarity. We are often more likely to find people who look like us nice and likable.
  • Compliments. People appreciate it when you compliment them.

Not only do we prefer to choose the sympathetic person in our offline lives, but we also do so on the Internet.

Examples to use the principle of sympathy on your online platform:

  • Provide an appealing “about us” page on your website/webshop. Use good photos of the staff and have everyone write a personal piece. Make sure the target audience gets to know you!
  • Address the target audience in the language they speak and understand.
  • Make sure the target audience can get to know the company. This can be done, for example, by providing a behind-the-scenes look at social media accounts.
  • Provide good, friendly and helpful customer service.

Screenshot of Gaia Digital's "about us" page. Elaboration of the principle of sympathy.

Make sure the target audience knows who you are, involve them in your business and build sympathy this way. In the end, your (potential) customers will trust you and grant you much.

Principle 6: Social affirmation

“If Pete jumps into the ditch, will you do the same?” Humans are huge herd animals and allow themselves to be hugely influenced by the behavior or opinions of others in most situations. When you’re looking for a cozy restaurant, chances are you look at other people’s reviews first. Are you looking for a good plumber? Then you probably first ask family or friends if they know of a good company. This social persuasion also plays a big role online.

A site like Bol.com is a great example. They convince you to buy certain products by adding reviews from other buyers to their product pages. You too can apply the principle of social affirmation to your web shop, website or other online platform.

Screenshot from Bol.com. Elaboration of the principle of social affirmation.

Examples to use the principle of social affirmation on your online platform:

  • Show reviews (Google reviews, reviews, testimonials, etc.).
  • Let visitors know who has gone before them (“This product has been sold 200 times,” “Already 3,000 self-employed people receive this newsletter,” “50 others have gone before you!” etc.).
  • Display lists (“Top 10,” “Most Bought,” etc.).

By showing visitors to your online platforms that others are very satisfied with your products and/or services, they are more likely to follow the group and take action.

Principle 7: Unity

Finally, the last of the 7 principles of persuasion. Not you and me, but “we”! People like to belong to a group. We are more easily influenced by someone who evokes a sense of belonging. For example, you’re probably more likely to say “yes” to your parents than to the neighbors. After all, your mom and dad are part of the “family” group. Other forms of unity include a shared cultural background or nationality, age, values or a shared hobby.

As an online business owner, you can capitalize on this sense of unity by creating a “together feeling. But how exactly do you do this?

Examples to use the principle of unity on your online platform:

  • Let your customers join an exclusive club or VIP program.
  • Share stories from your community.
  • Show what you are accomplishing together with your clients. Does a percentage of every purchase go to charity? Then share on social media how much you donated with the help of your customers.

Screenshot from H&M. Elaboration of the principle of unity.

By applying one or more of Cialdini’s 7 principles of persuasion, you can increase the conversion rate on your website, web shop or other online platform. Turn visitors into (repeat) customers or followers! It is important to ask yourself what principles are a good fit for your business. Engage with these influencing principles and discover what has the most impact. Good luck!

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