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Nathalie Nahai – An Interview with The Web Psychologist

Submitted by on April 26, 2013 – 11:31 am |

webs of influenceThe next OMN London event taking place on the 2nd May is focusing on the topic of the psychology of sharing… I very, very pleased to announce that we’ll be having Nathalie Nahai, The Web Psychologist speaking. Nathalie has recently published her first book Webs of Influence – The psychology of online persuasion and I can’t wait to hear her talk on the night.

She’s got a limited number of books on special offer for OMN members that she’ll be signing on the night, so if you’re interested then head over to and order your copy to pick up on Thursday.

I thought that in order to set the stage for the evening it would be a good idea to set the scene a little so I asked Nathalie some questions about her research and insights into the mind of the online audience.

Firstly let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading your book, not only is the content very insightful, but it’s beautifully designed. It’s almost like what I imagine a book version of a website would look like. The subtitle of your book is ‘The secret strategies that make us click’ What secret strategies were you using to make me keep turning the pages?

Ha ha thanks, I’m delighted you enjoyed the book and the design – I’ve never worked so hard in all my life! I had to learn how to use Illustrator in a matter of days to get the whole book finished in time. In terms of page-turning strategies, I think the key elements were fairly simple – making the copy conversational, using case studies to make it real, and showing the reader how to use the principles him-/herself. My aim was really to communicate fairly abstract theory in a way that would be tangible and useful. And as with websites, writing a good book is always a question of balancing beautiful aesthetic with great content and functionality.

You start off getting deep into the actual structure of the brain itself, talking about the three main areas relating to arousal, emotion and reason respectively – why do you feel it’s important that marketers have an understanding of the biology of the brain?

I think that any profession whose success hinges on real people buying their services or products, should ALWAYS have a basic grounding in how the brain and the mind work. If you don’t understand what makes people click, how on earth are you supposed to sell to them?!

All online marketers are aware of the difficulty of persuading online users to let them into their digital journey, what would be your top most tip to grab the attentions of target audiences?

Give them something they’ll genuinely desire, value, and share. Easier said than done, but it all starts with understanding who your audience is, and what drives them. This is where experiments come in handy – you formulate a hypothesis, and then you test it using A/B split test, multivariate tests, surveys, etc. When you’ve got an indication of what they want, you roll it out and refine it as you go.

The book is divided into 3 topic areas: Know who you’re targeting, Communicate persuasively and Sell with integrity – Do you think, from a psychological point of view, that the previously fairly different mindsets of the marketer and the salesperson are now becoming more aligned in the new online environment?

Broadly yes, if only because social media has made us more accountable. However there are always people who will game the system, take advantage, and use persuasion techniques to manipulate and coerce. The main thing is that the shift seems to be towards a more transparent environment in which the emerging mindset of marketers and salespeople is one of integrity.

The event on the 2nd May is about what makes online users share content, I often draw comparisons with cavemen drawing on cave walls to share the location of game with others – is this actually a similar psychological phenomenon to liking something on Facebook or RTing a tweet?

Hmm. Good question. It depends on the content you’re sharing, and how you’re sharing it. Quantitatively, ‘liking’ 5 things on Facebook may amount to the same thing as emailing 5 things to your mates, but one requires more effort than the offer and should therefor be assigned greater value. As a rule of thumb, we either ‘share’ content instinctively through binary functions such as ‘likes’, RTs and Google+, or we share them richly, by curating, commenting and recommending them to our friends. I would argue that the two processes are fairly distinct and can tell us different things about the person doing the sharing.

What are the main psychological factors that marketers should be considering when creating content to ensure the maximum shareability of their content?

There are a whole host of factors, which split broadly into two areas: the type of content you share, and the profile of the user doing the sharing. The marketer needs to know which people to target (‘e-Mavens’) and what psychological tricks to use in their content to promote sharing. These can include principles such as loss aversion, making your content surprising, or creating something novel for people to pass on.

You talk a lot about influence in the final section. What is your definition of influence in the online sense?

I would define it as the ability to shape other people’s attitudes and behaviours online.

This book seems a long time overdue! If there are any, who are the other psychologists looking at web behaviour specifically you rate?

There are many researchers who are doing incredible work into different aspects of online persuasion and the broader field of behavioural sciences as a whole. My favourites include: Dianne Cyr, BJ Fogg, Clifford Nass, Sam Gosling, Colin Camerer, Robert Cialdini, and David Stillwell.

Do you have any plans for another book? If so, what topic are you going to move on to?

Maybe…! My literary agent is dropping hints and there seems to be a lot of interest in what the next book might hold. Possibly more of a practitioner manual drawing from The Lab experiments I’m setting up…

Thanks Nathalie… really looking forward to hearing you on Thursday!

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