Understanding the Secrets of Persuasion

For decades, social scientists have developed theories that explain the secrets of persuasion. The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) helps organize the theories and decide when to apply certain ones. “Elaboration” refers to the thoughts we have in response to the persuader. “Likelihood” is the probability of us doing any thinking at all, which increases when a message seems more personally relevant.

Jesse Scinto (’12SPS, Strategic Communication), Fulbright U.S. Scholar and lecturer for the Programs in Strategic Communication at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies, devised an easier way to visualize and use the ELM: The Message Strategy Matrix. “It helps practitioners segment audiences based on involvement and gives suggestions for persuasive approaches,” he says.

The matrix consist of two dimensions: involvement and predisposition. The first measures how motivated the audience is to think about a message, and the second determines if their attitudes are favorable or unfavorable. The matrix is divided into four sections:

  1. Attentive listeners are audiences who are motivated to pay attention to your message, because it seems important and personally relevant.

  2. Wild card in favor are people who are favorably predisposed but not terribly concerned with the decision—either because it doesn’t seem important or because the question is already settled in their minds.

  3. Wild card against is like the “wild card in favors,” except they default to the opposing side.

  4. Tough crowd are the hardest opponents to persuade. If you make a good argument, they come back with counter-arguments. If you present facts, they respond with alternative facts. Appealing to tough crowds means carefully selecting your starting point to avoid immediate rejection.

Read the full story at Stanford Social Innovation Review and learn more about the Programs in Strategic Communication at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies.