In the experiment described above from Freedman and Fraser, some of the participants put a sign in their car window. Their commitment (to driving carefully) was a public commitment. The more public a commitment people make, the stronger the influence that action has on future actions. The more public a commitment that people make, the stronger the persona change will be.
When we take an action that only we know about, we aren’t showing our commitment. When we’re not showing our commitment, there will be less long-term persona change than when we take an action that others see.
When the people in the Freedman experiment posted a sign in their yard or put a sticker in their car window, they were making a public commitment. Public commitments lead to stronger and faster persona change.
How to Get Public Commitment
Besides asking people to put signs up in their front yards, how can you get people to make a public commitment, and by doing so, make it more likely that they’ll take even more action?
If someone has made any commitment at all to your organization, company, product, or service, you can strengthen that commitment by asking them to make a more public show of support.
As an example, let’s say that you run a hotel chain. When customers stay at your hotel you send them a survey to fill out. This survey is a form of public commitment. If they rate your hotel well, then they have made a public commitment. Be sure to ask as one of the questions how likely they will be to stay at your hotel again. A survey can be a way for you to get data and feedback about your products and services, but it’s also a way to get people to publicly commit.
You can even send a survey to people who are not yet customers or associated with your organization. If you ask them about their perceptions of your organization, products, or services, and they indicate positive responses, then they have just committed publicly and will be more open to dealing with you in the future.
The more public the commitment, the more it will stick—and the more it will affect your audience’s current and future behavior. Asking your audience to complete an anonymous survey is better than getting no commitment at all, but asking them for a testimonial or recommendation, or asking them to write a review that is posted online, earns an even stronger show of commitment from your audience.
When people give a recommendation, testimonial, or write a review, they are saying, “I am a person who believes in this product,” or “I am a person who donates to this organization,” or “I am a person who buys from this company.”
Reviews act on others as a form of social validation (see Chapter 2, “The Need To Belong”), but they also act on the self as a form of commitment. If we write a positive review, we’ll then want to stay consistent, and that means we’ll take more action to interact with the site, the company, the organization. If you want to build commitment to your brand, your company, or a product, then make sure you give visitors the opportunity to write a review.
Don’t Pay People to Commit
Robert Cialdini (Cialdini 2006) reports that if a public commitment is not “owned” by a person but is instead made in order to gain a large reward, the individual is not deeply committed and will not show deep commitment in future behavior. If we believe that we have voluntarily chosen to act in a certain way because of our inner beliefs rather than strong outside pressures, we feel more committed. A large reward, for example, may lead us to act, but it will not create inner responsibility for the action and we won’t feel committed.