Social cues, social responses, humans know when a computer is engaging them

This research paper from Nokia Research Center, Stanford, and Queens University implies that humans can ascertain with an uncanny degree of certainty when a social message is sent from a computer versus a human. Social responses to communication technologies theory (SRCT)  predicts that humans cannot reliably ascertain such nuances. This research contradicts this premise.

The research team, using prior research in SRCT theories, tested whether humans could discern whether a text message was sent via a human or computer when flattery was an element of the message. They found that humans reliably discern the originator of the message apparently because certain social cues were missing in the computer-generated messages.

Why this is relevant research: SRCT theories could be used by software designers to create computer programs to engage social network users with the goal of getting them to increase self-disclosure under the guise of an interaction seemingly being conducted with a human. With the FTC recently considering allowing people to opt-out of behavioral targeting on the Web, the issue of nudging people towards more self-disclosure is timely given all the issues surrounding privacy and use of PII in social networks, especially if a user discloses such PII under the assumption they’re interacting with a human. This is a very interesting article and quick read (four pages).

Persuasive design principles and website user behavior

Motivation, ability, and triggers influence users’ website behavior, according to this research paper by Stanford researcher BJ Fogg. This is important if you’re targeting specific behavioral action (e.g., filling out a lead form). Before a user takes a desired action, she must be sufficiently motivated to perform the desired action, have the ability to do so, and be appropriately triggered to take action.

Fogg’s model is fairly easy to digest. For example, let’s say you want to drive more listing appointments (the target behavior), there is a trade-off between motivation and ability. In this scenario, a user’s motivation is somewhat variable (either they are interested in the property or not). Thus, as website designer you should concentrate on the “ability” side of the equation: do you make it a simple fill-in-your-email-address form, or do you make users fill out more detailed information prior to submitting their request? On this issue, Fogg concludes:

The implication for designers is clear: Increasing motivation is not always the solution. Often increasing ability (making the behavior simpler) is the path for increasing behavior performance.

Contemplating appropriate triggers is where it gets really interesting for website designers. According to Fogg, without an appropriate trigger, targeted behavior will not occur even if motivation and ability is high. There are three elements of a successful trigger: the trigger must be noticed, the trigger is associated with the targeted behavior, and the trigger occurs WHEN we are both motivated and able to perform the targeted behavior. Fogg argues that timing is THE critical element and is often missing:

In fact, this element is so important the ancient Greeks had a name for it: kairos – the opportune moment to persuade. As I see it, the opportune moment for behavior performance is any time motivation and ability put people above the behavior activation threshold.

Poorly-timed triggers (e.g., pop-ups) generally do not drive a user to take a targeted action and can even cause a negative emotion. Thus, Fogg argues that proper triggers will align with collaborative CRM concepts (which I earlier discussed), functioning mostly as “signals” or “facilitators”. I encourage you to read Fogg’s research paper (all 7 pages) as he further details the discreet elements under motivation, ability, and triggers that influence website behavior.

Photo credit: ell brown (off to Italy)