Facebook “likes” and the Commitment and Consistency Principle

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The “Commitment and Consistency Principle” is what psychologists have termed the desire in people to keep their thoughts consistent with their actions.

"Liking" on Facebook - Creative Unions

Once a person has behaved in a certain way, they start to adjust their thoughts to be consistent with their behaviour.

In the 2004 US election, the Bush-Cheney campaign used this principle to great effect. They required that attendees at their rallies sign a statement affirming that they would vote for Bush. Having performed this act of loyalty – supporting Bush – most attendees then adjusted their attitudes to be more favourable to Bush. Even if they were already predisposed to support Bush (they were attending one of his rallies after all), the pledge stated that they would vote for him. At the ballot box, the Republican base came out stronger than ever.

Signatures on pledges have long been used in US politics. Karl Rove suggested to the Tea Party that they collect signatures from neighbours in the form of a “citizens pledge”. This tactic is successful because of the Commitment and Consistency Principle.

The key here is that behaviour change leads attitude change.

For unions and progressive causes, Facebook is a very useful tool to get commitments. Although derided by some as “clicktivism”, the point of using Facebook for a progressive campaign is not to leave it at a “like” but to use that as a foundation.

Liking something on Facebook is a public endorsement or commitment to whatever the thing is. People who “like” brands on Facebook are more likely to consider purchasing that brand. They are publicly aligning themselves with the “values” of that brand (read Naomi Klein’s No Logo for more about this phenomenon).

Similarly, when someone “likes” their union, a progressive candidate or a campaign, that person is publicly supporting or endorsing those values or goals. Facebook makes the action of “liking” public to the person’s friends. (This also taps into the “Social Proof” principle and helps influence the supporter’s circle of friends, family and acquaintances.)

This kind of public commitment is very low level. It is of course very easy to “like” something. But this is a positive thing. Facebook lowers the barriers for supporters of unions to show and express their support.

The key to this is follow up in the real world. When someone makes a commitment on Facebook, the next step should be obvious – what can they do to further express their commitment?

The Facebook pages is now very flexible and powerful. Unions and progressive causes are now no longer limited to just having Walls, forums and photo galleries on Facebook. We can now use the same innovative technology that major brands use to engage their customers and supporters.

Ask yourself. Why did the Obama campaign send supporters who donated as little as $5 stickers and t-shirts? Because it was self-reinforcing. The donor was not only more likely to donate again, but they would put the sticker on their car and wear the t-shirt. Behaviour that reinforced the Commitment and Consistency Principle.

Facebook can be used by progressive causes and unions in a similar way. Someone who “likes” their union on Facebook can be followed up with further asks. We know that someone who does something small for a cause when asked are more likely to agree to a larger ask later.

“Like” the union on Facebook. Fill out an order form to get a pro-union sticker or t-shirt. The union now has their mailing address, email and hopefully phone number. This now means the union can follow up a supporter in the real world, outside of Facebook.

I’m sure unions and progressive causes will be far more creative than I’ve suggested in the paragraph above. Whatever great ideas you come up with, keep in mind the Commitment and Consistency Principle. How can we get people to behave in a certain way to reinforce their supportive attitudes?

For more about behaviour change, read my review of “Switch: How to change things when change is hard”.

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