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I serve as a Psychological Operations Specialist in the United States Army. My job is to study foreign target audiences so that I can understand what is necessary to influence their thoughts, emotions, and ultimately their behavior.
Understand Your Target Audience
We may be working to get local nationals to report locations of insurgent weapon stockpiles, to get enemy soldiers to abandoned their posts and desert, or to get people to share information during face-to-face interviews. Each of these, and the myriad of other goals that we have in any given situation, require a thorough understanding of their culture, their values, their beliefs, and their lifestyle. To be effective, you need to know as much as possible about what makes them laugh, what makes them cry, what they think about, and what they talk about in their spare time.
You need to know exactly how to appeal to them effectively. You need to understand what triggers will spark their thought processes, their emotions, and their actions.
Subtly but Purposefully Influence Behavior
Our most effective means of gaining information from the field is through the art of face-to-face conversations. As you speak to someone in the field, you are constantly doing two things: First you’re judging them based on their non-verbal communication; Second you’re subtly steering the conversation through the topics of your choosing.
When you judge someone during conversation (which we all do in our everyday conversations), we’re not judging whether or not they’re a good person or a bad person. We’re gathering information about who they are based on their posture, their facial expressions, their clothes, or the way they speak. As you observe these non-verbal cues, you can then appropriately guide the conversation through topics that will help you to build commonalities, rapport, friendship and hopefully trust.
You may spend thirty minutes or an hour talking to someone about football (soccer), kids and families, jokes, and other friendly topics before taking the conversation anywhere near the information that you actually want to know. And then, when you’re ready, you ask questions that guide them toward giving information in such a way that they don’t even realize that you’re interrogating them. This is called passive information gathering.
We got them to think, emote, and act and the person was none the wiser. In our eyes, we just got the location of a possible insurgent. In their eyes, they just made a new friend. Mission accomplished.
In war, the true goal of Psychological Operations (PSYOP) is to manipulate the behavior of the enemy or of the local nationals in such a way that it supports the efforts of the military agenda.
According to Google, the word manipulate has two meanings:
1) handle or control typically in a skillful manner;
2) control or influence cleverly, unfairly, or unscrupulously.
Don’t get too caught up on the negative connotation of the word manipulate. I used that term on purpose to grab your attention. Although in war, we do use methods of influence that may be considered unfair, I trust that your common decency and sense of ethics will fuel your attempts to be clever and cunning online without being unfair or unscrupulous.
The Art of Online Psychological Warfare
Is any of this beginning to sound anything like business branding? Social media marketing? Influence marketing? Or whatever term you or your company like to use when you promote online?
As online marketers, brand ambassadors, and bloggers, our goal is to find clever ways to influence the thoughts, emotions, and behavior of our followers.
You’ve probably read an article at some point describing how to craft headlines that attract more clicks. You’ve probably studied at some point how to attract more viewers to sign up for your email newsletter. You’ve probably researched how to gain more followers on your social media profiles.
These are all simple examples of specific actions or behaviors that you want people to do. As people respond to your efforts, their behavior supports the agenda of your business goals. If you have put into practice a tip that you thought would help people to follow one of those courses of action, you’ve essentially done the same thing as is done in Psychological Warfare.
In a recent Google Plus post, I was speaking about the art of building genuine connections on that network. I shared a piece of advice that is at the heart of this rapport building that I mentioned above.
By carefully crafting your comments and by asking questions, you can subtly influence people to return to that post and leave a response to your comment. You then do it again and they return a second, third, or fourth time. You’ve just created a conversation. You’re actually getting to know someone. You just got connected.
The goal of online marketing is to influence behavior. In this example, the desired behavior is a conversation that allows us to build commonalities, rapport, friendship and hopefully trust. I hope that sounds familiar.
If you’re transparent about your goals, ideals, and mode of business, then people will respond favorably to a question or a conversation. If you’re hoping to manipulate people into purchasing your products or accomplishing your goals, then you’ll simply destroy the credibility that you’ve worked so hard to generate.
In conclusion, take the time to learn how people think. Create connections. Build rapport. Demonstrate credibility. Be honest. Use your powers of influence to do these things and the sales will come all on their own.
Make your move.