There has been a recent trend involving large businesses investing and experimenting with social media in the hope that it could increase profit margins. Companies are increasingly using online media and social commerce as it promotes social interaction and user contributions, consequently facilitating increased transactions.
One company pioneering this strategy of social media is the leading European car manufacturer Renault. The scheme was piloted at the Amsterdam motor show; Renault offered all the visitors a free card that linked to their Facebook profiles. This automatically allowed visitors to ‘Like’ exhibited Renault model by simply swiping the card on information posts displayed next to each car. This resulted in the car they liked at the show being automatically posted to their Facebook page.
The underpinnings of this technique involves converting people’s offline presence into online recognition: in psychology this is known as the foot in the door sales technique.
The foot-in-the door sales technique is an incredibly powerful use of the social psychology principal of ‘consistency’ (Petrova et al, 2007) – this is our desire to be seen as consistent in our thoughts and our consequent behaviour.
The foot in the door technique assumes that agreeing to a small request increases the likelihood of agreeing to a second larger request. So, initially you make a small request and once the person agrees to this they find it more difficult to refuse a bigger one. For example, asking someone to buy this Renault will more often than not result in the answer no. However, a much smaller request such as “can you like this Renault on Facebook?”, is much more likely to result in compliance as it requires far less commitment, time and effort. This small request has now drawn the consumers foot “in the door” without them even realising. If in the future, they are presented with the larger request, of buying the car, they are far more inclined to comply. If we declare publicly we like something and, have behaved in a way that is consistent with liking it (such as liking it on facebook), but then don’t proceed to buy it when asked, we encounter a psychological discomfort known as cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1957) - where people feel they must behave in line with their attitude. Liking the car publicly on Facebook but then refusing to buy it could cause a cognitive dissonance.
Psychologically, the Facebook Like is a deceptively powerful marketing tool, allowing the foot in the door sales technique to be utilised to a mass market. Renault appears to have merely scratched the surface with this technique.
This strategy has been displayed by Freedman and Fraser (1966), who knocked on doors in California putting an experimental paradigm to the test which involved subjects being asked to either comply with a small request followed by a large (experimental) or alternatively just asked the larger request (control). The small request involved participants being asked to either put up a small sign or sign a petition revolving around two central issues - safe driving or keeping California beautiful. The second large request was given to participants approximately 2 weeks later when the experimenters returned to the same houses asking them to erect a large sign on their front lawn reading "Drive Carefully." This resulted in the study having 4 experimental conditions, varying in terms of similarity of the small and large requests, along the dimensions of issue and task. The researchers hypothesised that the three conditions which had a similar task or issue, would show more compliance. Results demonstrated that once someone has agreed to a small request he is more likely to comply with a larger request. This ultimately lends support to the foot in the door hypothesis, resulting in participants showing compliance in the absence of pressure.
As displayed in figure 1, the conditions where the requests were comparable or related either by task or issue, amassed much more compliance the control conditions. However, conditions where there was dissimilarity also obtained more compliance. This indicates that regardless of whether requests are congruent or similar in any way or not, merely having the participant agree to the initial request notably increases the likelihood of consequent compliance with the larger demand. These results support the idea that once someone has agreed to the first task - whatever it may be, the individual tends to feel more involved, and this consequently increases the likelihood of subsequent compliance.
Festinger, L. (1957). A Theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Freedman, J. L., & Fraser, S. C. (1966). Compliance without pressure: The foot-in-the-door technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4, 195-202.
Petrova, P. K., Cialdini, R. B., & Sills, S. J. (2007). Consitency based compliance across cultures. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43, 104-111.