You want a credible website. And you’re a Grok reader, which puts you much closer to your goal. ; )
So you checked out Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab slide show, and were careful to note the beginning explanation, where credibility was broken down into two components: (1) Trustworthiness, and (2) Expertise. (And boy, did those look familiar. Sort of… )
Where had you seen them before?
Being a good student of rhetoric, it hits you: Stanford got it wrong! There’s more than two components of credibility; there are three (at least according to Aristotle).
2.) Practical Wisdom
3.) Disinterested Good Will (toward the audience)
Maybe the Persuasive Technology Lab placed “virtue” and “goodwill” in the same category. At least all of their guidelines for website credibility neatly divide into the three components:
VIRTUE — Guidelines 1, 3, 5, 8, and 10 each describe various ways of proving or demonstrating your organization’s overall virtue. In rhetoric, virtue is relative: It generally means the audience believes you share, and live, their values. Obviously, values vary with audiences — but start with typical work ethics and you won’t go wrong too often. With that in mind, is it any wonder that a Virtuous website is one that…
Heck, that’s just good old fashion takin’-care-of-business. Of course, the “varies by audience” bit applies to what qualifies as “professional looking” and what types of employees qualify as “stand-up/credible.” Obviously, a surf school and an accounting firm would want different looking websites, highlighting different staff credentials.
PRACTICAL WISDOM – It’s not enough to be virtuous. You also need job-related skills and experience (i.e., the actual know-how required for the situation at hand). To paraphrase a modern day rhetorician: I may count my priest as a virtuous man, but that still doesn’t mean I’d want him performing my heart surgery.
Guidelines 2 and 4 provide ways for your Website to demonstrate or display your organization’s practical wisdom by:
DISINTERESTED GOOD WILL – Even if you’re generally a virtuous person with outstanding expertise in a given area, I might not find your advice credible if you have an obvious bias or vested interest that’s potentially in conflict with your audience. (I don’t care how honest a man or how fabulous a lawyer your father-in-law might be; he’s probably not who you want to take legal advice from when you’re divorcing his daughter.)
Business executives and salespeople often have a hard time with this one because, well, they DO stand to benefit from their audience’s purchasing decisions. Progressive Insurance will tell you when they’re not your best deal. Why? Because that move violates their own self-interest in favor of yours — which buys them huge credibility for the times when they tell you that they are the best deal!
So, how do you translate this onto the web? Well, I’ve got plenty of techniques for doing this with your copy (more on this in the next post), but the Persuasive Technology Lab’s Guideline 6, 7, and 9 suggest that credible websites should…
Well, that covers all ten guidelines. But now that you understand how each of them is merely a facet of Aristotle’s famous triad, you’re ready for more advanced credibility-building techniques. (Hint: A lot of them come from Persuasion Architecture™ methodology).
And you might be surprised to learn that a recent MacArthur Foundation “genius” has written some of the most compelling advice I’ve ever found on the subject. First it’s Stanford, now it’s a MacArthur Fellow. Holy high-brow, Batman!
(Don’t worry, it leads to some incredibly doable, practical stuff. Tune in next week… )