Nudge Theory is the idea of using indirect suggestions and positive reinforcement to influence behaviour. Behavioural psychologists, politicians, economists and markets have used these small, simple changes — with varying degrees of success — to determine people's behaviour and decision making process. But, what is its place in PR?

By Leah Elston-Thompson, senior account executive

According to Nudge Theory, by altering the environment to present a choice in a different way, people will be inclined to make better choices. For example, moving food in a supermarket so that healthy food is nearer the till can result in consumers purchasing healthier options. 

Nudging is an alternative to enforcing the choice through a ban or legislative intervention. There are a number of approaches to nudging, some of which can be used in PR.

People are more likely to choose the default option. One way to nudge your audience towards your preferred choice is to make your preferred option an opt out or a pre-ticked box, rather than an opt in. The approach has been successful in raising numbers of organ donors, for example.

Note that the introduction of GDPR means you will no longer be able to use this approach to manage personal data. However, you could still use this to encourage people to share your material on social media.

Follow the crowd

People tend to base their own decisions on other people’s behaviours. This is called the social-proof heuristic.  HMRC has used this pattern to increase tax payments, adding a line to reminder letters that states that most people in the area have paid their tax. 

You may also notice that websites offering paid subscriptions, such as survey providers, add a ‘most popular’ label to a service, which can make users more likely to select it.

There are many other natural biases that nudges can be based on. Something as simple as using positive framing, designing communications that present your messages in a positive light, can influence audience behaviour.

Nudge Theory raises interesting points to PR and marketing professionals. Though it will never be equal to a full campaign, it can be a useful tool to help improve your customers' response to your materials.

If you are looking for a PR agency that changes minds, nudge or no nudge, get in touch on 01785 225416 or e-mail me at leah@stonejunction.co.uk.

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