As I continue to flesh out my network framework for communications, one of the areas I am digging into is one's online reputation or authority and how that is a factor in persuading people to take action (buying a product, telling someone about it, and so on). In my research I came across the report, "To Tell or Not to Tell" about word of mouth marketing by Dr. Walter Carl of Northeastern University. While interesting in and of itself (disclosing you are an agent for a WOM campaign has no effect on the outcome of the conversation), it also pointed me to another article, "Goodwill: A Reexamination of the Construct and its Measurement" by James C. McCroskey and Jason T. Teven. While incredibly technical, it did provide me with some interesting food for thought.
Studies have shown that a key factor for persuasion is "the image of the source in the minds of receivers." Some of you will recognize this as Aristotle's "ethos". A (much) later study by the Yale Group identified this as "source credibility". McCroskey & Teven's article stated that there are three generally accepted dimensions to ethos/source credibility: competence (qualification, expertness, intelligence, authoritativeness), trustworthiness (character, sagacity, safety, honesty) and goodwill/intent toward receiver. (The authors call this last one the missing dimension as it was ignored over time due to lack of measurability, which this paper's argument is designed to overcome. Assuming you agree with their analysis, we'll believe that it does exist as a third dimension.)
The important thing about goodwill is that it is a "means of opening communication channels more widely" and is a significant factor in believability/likeability overall. This means that it is an important factor for persuasion. There are three elements of goodwill: understanding ("When we see someone exhibiting behaviors which tell us they understand our concerns, we feel closer to them."); empathy ("This involves behaviors indicating that one person not only understands the other's views but accepts them as valid views, even if he or she does not agree with those views.") and responsiveness ("Responsiveness is judged by how quickly one person reacts to the communication of another, how attentive they are to the other, and the degree to which they appear to listen to the other. We tend to see people who behave responsively toward us as caring about us.").
So, what does this means for persuasive communication using participatory tools?
The first two factors of persuasion, competence and trustworthiness, are arguably covered adequately by traditional marketing/communications techniques and tools. However, brochures, ads and press releases are not tools for handling the third factor: goodwill. The latter is handled much better via participatory tools like blogs and wikis, because built into those tools are mechanisms for communicating understanding, empathy and responsiveness.
So, are participatory tools then the missing link for persuasive communications? It would seem so. Used in conjunction with traditional tools, they can quite possibly increase the persuasive impact of your campaigns. And let's remember, these new tools can also support the first two factors: competence and trustworthiness.