The Art of Online Psychological Warfare

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The Art of Online Psychological Warfare

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.

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About Nicholas Cardot

It's my personal quest to enable every person that I can to unlock that dormant potential concerning their online influence. Also, I'm a geek.

22 Comments

  • Seymour says:

    I knew where this was going after the first sentence. I’ve been thinking about my target audience for several months now.

    • Nicholas Cardot says:

      That’s one of the most important things to think about. Always put them first. Get in their head. Understand as much about them as you can. Then you’ll be a position to influence them.

  • Dustin W. Stout says:

    Man, this is fascinating to me! I need to know more Nicholas!

    • Nicholas Cardot says:

      Dustin, thanks a bunch. That certainly means a lot coming from you. Obviously this article was more or less an introduction or brief overview of the topic. There are so many neat facets to Psychological Operations that my mind starts spinning with them when I open up Photoshop or Dreamweaver. I’ll definitely be posting more in the future with some more specific concepts related to influencing human behavior.

    • Nicholas Cardot says:

      Also…pay no mind to the 10 year old Google Plus icon at the top of the page. I will be updating that shortly.

  • Patrick Wagner says:

    You have my dream job, very cool! I definitely need to learn more about it from you. Maybe I can get the Canadian equivalent with our version of NSA. Any books you can recommend?
    Thanks Nicholas!

    • Nicholas Cardot says:

      Patrick, I first want to apologize that Akismet threw your comment into the spam net. I’m happy that I saw it and got it back on the page.

      Honestly, if you think your up for it, I would recommend reading chapter five of the actual army field manual. Do a Google search for “Psychological Operations FM 3-05.301″. Click on the link to the pdf of that file and just skip down to chapter five. I would link you directly to it, but I’m not really sure what the distribution rules are for that so if you want it, you’ll have to go grab it from someone else.

  • Angelina says:

    I definitely need to learn more about it from you. Maybe I can get the Canadian equivalent with our version of NSA

    • Nicholas Cardot says:

      Ha ha. Yeah, there you go. I’m not sure how much information they’ll be willing to share though. I think they’re more in the habit of collecting information than sharing it.

  • Alan | Life's Too Good says:

    Hey Nicholas,

    this is interesting stuff and I know you’ve only just scratched the surface. Basically, in any aspect of Business & Life it’s going to be useful to understand Psychology/what makes us tick. It’s a subject I can’t get enough of and probably one that companies are more and more savvy about and maybe even having to evlve due to increased transparency – particularly online.

    p.s. I’m not sure if you noticed but I think you’re last 2 comments are spam – they are just copies of comments above. This has happened to me before too – i.e. a commenter copying word-for-word a previous commenter.

    • Nicholas Cardot says:

      Thanks for the note about those other comments. I think I got them all cleaned up now.

      As far as your comments about what makes us tick, there’s a lot of discussion of that in the Psychological community. Psycho-dynamic Psychologists believe that we are controlled entirely by unconscious aspects of our psych. Biological Psychologists believe that we are controlled by chemicals and nerve signals much the way a computer operates. Cognitive Psychologists believe that we are a product of our thought processes. Humanist Psychologists believe that we have free will and choose freely to do the things that we do. The truth, as I see it, is that we are influenced heavily in all four directions and in differing proportions from person to person.

  • Les Dossey says:

    Nick,

    Great stuff. I love the voice of your writing and you depth of knowledge is made easily digestible. Please out me in your notification circle on google plus so I catch your updates.

    • Nicholas Cardot says:

      I’ll have to create a notification circle. I’ve never done that because I feel it may be too intrusive. I know several people have created notifications for themselves where they activate notifications for people who are added to that circle. Sort of the same idea except now you are controlling who notifies you instead of controlling who you are notifying.

  • Brian Jensen says:

    Wow, great stuff Nicholas. “The goal of online marketing is to influence behavior,” so simple, yet profound. One statement, that if adopted and internalized, acts as the foundation for your entire online marketing strategy.

    I’ve always had a keen interest in the psychology behind guiding a prospect to become a customer. I appreciated how you defined the elements needed to build a relationship, and ultimately establish trust and credibility. If your objective with this post was to turn a reader into a subscriber, mission accomplished.

  • katherine says:

    Love the voice of your writing and you depth of knowledge is made easily digestible
    The goal of online marketing is to influence behavior,” so simple, yet profound. One statement, that if adopted and internalized, acts as the foundation for your entire online marketing strategy.

  • Daniel says:

    I just started to change my commenting method after reading this post. Thanks , good work

  • Rohit says:

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  • rajiv says:

    HI,

    This is really a very good article, I was looking for this from long time, but one question right now I have, can I edit any comment those I have already did earlier.

    Thanks again for the article.

  • Riyhan says:

    Wonderful post however I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this topic?
    I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit further. Thank you!

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  • pankaj says:

    As long as you take the time read the blog post and have an opinion that you want to share, you just go for it. No special rules needed.

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