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Web psychologist and author Nathalie Nahai explains how fear drives the most business mistakes online


By Gillian West, Social media manager

November 19, 2012 | 5 min read

Business mistakes online are “often made because of fear”, according to Nathalie Nahai, web psychologist and author of ‘Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion’ who will be taking the keynote speech at this year’s Conversion Conference London.

Ahead of the event, which takes place on Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 November, The Drum spoke to Nahai about the pitfalls of online customer management, good and bad web practice, online trends, and what businesses should do to attract, and more importantly keep, customers.

Nahai explained: “Social media has flattened the playing field so anyone from a small business to a large enterprise can interact directly with their customers,” but businesses small and large are still making mistakes because they are afraid of social media. “I don’t know if it comes down to the fear that what they [businesses] say might get taken out of context, or the fear that if they don’t control the way that employees are tweeting about or representing them, which can sometimes see catastrophe ensue.”

According to Nahai, the worst mistake any business could make online would be to not “admit liability”. She adds: “When a business doesn’t actually admit they’ve done anything wrong that’s the biggest mistake they could make, simply because then they’ll get taken down by the customers and people will then decide not to trust that brand again for a long while.

“[The biggest turn off to a customer] is when they’re not dealt with in a manner that’s respectful; I think people now expect to be responded to honestly and quickly and with integrity. If a brand doesn’t give them that they will go elsewhere.”

There are three things to bear in mind when trying to target consumers online in Nahai’s opinion; she advises that firstly a business must “understand who they are targeting – their age, their gender, their preferences, the kind of music they listen to, the things they share over Facebook and Twitter”.

The second is to “communicate consistently” and the third is to “sell with integrity”. Nahai continued: “The best advice that I can give really is to create a core identity about your brand or your business and who you represent and then to be authentic and to present yourself personally through those core values on social media.”

As social media becomes more and more important to businesses in order to help them connect with their audience, Nahai explained that an emerging trend seems to be how brands deal with “negative feedback” citing the recent Bodyform viral as a good example of this: “finding new, fun, light-hearted approaches to tackle customer feedback in a way that the customer can feel included when they’ve been hurt is crucial to online success,” added Nahai.

Brands, however, are still “figuring out how to do that well” and with the “immediacy in which people can share negative comments and hashtags on the likes of Twitter responding to negative feedback is much more of an issue.” In terms of nurturing relationships with customers online Nahai explained that success could be achieved purely by “facilitating a conversation.”

Moving away from social media and onto webpage performance, Nahai believes that “knowing the weird little quirks that influence people’s perceptions of things are crucial… there are all these irrational things that we respond to, like perceiving numbers that end in .99 as better value, and having an understanding of this can put marketers in a much stronger position to engage more effectively with their customers.”

In terms of web design, she adds: “The most effective thing typically is image, we’re seeing a young generation, a cooler generation who prefer a lot less text usually one or two main images on a page straight forward navigation... don’t have any more than seven items in your top level navigation, because we find it difficult to digest more than a certain number of choices.

“It’s about making sure you figure out the one or two key areas you want people to look at and then stripping all the excess stuff away so you have a very visually lead design.”

Nahai was determined to underline her belief that across the web, be it websites or social media, brands need to make sure they “know their audience, know what they’re looking for and focus on those one or two things, then you’ll be onto a winner."

To book for tickets for the Conversion Conference visit, Drum readers can get 15 per cent off ticket price quoting DRUM12.

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