These 18 Psychological Studies Will Transform the Way You Write Content for Your CEO Blog

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The biggest and most important question that CEO bloggers ask is “how do I get more people to read my blog?” After getting your positioning right and understanding the problems your clients find painful, we’ve found that a powerful way to increase blog traffic and readership is to employ a number of strategies based upon psychological research.

In this article we have examined a number of studies and pinpointed a number of effective techniques for increasing reader engagement and writing better blog posts. Better still, many of these principles can be used in combination for greater effect.

Outline of Psychological Principles Discussed in this Article:

  1. Short Attention Spans
  2. Self-Censorship
  3. The Mere Exposure Effect
  4. The Google Effect
  5. Priming
  6. Reciprocity
  7. Experts and Social Proof
  8. The Decoy Effect
  9. The Verbatim Effect
  10. Clustering
  11. Appeal to Emotions
  12. Framing
  13. Storytelling
  14. The Rhyme as Reason Effect
  15. The Processing Fluency Bias
  16. The Psychology of Usefulness
  17. Eye Tracking Studies
  18. Colour Psychology

18 Psychological Principles for CEO Bloggers:

To effectively employ these psychological principles, a CEO blogger must also be aware of some basic online behaviours (1-4). A simple awareness of these patterns of behaviour will make it easier to employ the strategies we will discuss.

18 Psychological Principles for CEO Bloggers

This study shows how attention spans deteriorates with age.

1. Be Aware of Short Attention Spans – The average person’s attention span is now eight seconds, a study of Canadian media viewing habits conducted by researchers at Microsoft’s Bing Ads determined. The same study found that attention spans are shrinking: they are down from 12 seconds in 2000. This means that readers are less tolerant of boredom.

2. Watch Out for Self-Censorship – Bloggers are often their own worst enemies because they censor their own material too heavily. Sometimes by eliminating any opinion that could be construed as offensive or controversial. Self-Censorship on Facebook, a study conducted by Sauvik Das of Carnegie Mellon University and Adam Kramer of Facebook Inc., found that 71% of the site’s users censored posts at the last minute. This means that many writers are more concerned about not offending others than creating good content.

3. Mere Exposure – Psychologist Robert B. Zajonc’s Mere Exposure Theory postulates that people are likely to develop a preference for things that they are exposed to on a regular basis. Zajonc’s research indicates that repetition and regular exposure to data or images can make people like them more. Therefore, repeating patterns or data in a blog can create a regular audience for a CEO. The important point here is – be consistent.

4. The Google Effect – People tend to value information from certain sources more than others. Researchers Betsy Sparrow, Jenny Liu and Daniel Wegner found that people are more likely to forget information they find online and to consider information printed on paper more valuable than read on electronic data. This is called the Google Effect; it can be countered with effective writing styles and showing that information is referenced from respected sources (for example – scientific research papers instead of Wikipedia).

5. Use Priming to Direct Your Readers’ Attention – The idea behind priming is to use words or images that trigger certain behaviours in readers. Researchers Naomi Mandel and Eric J. Johnson discovered that websites that contained pictures of money were more likely to influence visitors’ choices. Those who looked at pictures of money were more likely to study financial information, Psychology Today reported.

This works because certain images conjure up specific thoughts or emotions, for example a picture of the Queen might evoke patriotism. Therefore, a CEO blogger should carefully consider the types of images they use when creating content. One incongruent image can do a lot of damage to your overall message.

The 1st weapon of influence

6. Harness Reciprocity – In his classic work Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion Robert B. Cialdini demonstrated that diners who were given a mint when they finished their meals at a restaurant paid larger tips. In essence, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.

CEO bloggers can employ this strategy by providing useful information for their readers, such as an inside sales strategy or insight into the market. A good way to utilize reciprocity is to point readers to free or lower cost resources they can take advantage of.

The Power of Social Proof

The power of social proof.

social proof

7. Leverage Your Expertise and Social Proof – The formal name for this phenomenon is informational social influence. It occurs when people imitate the behaviour of others whom they assume to have superior knowledge or insight. Visitors referred to a designer fashion site called Rent the Runway by persons perceived as experts (fashion bloggers and magazines) had a conversion rate that was 200% higher than those drawn in by paid search, Tech Crunch reported.

This strategy can be highly effective for CEO blogs because CEOs are already perceived as experts on their business and widely respected.

8. Be Aware of The Decoy Effect – Also known as the bait and switch, this principle draws in visitors by offering them the illusion of a choice. Duke University Professor Dan Ariely demonstrated this principle by offering 100 students three choices for a subscription to the Economist:

  • an online subscription for $59,
  • a print subscription for $125, and
  • an online and print subscription for $125.

Students preferred the combined online and print subscription because it seemed to offer them a bargain, two for the price of one, even though the online deal was less than half the price.

A CEO blogger could use this principle in their post’s call-to-action to great effect. In fact, any web page with pricing information will be so much more powerful with this principle utilised.

9. Cluster Similar Topics Together – Back in 1956, George A. Miller demonstrated that the average person can only remember seven pieces of information at a time. A CEO blogger can take advantage of this by combining a blog about similar subjects, for example warehousing and inventory. Limiting the amount of information in a particular post can also make it easier to read. Therefore, it is a good idea not to write about two complex subjects at the same time.

10. Keep the Verbatim Effect in Mind When Writing Posts – In a 2008 study, researchers found that 15 subjects were more likely to remember the meaning of a sentence than the actual words. This means that the overall message is much more important than the technical details.

A CEO blogger can put this principle into immediate effect by concentrating on the big ideas and basic concepts in their posts before moving onto the specifics.

Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain

11. Appeal to Emotions – In his book Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain neurologist Antonio Damasio effectively demonstrated that emotions guide human beings in most decision making. Despite this, we find that many CEO bloggers make the basic mistake of producing dry technical posts that provide no emotional satisfaction. We have found that simply adding some content that appeals to emotions, such as humour, can significantly increase traffic to a blog.

12. Framing Your Content in the Right Way – Research indicates that people are more likely to respond to information if positive or negative results are emphasized. In an article for the Journal of Economic Psychology, James N. Druckman demonstrated that more people would pay attention to statements about economic policy when effects on employment rates were mentioned. A CEO could take advantage of this by mentioning the results of a new initiative at his company, such as increased sales.

Millais Boyhood of Raleigh

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ― Philip Pullman

13. Does Your Blog Post Tell a Story? – The New York Times reported that MRI scans revealed that stories can actually stimulate the brain. Neural activity increased when people read an interesting or entertaining story. Keith Oately, a novelist and professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto, even believes that reading can produce a vivid sensation of reality.

Therefore the best way for a CEO blog to engage readers is to tell a really good story that captures the imagination. We find that taking the trouble to turn a blog post into a good story about your company can increase reader interest and blog views.

14. The Rhyme as Reason Effect – Tests conducted by M.S. McGlone and Jessica Tofighbakhsh found that people found statements made in rhyme to be more accurate than non-rhyming phrases that contained the same information. Their subjects were more likely to believe the phrase “What sobriety conceals, alcohol reveals” than “What sobriety conceals, alcohol unmasks.” This indicates that adding a few rhyming phrases to a CEO blog post can make it sound more credible.

Every great blogger understands processing fluency and how it affects readers.

Every great blogger understands processing fluency and how it affects readers.

15. The Processing Fluency Bias – Researchers demonstrated that American students who were required to read lessons printed in a heard-to-read font learned more than those given lessons in an easy-to-read font, The New York Times reported. Researcher Daniel M. Oppenheimer thinks this occurred because students had to concentrate and think more when faced with a hard-to-read font.

A CEO blogger can harness this psychological principle by changing the structure of the content in their posts. We do not recommend using a hard-to-read, but changing the colour of the text, for example, could prove useful.

16. The Psychology of Usefulness – Blogger Gord Hotchkiss postulated that when faced with a dull task, the human brain automatically looks for a shortcut to finding the most effective solution for the task. A CEO blogger can put this concept into use by offering fast or simple solutions to complex problems. The best way to see the effectiveness of this principle is to use it in your blog posts’ title. “How We Cut Order Processing Time in Half” promises a useful solution for a common problem in the industry.

17. Be Aware of the Findings of Eye-Tracking Studies – Many psychological studies have been conducted to find out what readers look at first on a web page. A 2000 study from the Poynter Institute determined that readers looked at text 78% of the time, and graphics 22% of the time. This indicates that CEO bloggers should concentrate on writing a good post and not spend so much time on graphics.

This doesn’t mean that you should neglect the graphics on your blog post. Quite the contrary. But your graphics should complement your content, not the other way round.

The Psychology of Colours

What colours are you taking advantage of?

The Psychology of Colours

18. Consider Colour Psychology – Researcher Satyendra Singh determined that 62% to 90% of a users’ initial assessment of a website was based upon colour. Researchers Paul A. Bottomley and John R. Doyle also determined that certain colours send specific information to viewers. Neutral colours such as white or grey convey the impression of usefulness or utility, while bright colours such as red provide pleasure and stimulation.

The research suggests that adding a bright colour such as red to a CEO blog can make it seem more exciting, while a white or grey background can make it seem useful. The key point here is – choose your colour scheme very carefully.

In conclusion

The most effective CEO bloggers employ a combination of these strategies to drive traffic to their sites. It would be almost impossible to focus on all 14 strategies in one post. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. If you just focus on integrating a few of these principles into your blog posts the overall quality and persuasiveness of your content will noticeably increase. We recommend focusing on one principle per blog post until you get a good feeling for the efficacy of each.

What Fred Wilson, Penelope Trunk and Mark Cuban can teach you about vulnerability

By | CEO blogging, Content marketing, Tuesday teardown | No Comments

Tuesday teardown – In summary:

  • To get leverage from digital marketing, you must build a real human relationship. If you can build trust online, you reduce your reliance on physical sales meetings as a relationship building exercise. Being authentic and vulnerable are critical in building a trusted relationship with potential buyers.
  • Generally, under 50% of what is said by a CEO of a company online is trusted by the reading public.
  • The most important topics for building CEO trust are personal values, obstacles overcome and personal success story.

Transcript of this teardown:

Hi. I’m Steve Pell from TLP. I’m here to do another one of our TLP Tuesday Teardowns, where we look at a popular website to take away some practical lessons, so you can get better results online.

Today I’m going to talk about vulnerability, trust and authenticity – all these topics are critical when we come to online content.

They are critical because they are the foundation of building a real human relationship. That means people trust what you’re talking about, which means they’re more likely to buy online (even in B2B), which reduces your necessity to do physical sales meetings. This can really start to give you some sales leverage and improved sales efficiency right throughout your business.

I’m going to start with a couple of key pieces of data, and and then jump into three very successful CEO blogs – Fred Wilson, Penelope Trunk, and Mark Cuban.

Before we get started, this data I’ve got up here is from Edelman. It looks at how trusted different sources or different people are online.


The sad state of CEO and corporate trust

You can see the general population trust about 80% of what’s said online by “My friends and family“. In contrast, “a company’s CEO” sits at under 50%.

So, under 50% of what is said by a CEO of a company is trusted by the general population online. Now, that’s pretty shocking when you think about that as a flip of a coin.

The key point here is that the general audience that you’re going to be speaking to are very, very sceptical.

So, what does it actually take to build trust in a market that is so sceptical? Let’s just have a look at one more piece of data here. This is another outcome from that same survey, from the Edelman Trust Index in 2016. I encourage you to go and have a look – there is some fascinating data.

Here we’ve got here the percentage of the general population who agree that each type of information is important in building trust:

  • Personal values, 80%
  • The obstacles that they have overcome, 70%
  • Their personal success story, 65%
  • Their education and how it’s shape them, 62%
CEO trust

The percentage of the general population who agree that each type of information is important in building CEO trust

These are all topics that you’re not used to reading in your typical newspaper article, CEO blog, or company website. Because they are not what you typically see, that’s another reason why they are so powerful.

So, to come back here and just recap on this data, the trust of CEOs and businesses online is very low. It takes authenticity to break through and build that one-to-one relationship where you can start to earn the right to sell to someone online.

Fred Wilson

Let’s jump in and have a look at some examples of these done really well. So this is a post by Fred Wilson.

Fred is a venture capitalist out of New York who has a very big following. This blog has played a big part in turning him into a very successful venture capitalist. He has generated large amounts of deal flow from this content. This blog, you could say, is his primary marketing activity.

The blog we’re looking at here is about distraction. It’s a post by Fred about how he struggles to focus. This is not something that goes directly to why his audience are coming to this blog; To find out more about his investments and strategy.

Fred wilson

Fred Wilson, discussing distraction and how he struggles to focus. The post has generated 200+ comments

But you can see that this article has generated 226 comments – a very high level of engagement. It’s very hard to do that unless you’ve got a passionately engaged audience. This is not what you would typically expect to see on a traditional CEO blog, but a great example of building a personal relationship.

Penelope Trunk

Let’s go to another one here which is Penelope Trunk. Penelope is a CEO of a company called Quistic. This blog seems very personal, but is actually a big, big lead generation tool for her businesses. In the article we’re looking at, she is writing about the connection between abortion and careers.

Penelope trunk

Penelope Trunk discussing abortions on her business blog.

Again, this is not a topic you would expect to see CEO commentary on. It again has generated 610 comments – exceptionally high level of engagement with her audience. She’s achieving this because she is so authentic, and she just does not hold back on her personal views. That has generated a really strong connection with her audience that has powered all the business that she’s been involved with. So, again, another example for you to jump into. Not right for everyone, but a very good case study on just how powerful it can be vulnerable and authentic.

Mark Cuban

The last one I’ve got here is Mark Cuban. Now, Mark Cuban, you might have seen from the US version of Shark Tank. You might know him as a Dallas Mavericks owner. He is talking here about his colonoscopy. Now, not a topic that you would expect to see on a CEO’s blog, and he says he doesn’t usually talk about personal issues, but he thought it was “important to share”.

Mark Cuban

Mark Cuban discussing his colonoscopy (it doesn’t get much more vulnerable!)

It goes back to that data that we saw from Edelman on using personal values to build a relationship. Cuban has nearly five million people who follow his blog every time he publishes, so it’s clearly resonating with an audience. He is authentic and he is building a relationship. Again, this is a good example for you to jump into and have a quick look at to see what authenticity looks like when done well.

In conclusion

The key takeaways for today are that being authentic and vulnerable are critical in building a personal relationship online. If you’re going to build a CEO blog that gives you sales leverage, you have to build a personal relationship.

Building trust is so important because it’s what gives you the right to speak to a prospect on a one-to-one basis. Perfection is boring. People don’t want to build a relationship with people who are presented as perfect. They want to build a relationship with other humans (flaws and all). So, look at how you can introduce some elements of your real personality to add depth to whatever it is you’re talking about. You’ll see much better results. You’ll build a one-to-one relationship that then gives you the right to start selling online.

That’s all for me today. We’d love you to jump into the comments and let us know your thoughts.

Behind the scenes on a thought leadership campaign launch for an ASX Chairman

By | CEO blogging, Content marketing, Thought leadership, Tuesday teardown | No Comments

The launched campaign for Russell – we’ll discuss each of the highlighted specifics in this article

I’ve had a number of requests for detailed case studies of how we go about building thought leadership for CEOs and executives. This week I’m excited to share a detailed behind the scenes example of a thought leadership campaign launch for Russell Yardley.

As I’m writing this, the article has achieved two and a half thousand views, 80 detailed comments, and a large number of shares and likes. That’s a pretty significant achievement for an article on LinkedIn – moreover in this case because it’s almost exclusively targeted at CEOs, CTO/CIOs and board directors.

If you’d like to see the finished product, you can see the article as published on LinkedIn at

This article takes you behind the scenes of the planning and launch. In the 2000 words and 13 illustrations / screengrabs / graphics that follow I’ve got Russell’s permission to share:

  1. The strategy behind the campaign
  2. How we move through planning, interview and article construction
  3. How we structure distribution to ensure a successful launch
  4. The delivered campaign, and results

For some context, the campaign for Russell is a supported CEO blogging campaign, leveraging our video supported interview process. With this process, we shoot a one hour interview upfront, use this to build out five video supported blog articles.

For background: Why this campaign is LinkedIn focused

Because Russell already has a deep LinkedIn network, and is looking to build support for increasing the capability and competence of boards to make better technology decisions and to provide improved governance of those decisions, this strategy focuses on LinkedIn publisher as the distribution platform.

LinkedIn for distribution is not a strategy that’s right for everyone – it has strengths and also a number of weaknesses. For most CEOs, it’s probably a better idea to use your on site blog as the primary distribution platform. However this is impacted by a number of factors – how many followers you have, existing website traffic and overall aims need to be considered when you’re thinking about the right platform for content distribution.

Step 1: The strategy behind the campaign

1A: Getting started with the expert positioning framework

The Expert Positioning Framework below is one of our key foundational documents in planning any thought leadership series. As we work through this document we’re looking to understand what makes Russell’s expertise unique, and what he wants to be remembered for by the market.

This framework is exceptionally important in delivering results – if the expert positioning isn’t right, then it really doesn’t matter what content gets produced.

Expert positioning framework

The expert positioning framework, we use to ensure all content connects to the way Russell wants to be remembered by the market


1B: The stages in our influencer content planning process

The graphic below shows how we flow through the process, connecting the positioning from core themes, to topics, articles and interview questions. You’ll see how each separate element is delivered in the following graphics.

Content planning

A clear illustration of the links between the core theme (image below) and the positioning that we want Russell to be remembered for

1C: How we positioned Russell’s expertise

This framework shows exactly how we want Russell to be remembered by the market. All content produced for Russell then connects to this core theme (although it may approach it from a number of angles). The red arrows show the topics that were used in the launch article for Russell.

Content positioning

This one page framework shows just how simple thought leadership positioning should be. One core theme and a number of supporting topics have been highlighted.


Stage 2. Interview planning and article construction

2A: Building an interview roadmap

From the positioning framework, we develop a one hour interview roadmap (you can see this below).

For this article, the relevant questions we discussed are in red. We’ve blurred out the future weeks articles (you’ll have to watch on LinkedIn).

Interview questions

The interview questions used with Russell to generate this content.


2B: Generating the content – The interview

The interview as a key foundation of the content development process. Shown below is a couple of minute excerpt pulled out of the longer 1 hour interview.

Once the article is finished, this excerpt then sits as supporting multimedia within the article:


2C: Transcription – From voice to copy

From the interview, the full one hour video is then transcribed. This gives our journalists everything they need to work with. From here they get started turning this interview into the structured, persuasive articles that you see as distributed.

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 1.20.51 PM

The interview is then transcribed, ready for our journalists to work with


2D: The final article (for Russell’s approval)

Our journalists use the transcript to finalise the content, in line with the positioning guide that you saw above. We’re building the content using Russell’s words, in line with the themes that he wants to be remembered for.

That’s then provided back to Russell for final approval, in a format that looks something like this:

Article created for approval

Article ready for final approval by Russell


Stage 3: Distribution planning

Once the article is approved, it’s ready for to launch. In the section that follows, I’m going to run you through our full launch plan for this content.

3A: The distribution overview and schedule

You can see here that we’re targeting a fortnightly distribution, launching every second Wednesday at 10am.

Distribution schedule

The distribution overview for the Russell Yardley content. We’ve just blanked out the upcoming articles (you’ll have to stay tuned!)


3B: Timeline for each article launch

The timeline below shows all the activities that are focused around launch. We’re just blanking out a couple of our “secret sauce activities” that are focused on getting high comment velocity on launch.


This is the day-by-day launch plan for the Russell Yardley content.


3C: Deliverables and action items

This is exactly what’s required for each article launch. You’ll note the large number of secondary updates – which are pre-developed for social sharing over the two week window the article is being actively promoted


The deliverables and action items, as allocated


Stage 4: The delivered campaign, and the results

4A: The article as deployed to LinkedIn:

As deployed, this is the content that was launched last week, kicking off this campaign for Russell. Below is a screenshot from LinkedIn (you can click through to the original content here).

The headline is really important in getting thought leadership content to work. The headline is so important because what viewers must decide to click (or ignore). They make the initial decision to engage with the content solely on the basis of the headline.

There’s a whole book we could write on writing great thought leadership headlines. But that’s a different (and potentially very lengthy) article! There’s plenty of formulas to follow, but in this case we’ve made the headline slightly more provocative than the article, whilst ensuring that the article still delivers on the fundamental premise of the headline.


Russell’s content, as launched on LinkedIn. Given this is a personally aligned campaign, LinkedIn was selected as the distribution platform (rather than a personal website).


4B: The importance of view and comment velocity at launch

If you’re distributing on LinkedIn, it’s critical to generate a high comment velocity at launch. In our experience this is the single biggest factor in predicting whether your content will be successful. If you hit a high comment velocity, you’ll take over the newsfeeds within your network. It becomes a virtuous cycle where people can’t avoid your blog.

Generating the number of comments that Russell has here isn’t easy. It’s a function of both:

  • a provocative article, and
  • a well executed distribution plan.

The great thing in this case is the number of non-executive directors and CEOs who are commenting. This article generated as high a quality of discussion as I’ve seen on LinkedIn. I’d encourage you to go and have a look at the comments here for a good example of what it looks like when you get this right.


The content generated a high comment to view ratio. For most thought leadership content, the number of comments is a key indicator of success – You’ve started an industry based conversation.


4C: Email distribution to existing contacts

Because we wanted to engage as many people as possible in the campaign quickly, we also distributed via mailchimp to notify Russell’s contacts and colleagues of the blog.

A couple of comments and recommendations here:

  • In this case you definitely don’t want to be distributing the whole article via email. We want to maximise view and comment velocity at launch, and that only happens if people are reading the article on LinkedIn.
  • Don’t include ANY calls to action that take the recipient anywhere else aside from the LinkedIn content.
  • Use a simple template that makes it easy to read on mobile. A design that’s too fancy will pull attention away from the content.
  • Subject lines are uber important in getting the email opened. If you have a great headline, use that. The only risk around using headlines as subject lines is length – you can get away with a bit more length in a LinkedIn headline than the average email subject line.

You can see what this distribution looked like as sent to Russell’s contacts below:

Email distribution Russell Yardley

If you’re trying to maximise view and comment velocity on launch, it’s critical that you don’t include the whole article in the email.


If you have questions, let’s discuss in the comments below

Clearly there’s a lot of detail that sits underneath each of these stages. If you’ve got questions, please jump into the comments and I’ll try and answer in as much detail as possible.

I’d also like to thank Russell for allowing us to openly share the process, strategy and execution behind this launch.


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