Understanding the Psychology of Influence and Social Media

Influencing People and People Who Influence

Recently I had a conversation with a very bright consumer psychologist who told me that in life, there are two kinds of people, 1) Those that influence others, and 2) the people they influence.

In other words, it boiled down to have influence, or you have not; you were a leader that could sway the opinions of others… or you were a follower of trends set by others.  But not both; at least not at any one given time on any one given topic.  Respectfully?  I disagree; but it’s a fantastic illustration that when it comes to influence and the power of influencing.  There’s still a lot of confusion as to what it is, how it works in business, online, and why it matters in the first place.

Psychology of Influence and Not Just Social Media 

To begin to understand the applications of social influence, you first have to break down what makes influence in the first place.  The definition is easy enough to understand:  influence notes someone’s ability to sway the ideals, thoughts, and decision-making of others.  They’re able to do this through the leveraging of two things:

  • Credibility – expertise in a specific area of knowledge
  • Bandwidth – the ability & capacity to share that knowledge with others

What makes influence, and therefore the one that yields it, such a desirable object is as simple (& yet complex) as this:  Persuasion – which is the power of social influence.  The rain can influence my decision to wear a raincoat; but that’s really just cause and effect.  When the raincoat I put on is this adorable Valentino Belted Macintosh Trench that I saw pinned multiple times from fashionistas I adore on Pinterest?  That is an example of the power of consumer influence; those ‘pinners’ persuaded me to buy through 6 areas of persuasion:

  • Authority – While this can also refer to ‘authority figures’ or ‘bosses;’  in the example above, the ‘Pinners’ had established themselves as being a knowledgable – credible – source in the area of fashion trends.
  • Social Proof – they provided “social proof” of this authority through the number of shares, likes, comments and, on Pinterest, the number of ‘repins’ they’d received of the things they’d shared.  In influence, people will do (and buy) things that they see other people doing (and buying).
  • Liking – this doesn’t refer to the Facebook ‘like,’ exactly; though that is a visible ‘social proof’ that people are easily persuaded by people they like.  This area of persuasion is one where physical attractiveness comes heavily into play; and the example above I shared is no exception.  I do like the sense of style that the pinners have; but I also concede they’re all fairly attractive people with physical traits that I a) appreciate and b) share (or want to) so can visualize how their style suggestions would then look on me.
  • Scarcity – this is simple; with limited supply comes increased demand.  With the raincoat example, there comes a nagging notion that the more it was shared with others, the more likely the raincoat was to sell out (at least in my size).
  • Commitment & Consistency -In social influence, I see this has two applications.  The ‘taught’ application is leveraging the psychological truth that people tend to consistently honor the commitments they make – once someone decides something, they tend to stick with it even after/if the incentive that led them to the decision is removed.  But the other application is this:  your ability to persuade online is highly affected by your commitment to the consistent execution of the social strategy to demonstrate your credibility to maintain and grow your bandwidth.  This is, in fact, key to success in influence.
  • Reciprocity –  People tend to ‘return the favor.’  Online?  Share my stuff and I’ll share yours… share something I buy and I’m likely to give you credit for it… which increases credibility & bandwidth.

Online Influence Measure & Myths

The power to persuade is a very heady thing; and when wielded appropriately, it looks almost effortless & unintentional…. however, the truth is that it’s really anything but ‘effortless & unintentional.’  Over the next few weeks, we will be looking at all angles of influence in business, how to measure them effective & how to position yourself to best wield influence through developing successful strategy.  Up next?  The myths & misapplications of influence of the “Universal Influencer:  Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better.”

Crystal Miller, known on Twitter as @theonecrystal is a builder of talent communities, addicted to Instagram, and avid social recruiter who also co-hosts a weekly radio show called #TalentNet. Visit her blog, TheOneCrystal.com to learn more. 

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Crystal Miller

Crystal Miller runs corporate marketing & develops client digital marketing strategy for Ajax Workforce Marketing. Ajax is the workforce marketing agency, working with HR and recruiting to drive sustained, exponential brand amplification by aligning employee and corporate messaging on LinkedIn and across social platforms. Additionally, Crystal shares her views and experience on social recruiting, culture communications, and leveraging workforce marketing/social media as a speaker/guest educator at various conferences and universities around the world. Outside of work, Crystal enjoys spending time with her 2 daughters in Dallas, Texas. You can connect with her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/theonecrystal and follow her Twitter handle: @TheOneCrystal.

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  1. Avatar6kSocial says

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  2. Why Online & Social Media Influence is Tragically Misunderstood | SNID Master in Social Networks Influence Design says:

    […] Influence especially online and social media is all around us.  This article is part of a series regarding the science and psychology of influence. Check out part 1.  […]

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