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.
Social Media’s Role in Influencers
If I made the statement that people just want to be liked & have an inherent fear of rejection; most people would have an easy time accepting that as truth. Because, as humans, we are social creatures & barring psychological damage? Most rejection is not fun especially when it comes to social media and online influencers. So, in an effort to be liked & avoid rejection; we seek affiliation: being closely related or associated to others in our society in what we say, think, do, believe. As much as we love the slogan “Dare to be different;” from childhood we’re conditioned that being different? Is difficult, more prone to rejection and we begin to embrace the concept of conformity.
Psychology Influence Case Studies
Conformity, on its face, is not a bad thing; in fact, our society would cease to civilly function without it as it provides basis for standards and ‘societal norms.’ We base many of our decisions, especially ones where we find the options to be unclear or in conflict with our known beliefs, on the judgements/decisions of others. Don’t believe me? There are a pair of psychological tests that beautifully illustrate this:
- The first is Musaf Sherif’s Robbers Cave Study of 1935 on Intergroup Behavior and realistic conflict theory. He studied group cohesion through friction & derogation between two groups of boys… how group heiarchy was established & how two groups could subsequently integrate & achieve harmony. While there were many significant observations made as a result of this study; Sherif noted how the desire to be accepted and favored by those in one’s ingroup were strong, resulting in further friction with the ‘outgroup;’ such as name-calling, aversion, and other derogation. This only changed when both groups could rally around a shared cause or goal that benefited everyone – giving both groups a reason to conform to a new standard of behavior.. which they did. Conformity was a constant throughout the experiment; it was only the associations that changed as a result of external pressures/situations.
- The second is the subsequent experiment on conformity known as the “Asch Conformity Experiment” first conducted in 1951. You see, Asch was convinced that Sherif’s findings were flawed since, in his study, there was no one correct answer. Without a definitive answer, how could you ensure there was actually conformity? So, he created a visual, judgement task test whereby he could test the extent social pressures truly had on judgement. While he intended to prove the conformity of Sherif’s experiments were as a result of a lack of a concrete ‘right answer;’ he actually proved the opposite. Have a look at the figure below. Compare the line on the left with the three lines on the right: A, B & C. Which of these three lines is the same length as the line on the left? While the answer is clearly “C,” over 18 trials, 32% of participants consistently chose wrong in accordance to what the ‘control group’ stated was right; 76% went along with the group at least once.
How to Influence Others. Take Me to Your Leader
- Common Afflilation: someone who is ‘like’ us is more likely to understand us; we look to maintain an in group.
- Expertise & Accuracy: an expert has a higher degree of likelihood of providing accurate information; decreasing our likelihood of being ‘wrong’ – people like to be right.
- Ability to leverage our need for consistent self-conceptualization: people who can help us maintain continuity with our own values & self-image – allowing us to ‘adopt’ their views while staying ‘true’ to who we believe we are – is more likely to be allowed to influence us than someone who demands radical change.
Why Universal Influence is a Myth
This all builds up to why it’s impossible to be ‘universally influential.’ Outside of superheros, one person can not have a universal affiliation – and, since even superheros have arch-enemies? One could argue they’re not universally accepted, either. To know something about everything means a person has to maintain a somewhat shallow knowledge base – that’s a bandwidth/time issue. So subsequently, they become the personification of the phrase “Jack of all trades; Master of none;” how influential is that? It’s not . One of my favorite illustrations of the absurdity of this is from Annie Get Your Gun in the song – “Anything You Can Do.” Unfortunately, the song can’t be embedded from youtube, so I’m sharing a parody version of the song with Harry Potter.
Psychology of Influence and the Role of Ego
You quickly realize that it’s ego leading the person and there’s nothing influential about that as it comes from a selfish place & that’s contrary to what we want in a leader. Ego -overblown- is neither believable, nor likable. It defies the three things that we look to in a leader; so, the lack of credibility impedes those afflicted from being able to maintain a position of ‘thought-leadership’ and diminishes influence. They may still recognize you; but their full faith is likely to be put elsewhere.
It’s important to understand that the position of ‘influencer’ can not be chosen for one’s self; it’s an appointed position that requires no campaigning. To instill the confidence in others to allow them the desire to ‘appoint you’ to that position; just be aware of your surroundings, build a deep knowledge base in core competency that you’re able to execute on, and allow people to maintain the picture they have in their head of who they are.. or better yet, help them improve it without compromising them in the process.
Next time, we’ll look at how to begin to apply influence in your workforce in business. Check out the first article in my influence series, Understanding the Psychology of Online Influence.
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.