Social influence occurs when an individual’s thoughts, feelings or actions are affected by other people. Social influence takes many forms and can be seen in conformity, socialization, peer pressure, obedience, leadership, persuasion, sales, and marketing.
Influence results in behaviors with positive marketing outcomes including compliance ie. buying the advertised brand; identification ie. buying products used by people they admire and respect; and internalization ie. accepting beliefs of others both publically and privately.
Understanding how influence works is a key element affecting marketing strategy. This is especially true in social network marketing, where it underpins the effectiveness of marketing strategies.
Several types of influence are commonly used in marketing: personal, impersonal. Either type can be either direct or indirect. Today, we’ll talk about personal influence and save impersonal for next week — tomorrow is dedicated to my “Ask a Marketing Expert” segment on Facebook at http://Facebook.com/angela.hausman [Update on 4/28/15 — Ask a Marketing Expert morphed into my Facebook group — Social Media Marketing Tribe. Please join me there for questions and to share valuable content].
With personal influence, an individual is influencing another’ s behavior. This can be direct, as when a parent requests a child perform a certain behavior. Often personal influence is indirect, involving an identification behavior modeling. Others behave in certain ways to emulate people they admire and respect. They may also modify their behavior in ways they think will make them liked by people they admire and respect. Celebrities have extensive influence and use this to get you to attend their movies and concerts, buy the clothes and accessories they wear (or knock-offs), support their causes, even vote the way they do. Others have similar power to influence an individual’s behavior.
Harnessing personal influence is an important element of marketing strategy, especially social network marketing strategy. Also termed word of mouth advertising, personal influence has a greater impact on behavior than paid advertising because it is seen as unbiased and because others identify with the person providing word of mouth advertising, which makes them think the product is not only better, but more appropriate for their situation. The notion of viral marketing is based on reaching a few people who have a lot of klout, then encouraging them to spread your message among their network (sphere of influence).
If personal influence is so powerful, how should your company go about harnessing this power? Here are a number of proven strategies:
1. Track Influencers
You’re not likely to harness influence if you don’t know who is influencing your brand. So, look at who is talking about your brand or your competitor’s brands.
Also, look for folks who hold a lot of influence with your target market. This means gathering market research from your target market about their lifestyles, hobbies, demographics, etc. You can also ask them who they admire, but you’re likely to get only a small sample of the people who influence them. More sources of influence come from finding people who are influential in their demographic groupings, their hobbies, etc.
There are tools for evaluating the degree of influence possessed by an individual. Klout scores are one way. Click here to see how Klout scores are calculated. You can also look at the Alexa ranking for their blog (if they have one). Alexa is an evaluation of a site’s traffic. These are much better tools than looking at raw numbers such as number of Facebook friends or Twitter followers.
As mentioned earlier, celebrities have extensive influence across many target markets. They know this and charge bigtime for their endorsements. Companies provide them with all kinds of free products, vacations, etc, in the hopes they will be seen using the company’s product. The use of celebrities can also backfire if they’re caught in some inappropriate behavior or making inappropriate statements. People are also somewhat cynical when it comes to celebrities and this might reduce the impact of using them to promote your products. Celebrities also don’t work if your target market isn’t influenced by celebrity status.
2. Motivate Influencers
Once you’ve identified influencers, its important to motivate them to use your brand, recommend your brand, or review your brand. This can be done by either compensating them or giving them something valuable to pass along.
Some important influencers might be worth paying. You can offer them money, such as the blogger who hosted a successful diet blog. She was paid to blog about Weight Watchers by their advertising agency. You can also offer them free products or services in the hopes they will blog about their experiences.
There are other ways to compensate influencers for their endorsements. Influencers often want to be seen as “cool” and “in the know”. They get a kick from being pseudo journalists and knowing things before other people. They also get a kick from passing along information, tools, or other tidbits their network sees as valuable, funny, or cool. So, give it to them. Make them feel special by getting information before it becomes public. Include them in your list to get press kits and invitations to press conferences. Send them press releases. Highlight them in your newsletters when they write a review. Give them VIP passes or access to behind the scenes aspects of your business. Thank them for what they’re doing. Give them cool stuff to pass along — games, contests, etc.
3. Don’t Make them Mouthpeices
Remember, influencers have influence, to a large extent, because they’re seen as part of the group and as being unbiased. Your efforts to get them to review your brand, use your brand, or in some other way influence their network should never interfere with this objectivity. Otherwise, they’ll lose their ability to influence their network.