Friday, June 18

Obsessing Over Influencers: Six Influencer Styles From Psychology

Foresight Research, a Rochester, Michigan, based market research firm specializing in automotive research, has released some findings from its study influence of the Internet and social media on automotive purchase decisions. What they found won't surprise anyone involved in social media.

In 2009, 86 percent of all new vehicle buyers used the Internet in their new vehicle purchase process. Of those who used the Internet, 90 percent compared vehicles and pricing while 83 percent checked for incentives. Thirteen percent would also share some form of social networking to share information about their purchase.

"What's interesting is that the information and advice given on social networking sites typically comes from automotive 'shouters,'" said Steve Bruyn, president of Foresight Research. "[They're a] thin slice of the population that is most acutely familiar with the latest vehicle models, offerings and options – these are the people that influence other folks' automotive purchases."

According to Bruyn, the most influential car buyers offer vehicle recommendations on social networking sites (29 percent) and use the Internet regularly (93 percent). At t a glance, the common conclusion is that if a firm or dealer can pinpoint, cater to, and influence influencers (or shouters as Bruyn calls them; trust agents as Chris Brogan calls them), it will lead to more sales.

But is that all that is going on? We don't think so. Not all influencers are the same. Not all influencers are created equal.

Six Influencer Behavior Styles And What They Might Mean.

In psychology, influence has always been among the more favored tracks of research. Here are just a few things that most people already know about influence within social media.

• Reciprocity. People tend to return favors. Those who share other people's ideas, opinions and work often have their ideas, opinions and work shared in return. Reciprocity is discussed often enough.

Commitment. When people commit to something, they are more likely to honor that commitment. In other words, if they become engaged on a blog or social network page like Facebook, then they are much more likely to share positive information. Social media always underscores commitment over campaigns.

Social Proof. People tend to follow groups. If a group of people join a social network, then other people are likely to follow. Just like nature, people are predisposed to follow order and conform. The illusion of popularity tends to pop up here as a topic from time to time.

• Authority. People generally follow authority figures, which tend to be established by rank, position, or mass of followers. Even if people are asked to do something unethical, they are likely to do so if they are ordered. Right now, people have a diminishing opportunity to build authority from nothing with social media.

Liking. People are much more easily persuaded by people they like. Popularity, personality, and niceness can go a long way in establishing a following. While outbursts and contrarians tend to get short-term attention, likable people tend to be believed more readily. Popularity or the perception of being popular tend to be a social media obsession.

Scarcity. When something is only available for a limited time, can only be provided from a limited source, or even when attention is granted by an influencer in high demand, then the product, information, or personal attention tends to have the perception of increased value. Increased value means increased demand. Exclusive content, with enough lift from followers, will help you gain exposure as an early adopter.

Sure, some people might think I just plucked some of the more popular social media advice off the net to make this list. I didn't. It's really the other way around.

The "Six Weapons of Influence" were never written with social media in mind. They were established by Robert B. Cialdini, who focused on real world influence, and relied on historic case studies within the field of psychology.

Whether these ideas were inserted into social media because some experts rediscovered them or stole them outright may likely never be known. They've become embedded in the foundation of social media. Still, the real takeaway is another layer deep.

Marketers hoping to tap into influencers are best served by understanding the backgrounds of the social media influencers they hope to attract and weigh it against cultivating their own. Did these influencers gain favor because they did favors for others? Seem always present online? Attract the attention of an established group? Enter the scene with a perceived authority? Are genuinely nice, fun, and helpful? Were privy to information that no one else had? Was it a combination of several?

If you want to know, take a look at the top five individuals from the locked down list at Ad Age Power 150: Seth Godin, Chris Brogan, Lee Odden, Brian Solis, and Andy Beal.

Do you know which paths each of them followed to establish the authority and/or the popularity they seem to have now? We do. Do you know which methods are most sustainable for you (as opposed to them)? What about those who quickly climbed the list or, in other cases, vanished? What about those who never bothered to be added (there are dozens)? Have you ever considered them?

These represent only a few of the questions marketers or public relations professionals need to ask before reaching out to influencers within specific spheres. After all, if you don't know how they became an influencer, there is little chance you'll be able to relate to them on their terms. And, in some cases, you might even find they don't really know anything about the spheres they talk about, leaving your company exposed to very random assessments. In other words, don't follow mere shouters.

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