Cult leaders can be pretty persuasive, right? One minute you’re minding your own business and the next you’ve signed up to a timeshare in Spain, or you’re the latest sales person for Global Super Joots (Juicy fruits that make you say Joot!). Or maybe you’re now one of the 60 sister-wives/brother-husbands of a very persuasive chap named Barry. Brands can be persuasive too, so what have they got in common that’s underlying their influence and can social influence theory explain their power?

A crowd of people with their hands in the air, the image focuses on their hands

A few weeks ago I did a post on just a few of the things that are standing in the way of engagement via social media. This week, I’m going to be talking about social influence theory: what it is and how it’s often used to influence us (probably without us realising). Then, maybe we can use this to start our very own cult!*

*Disclaimer*: Don’t actually use it to start your own cult – unless it’s a nice cult where you encourage people to all be lovely to everyone.

What is social influence theory?

This is a theory developed by social psychologist Robert Cialdini. The theory has six components: Liking, Authority, Scarcity, Social proof, Reciprocity, and Consistency.

Liking

This suggests that people who are liked have more influence. We’re more likely to listen to other people that we like than someone we don’t know or don’t like. Have you ever wondered why celebrities are used to peddle shampoo/magic water/tell you who to vote for? – We all have opinions about certain celebrities and our liking for them makes the message that ‘saying Joot!’ is a good thing.

Authority

We trust those who seem to know what they’re on about. That’s why those people with a big blue ‘verified’ tick can be so influential. Plus, those 9/10 dentists that you’ve probably heard so much about.

Scarcity

This is the idea that something limited/more exclusive is likely to generate more demand than something freely available by anyone. You probably see this used a lot: Only 2 tickets remaining to see your favourite band, sign up for limited spaces to my online tutorial.

Social proof

If other people are doing in, then maybe I should too. I’m driving and begin to notice that everyone in front of me is moving into the right-hand lane, so what do I do? Probably peer about a bit and then decide that I should probably shift lanes too. On social media this is pretty explicit – the more followers and likes a person has, the stronger the social proof.

Reciprocity

You know when you nod at someone and they feel compelled to nod back? Or if I buy you a present for no reason, you feel like you should buy me one too? That’s the idea of reciprocity, we feel like we ought to give back what’s given to us. Hey, I’ve given you a free pen, now would you think about signing my petition?

Consistency/commitment

We all have a set of core values and beliefs and we want to act in a way that matches with these, and when we don’t it makes us feel uncomfortable. You care about your child’s wellbeing, now try Joot Jnrs: A Joot drink now with less sugar!

Building the Cult of Lovely

Social Influence and Social Media

Ok, so those are the five key principles of the theory. How can we apply them to build up a social media following for the Cult of Lovely?

First, to build up a profile, we’ll use liking and reciprocity. Following, commenting and liking, to build up a basic follower count. We’ll be nice and compliment others, partly because that’s how we do things in the CoL and partly because that covers the ‘liking’ box. Maybe after a while, people that others like will endorse our lovely message.

Next, we can share our knowledge about the benefits of loveliness and then share others’ knowledge to build up our authority.

A bunch of yellow tulips on top of an open book

Liking on social media is low effort and likely to produce little reciprocity, so we’ll use like-for-like and follow-for-follow to develop our profiles. Commenting helps to develop a relationship and reciprocity.

To help tackle commitment, we can ask people to first share the link to our CoL website, or something else that’s a really small level of effort first, then go bigger. – Certain organisations get people to pay money to prove their commitment, then the donations get bigger and bigger. But, since we’re all about loveliness, we’ll have to think of another way that people can show their loveliness.

As it builds up a following, social proof will increase automatically until we’ve formed a world of lovely people.

So there we have it, world domination with loveliness. Just a couple of things to keep in mind:

Reactance:

I talked about this a bit in a previous post. Basically it’s the idea that if people know that you’re trying to influence them and that their free-will is being threatened, they’ll do the opposite. Maybe by reading this post, you might recognise a few techniques that have been used on you and the next time you get an email telling you that there are only three days left to apply for some free Juicy Joots, you might ignore it.

Ethics:

How ethical is it to try to consciously sway others’ behaviour? There are some arguments that you can’t persuade people to do what they don’t already want to do, or that we’re being influenced constantly with advertising. But does that make it right?

Other influences:

This theory probably doesn’t cover all the different aspects of social influence. Can you think of other ways social influence might change behaviour?

Want to read more?

If you’re interested in reading more about psychology and social media, you might want to take a look at my other post on how reading reviews might change your opinions before you know what they are, or how you can build up social media profiles for your business.

Or, if you fancy reading some fiction: click here for a short story including a murder, a picnic, and a wannabe future pirate, or a flash fiction about a guy realising the meaning of life is the game of tiddlywinks.