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An insider's look at the power of influence marketing

Mark W. Schaefer
An insider's look at the power of influence marketing Mark W. Schaefer


Note from the editor: The following is an excerpt from "Return On Influence," by Mark W. Schaefer. In his book, Schaefer discusses the power of Klout, social scoring, and influence marketing.

An insider's look at the power of influence marketing

The new rules of online influence

How does one become more influential on the social web? We are certainly on the cusp of a revolution in the nature of influence that is being enabled by three concurrent technological developments:

  1. The widespread global availability of free or low cost internet access

  2. Easy-to-use social media tools that allow nearly anyone to become a publisher

  3. Algorithms from companies such as Klout and PeerIndex that identify, assess, and sort influencers by topic

But apart from technology, the entire nature of influence is changing. The reason people become powerful through social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter has turned many traditional ideas about influence upside down.

To understand the new realities of power and influence -- and how we can use them to our advantage -- it would be useful to look at some traditional views and examine what's different now. To guide us, let's turn to a well-known resource created my Dr. Robert Cialdini in his acclaimed book "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion." 

In writing the seminal book, Professor Cialdini spent three years going undercover, applying for jobs and training at used car dealerships, fund-raising organizations, and telemarketing firms, to observe real-life situations of persuasion. The book documents what Cialdini calls the "weapons of influence" as he found them in the real world. If you want to learn how personal power and persuasion really works, this is the place to go.

Let's examine how some of these traditional aspects of influence play out on the internet. In this chapter we'll consider authority (both real and perceived), likability, consistency, and scarcity. In Chapter 4 we'll look at two of the social web's heavyweight sources of influence: social proof and reciprocity.

At the end of each section, there are some ideas about the implications for your online power and influence.


Authority is one of the most interesting topics in considering the social web because theoretically, there isn't supposed to be any!

In fact, any attempt to impose hierarchy, rules, standards, and governance on the web will almost certainly be met with strong resistance. Wasn't the internet built by volunteers with a mission of equal access and fairness? Isn't the internet the great equalizer of humankind, giving a voice to anybody in any corner of the globe? Yet authority is unquestionably earned everyday on social media platforms. Even the term for your Twitter connections -- followers -- implies a hierarchical structure.

Although the internet does not have the kind of structure or organizational chart you might find in a company, a country, or even a classroom, humans crave authority and have a need to bestow authority even when it's not readily apparent. We want to know who is in charge.

Cialdini thinks that this need is wired into our systems to such an extent that humans respond intuitively and even automatically to perceived authority figures. This is a very important concept as we seek to understand how people create influence, or the perception of influence, on the social web.

"Conforming to the dictated of authority figures has always had a genuine practical advantage for us," Cialdini said. "Early on, authority figures -- for example, parents, teachers -- knew more than we did, and we found that taking their advice proved beneficial partly because of their greater wisdom and partly because they controlled our rewards and punishments."

"As adults, the same benefits persist for the same reasons, through the authority figures now appear as employers, judges, and government leaders. Because their positions speak of superior access to information and power, it makes sense to comply with the wishes of properly constituted authorities. It makes so much sense, in fact, that we often do so when it makes no sense at all.  Once we realize that obedience to authority is mostly rewarding, it is easy to allow ourselves the convenience of automatic obedience."

In Chapter 2, we saw how this played out with people auto-responding to tweets from people they trust. This is a great illustration of the power and benefit of personal brand building on social web. If you ascend to a position of trust on the social web, this mindless obedience is not always negative; it offers a shortcut through the density of modern life. Once we have made up our minds that a person is an authority, it allows us an appealing luxury: We don’t have to think so hard about issues anymore. We don't have to sift through the blizzard of information we encounter everyday to identify relevant facts; we don't have to expend the mental energy to weigh the pros and cons; we don't have to make any further tough decisions.

Instead, all we have to do when confronted with many challenges is turn to the sources we trust and play the same tape.

This concept might sound strange, but here's an example of how it works in a positive way. Marketing consultant Danny Brown spends more time tweaking and improving his blog than anybody else I know. We seem to be aligned on most business issues, our approaches to blogging and community are similar, and I trust him completely as a business professional. The relationship creates a competitive advantage for me because I don't have to hire an IT person to keep me on top of the latest blog technologies, experimenting, beta testing, and negotiating with suppliers. I just do what Danny does.

In my sphere, Danny is highly influential because he has completely earned my trust, and now when it comes to blog technology innovations, I'm in auto-response mode. For me, it's efficient. He is my blog R&D department. Though Danny has no official authority over me on the basis of position or title, he certainly influences me and many others through authority built on helpfulness, hard work, knowledge, and integrity. This is good reason why any strategy on the social web begins with an emphasis on authenticity and honesty: It's a source of tremendous power.

Mark W. Schaefer, "Return On Influence," 2012, McGraw-Hill Professional; reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Mark W. Schaefer is executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions.

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