The psychology behind the success of influencer marketing

Exploring the science behind the raging success of influencer marketing in the age of digital commerce.
17 August 2018

Why is this marketing technique so successful? Source: Shutterstock

Influencer marketing has become perhaps one of the biggest buzzwords in marketing in recent years.

Although this form of marketing has long been used by brands as a way to promote their products, the rise of social media has sparked a real boom in the implementation of this strategy.

Influencers, social media stars, bloggers- whatever you want to refer to them as- are being leveraged by businesses in varying industries to advertise their products to the large online following of these individuals.

Influencer marketing campaigns have led to much success for brands. According to research:

  • This marketing technique delivers 11 times higher ROI than traditional forms of digital marketing
  • 94 percent of marketers who have used influencer marketing believe the tactic to be effective
  • 48 percent of US marketers plan to ramp up the budget for influencer-focused campaigns

Influencer marketing has truly captured the attention of today’s consumer, impacting their purchasing decisions in many ways.

According to one survey, nearly one-third of consumers have been swayed by social influencers to purchase a product or service, be it on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter.

But what makes this form of marketing so wildly successful? Let us explain the impact of influencers on consumer behavior through classic psychological theories:

Credibility and social proof

The degree of influence an individual possesses is very dependent on their degree of perceived power. According to French and Raven’s 1960 classic framework of power bases, a key element to this perceived power of a person is the amount of expertise he or she has.

The world of social media is full of bloggers who typically excel in a particular niche, from fitness and health, fashion, or food. You’re likely to listen to advice on “how to style your summer wardrobe” from an influencer who posts a lot on the topic of fashion rather than someone who focuses on food or sport.

Adding to this authoritative influence is the evidence of social proof; the tendency to see an action as more acceptable when others are doing it.

On social media, the evidence of social proof is in the large number of followers, shares, and likes of an influencer. This level of engagement gives others the notion that others also value the opinion of the influencer and so also doing so is okay.

Frequency of exposure

We spend a lot of time scrolling through social media, continuously exposed to content. The more time we spend viewing the content of an influencer we follow, the more likely we are to be swayed by the content they post.

How much time do you spend scrolling through the content of influencers? Source: Shutterstock

The same can be applied to traditional forms of advertising in which consumers are exposed to the same message time and time again which eventually leads them to remember the brand or product advertised.

But unlike traditional advertising which can often be irritating and obtrusive, social media users not only choose to be exposed to the content produced by an influencer, but they actively look for it.

Conformity and belonging

The need to belong is rooted deep into evolutionary history. Us humans have an innate trait in us to form tribes of people who connect to one another, a leader or an idea. Originally, the forming of social groups was a necessity for the support and protection needed for survival.

When it comes to social media, this same concept can be applied. When following an influencer, people tend to join a group of people who share similar interests and goals.

Following an influencer places us in a social group consisting of other followers just like us. As consumers, we aim to be like the influencer – or leader – who represents our group.

Thus when an influencer posts content with a certain product, we naturally also show a tendency to want to purchase the product in order to be similar and confirm our membership to thes social group.

These are just a few examples of psychological theories that can explain the wild success of influencer marketing on social media.