When designing Web sites, you display banners and push your Web site listings higher up in the search engine rankings to promote and sell products. It’s easy to forget how people actually buy. It’s easy to assume that the potential customers are lonely people crouched over their computers late at night choosing what products to add to a shopping cart isolated from the real world and their family and friends.
But in reality, that’s not how people purchase online today. Although it might have been the case in the early days of the Web, those days are over now. Using the Internet has become a mainstream social activity. Consumers approach purchasing online differently, too, and as a result, you need to approach your marketing online differently as well. Your approach must incorporate social influence marketing.
Defining Social Influence Marketing
A discussion of any subject needs to begin with a definition, and so here’s the one for social influence marketing: Social influence marketing is a technique that employs social media and social influencers (everyday people who have an outsized influence on their peers by virtue of how much content they share online) to achieve an organization’s marketing and business needs.
The definition warrants further explanation. Social media refers to content created for and consumed by regular people. It includes the comments a person adds at the end of an article on a Web site, the family photographs he uploads to a photo-sharing site, the conversations he has with friends in a social network, and the blog posts that he publishes or comments on. That’s social media, and it’s making everyone in the world a content publisher and arbitrator. It’s democratizing the Web. WordPress.com, shown in one popular blogging platform.
Understanding the fundamentals of influence
To understand how social influence works, you need to look at how people are influenced in the real world, face to face. Social influence isn’t something new. Long before the Web, people asked each other for advice as they made purchasing decisions. What one person bought often inspired another to buy the same product, especially if the original purchaser said great things about the product. That’s how human beings function; we’re influenced and motivated by each other to do things. We’re social beings, and sharing information on our experiences is all a part of social interaction.
Considering the types of influencers
When discussing social influence marketing, colleagues often ask me whether this means that they should add product review features to e-commerce Web sites or advertise on social networks. Yes, product reviews and advertising are important, but there’s more to social influence than those two things. When you think about social influence in the context of your marketing objectives, you must separate social influencers online into three types: referent, expert, and positional.