The Psychology of Influencer Marketing


Have you ever participated in something just because your friend was? Or bought something because it looked good on somebody else? This phenomenon is known as influence psychology, and it’s what has made the job of an influencer possible.

Using one’s status and skills to promote products and services is nothing new – it’s been around for decades. However, the methods by which we have started to influence consumers have changed drastically. Influencers can be anybody nowadays, and that’s the appeal. Influencers today have very personal connections with their audiences due to how engaging and personable they are and with the help of social media.

With that being said, more and more customers are trusting these influencers and seeing them as part of their mainstream circle. So, it’s no surprise that big and small brands everywhere are jumping on this bandwagon, and it’s all thanks to the psychology of influence.

Keeping Up With Conformity

At our core, human beings have an extremely social and collective mindset. We naturally crave a community environment where we can connect deeply with those close to us. However, these personal connections also can force us to unconsciously try to conform to those around us. 

For some consumers on social media, these influencers can feel like friends due to the personal connections they make. When this happens, the consumers usually try to model their habits, purchases, and hobbies around what their favorite influencer does. These influencers show them what’s trendy, what social norms are popular, etc. Once a consumer has viewed an influencer as trustworthy in one category, they will often see them as credible in other categories too. This is a type of cognitive bias called The Halo Effect, which is a bias that causes people to transfer their beliefs and feelings about one thing onto another, often unrelated, thing. This is how popular influencers can become mainstream – they get famous for one particular aspect of influencing and then they use their newfound popularity to explore other categories. This is a marketer’s dream due to how many different products or services that one single influencer can promote. 

So how does conformity come into play? Well, for the consumers that try to model the lives of those they see on social media, they do it because of our innate nature to fit in with those around us, especially those that we admire. Biologically, when we feel the urge to conform or fit in, our brain essentially will try to warn us that a social norm has been breached, and we have messed up. The section of our brain that is linked with discipline and penalizing will show heightened activity and signal to us that we are not like those around us. Since the brain registers this as a threat, we tend to often follow our natural instincts and conform to whatever/whoever is around us to feel safe again. We feel the urge to conform out of fear of rejection from those we care most about. At the end of the day, our animal instinct is to survive, and fitting in with those around us helps us achieve that.

Social Influence and Sense of Control

On the topic of our natural instincts, let’s talk about social influence and control from an influencer perspective.

Humans have many different survival instincts, and part of these instincts includes a desire for control and power. As humans, we want to believe that we ourselves have power over all of our choices. The feelings of control and power for humans aid in the feeling of security and safety, thus helping us survive. Although the feeling of control does not equate to the feeling of power, having the option to control all of your own emotions and choices creates the illusion that you also have power.
Social media has only increased this sense of power and control due to the user being able to curate exactly what they want to see. You can choose who you follow, who follows you, what kind of content you want to see, what influencers you trust, etc. This has given consumers, especially young and impressionable consumers, to feel extremely empowered by who they follow and who they trust.

Social influence can be split into two different categories: informational influence and normative influence. Informational influence is, “when we conform to others because we believe they have accurate information” and normative influence is, “when we conform to others because we want them to accept us”. As an example in terms of careers, we have informational influence when we visit doctors or speak to professors because we believe that they have advanced knowledge on the subject, hence we trust and listen to them.

The Influencer Bug

So let’s talk about influencers. With the exponential rise of social media over the last decade and the boom of influencer marketing, influencers have also been grouped into informational influence. Over the last few years, influencers have been placed on a pedestal in the online world and are seen as having high knowledge about their content. Marketers have fully taken advantage of this and are capitalizing on influencers being positioned as “experts” in their field. If you’re someone who chooses to follow influencers, when they promote a brand, product, or service, it’s very likely that you will trust the information they provide and thus, your behaviors and choices are subject to change to conform to that of the influencer. When these creators promote and recommend a brand or service, they are triggering your biological and physiological systems, which cause the viewer to conform by using their position of authority and perceived social credibility. The influencers pre-existing content and media presence in their own personal niche makes them an extremely malleable launchpad for brands to gain credibility and customer traffic.

So what kind of influencers are out there? The most popular niches for marketing influencers include fashion, beauty, travel, lifestyles, celebrities/entertainment, sports, animals/pets, mom vloggers, video games, and many more. This is what’s so amazing about influencer marketing; there is a niche and an influencer for everyone, no matter what your interests are. These influencers can rate and review products/services, recommend their favorite items, test out a product live, record a ‘day in the life’ based on their interests, and so much more.

What do we think this means?

Influencer marketing is the newest component of the marketing mix, and it is definitely not going anywhere. It’s become an extremely effective technique that has helped many brands take off. It’s so effective because it capitalizes on our natural human instincts, desires, and feelings. Humans’ natural survival instincts mixed with our desire to fit in with those around us creates an opening for marketers to monetize personal connections and human instincts. These feelings of FOMO (fear of missing out), admiration, and fear of rejection are all normal and unconscious things our brains do, and that’s exactly why this method of marketing is here to stay.