Secrets of successfully influencing

Big brands are masters in convincing us to dismiss rational reasons to buy a product and instead, make us want to buy it because it feels good. Yes, they play with our emotions and we’re all being influenced – even when we think we’re making rational purchasing decisions.


Photo by Alice Donovan Rouse on Unsplash

The editorial team behind the Sustainable Fashion Gift Card was curious about the influencer phenomenon in relation to sustainability. Being in the spotlight all the time, sharing your personal life, is that even a sustainable lifestyle at all? And to what extent can you be sustainable as an influencer when you promote “stuff?” In this four-piece series we try to unravel the influencer phenomenon with an eye on sustainability.

Social Identity Theory in ‘real life’

Do we actually know the reason why we buy stuff? If it is because we ‘like’ it, then why do we like it? Perhaps we think we need it, or believe it will improve our life? In fact, usually there are multiple conscious and subconscious reasons at play, which can be described as the rational-emotional dichotomy. When we buy a product, we have both rational and emotional reasons for doing so. By playing on our emotions, brands are able to convince us to dismiss the rational reasons to buy a product and instead, make us want to buy it to feel good or because it looks nice, and most importantly in the case of influencers, because person X has it and said it was great. So what makes person X’s opinion so powerful to us? The answer to that question lies in psychology.

People are often unaware of being influenced – hence it works so well. There is a certain human sense that interacts with the mechanism of influencing. Often, we find ourselves wanting to distinguish ourselves from groups of people while at the same time imitating others. This goes on especially in terms of clothing and appearance. Sociologist Georg Simmel said it back in 1905: fashion is a form of social manifestation. By wearing certain clothes we place ourselves (consciously or subconsciously) in a group of people, the ones we identify with. Social Identity Theory plays a big part in this. Put simply, Social Identity Theory explains how individuals see themselves in a certain way when they belong to a group of similar people. These similarities spark trust, which is essentially the basis of the relationship between an influencer and their follower.

People are often unaware of being influenced – hence it works so well

Believing the attractive truth

The psychology of influence works for various technical reasons; it provides social proof, which basically means that if others are doing certain things or using certain products, then it must be good and right. Authority is the second psychological component, if an influencer seems to be an expert about brand X, we are likely to believe them and purchase it. Or, at least, be reminded of it (and then suddenly notice it everywhere). Finally, and the most valuable and important component is the likeability, or even attractiveness, of the influencer. This is somewhat obvious, but if we like the person who is suggesting we try a certain product, and they seem like they know what they are talking about, isn’t is only natural we want to try or know more about that product? It’s like when a friend recommends you that little restaurant or a cute shop.

So, what really makes social media influencers stand out in this era is their reliability. Think realness, authenticity, community; all things that ordinary marketing tools cannot provide to that extent. In order to successfully do their job, influencers must have an attainable lifestyle. They should seem like your average Joe or Jane; normal, honest and down-to-earth. Like a reliable friend. This is the secret to promoting a brand effectively through influencer marketing. The influencer has to seem reliable and honest. By interacting continuously with their followers, staying connected and providing us with constant entertainment and content, we feel invested in their lives, in their families, their friends and their diets even.

Influencers feel real and authentic; all things that ordinary marketing tools cannot provide

Just like you and me. Or not

For the ordinary citizen it might seem like influencers are living the (attainable) dream. Receiving the latest fashion for free, travelling the world, eating out and what not. But in the end they are humans, facing challenges in their work and personal lives every day. Just like you and me. The difference is basically that their work is their personal job. Their online persona is their offline persona. With that in mind, it must be challenging to find a balance between paying the bills and working towards a personal desire. Not every influencer finds him or herself in a luxury position to just do what they like, or at least to do good.

We spoke with a few professional Instagrammers about sharing each and every bit of their life and about using their platform for the greater good. Read more about it in our articles ‘An influencers role in sustainable fashion’ and ‘The glamorous life of an influencer unravelled’. They share with us some of the biggest challenges they face as trusted agents to their community, and how promoting sustainability happens to be a rather complex goal to achieve.

This four-piece series is derived from the research internship about social media influencers of Hannah Ospina for SFGC magazine. The series was edited to make it fit for our magazine by content creator Donna Brouwer.

Read all articles in this series
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