The Science Behind Normative Social Influence
You might not realize it, but there’s a whole science behind influencer marketing. Influencers use a variety of psychological tools to convince people to follow them and try out the products and services they use. Without certain specific elements related to human nature, social media as a whole might not be as popular as it is today.
It’s time to dig deeper into one particular concept: normative social influence, and how this psychological process affects how we interact with each other on the web.
What Is Normative Social Influence?
PsychCentral defines normative social influence as taking steps to conform to the group, not necessarily because you actually agree with the group, but because you want to fit in. You might not want to see the latest Avengers movie, but given the choice between a movie night out with friends or staying in by yourself, you can pretend to like it.
Normative social influence comes from our desire to be part of a group and feel connected with our community. Using the example above, your desire to stay close with your friends as opposed to being left out of the pack leads you to pretend you wanted to see that movie.
This doesn’t only happen with friend groups. It happens in the office, online, and in personal relationships. Sometimes a few people compromise around certain issues, while other times one or two people are influenced by one strong personality.
Without normative social influence, communities would never get along. At the first disagreement, the whole group would break apart and each individual would do what they thought was best.
The Difference Between Peer Pressure and Peer Influence
There’s no doubt that your peers have a significant impact on what you do; however, there is a line between healthy peer influence and peer pressure.
People who experience peer pressure do things they aren’t comfortable with or take steps against their will because of their peers. This is an exchange: One person does something they don’t want to, and in turn, their peers offer acceptance. The person gets to remain part of the pack.
People with low self-esteem are more likely to be negatively influenced by their peers and feel pressured to conform. While those with higher self-esteem will leave a bad situation (or change it for the better), those with lower self-esteem will do whatever it takes to feel like they’re part of the group.
However, healthy peer influence may involve choosing something positive due to the influence of your friends, which can be a good thing. Your friends might take you to a different restaurant where you realize you really love a new dish. Your friends can also introduce you to new TV shows, music, and activities that shape your worldview and affect your day-to-day life.
Where Can You See Normative Social Influence in Marketing?
Social influence is all over the marketing industry. In fact, there’s a new term that more advertisers use to describe the process of playing on normative social influence: FOMO (fear of missing out).
On TV, audiences are told to watch the Super Bowl, Video Music Awards, or Oscars or risk missing those iconic moments that everyone will be talking about the next day. Locally, people are told to check out events or visit certain restaurants or bars or risk being out of the loop where the cool people are.
Even marketing for product staples (like makeup, toilet paper, cars, and mosquito repellant) plays on your FOMO. If you don’t buy ABC repellant, all your friends will have fun outside while you’re isolated from the pack indoors.
While the term FOMO is new, the concept of social normative influence is even older than advertising: It’s as old as society itself.
Why Influencers Are So Effective at Changing Behavior
Influencer marketing takes these psychological concepts one step further. While a TV ad plays on your relationship with your social group, an influencer actually becomes part of your social group. When you follow someone online, you feel like you’re just as close to them as you are to your friends in real life. You also have discussions with the influencer’s friends, that is, other people in the comments. Influencer marketing is effective because all these friends are telling you what is cool and what isn’t.
If an influencer endorses a product, it carries a similar weight to your close friend doing it. Then, dozens of other people in the comments mention how they use the product, too, and love it. Suddenly, one person can feel left out, making them want to try the product to see if it has value and stacks up against what everyone says about it.
Social normative influence, when used in healthy ways and levels, introduces people to new ideas and options. While it encourages people to step out of their comfort zones, it shouldn’t force them to do something they don’t want to do. Influencers can use this concept to guide fans to try new things and explore different products, benefiting the fans, the influencers, and marketers who support them.
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