Last Updated on June 8, 2020

For centuries, people have relied on their peers to distinguish favorable traits from unfavorable. As modern medicine evolved, people realized that those who regularly washed their hands helped prevent the spread of disease, while those who didn’t were more likely to pass on undesirable microbes. Peer influencers play a healthy role in our lives because they can help us learn what is healthy, important, popular and often socially acceptable. Let’s look at how people build their lives around peer influence and what this means for businesses who want to sway public opinion.

There’s a Difference Between Peer Pressure and Influence

When most people think about peer pressure, they think about the bullying and teasing that exists in middle and high school. However, psychology professionals have found that influence starts well before those years. In an interview with the American Psychological Association, Dr. Brett Laursen says that influence is different from peer pressure. He uses the example of a kid with long hair suddenly wanting to cut it short. While peer pressure may come into play if the child was made fun of for his hair, it could also be the subtle influence of others. Maybe the “cool kids” have short hair and he wants to fit in.

Peer influence is more subtle and stays with people long after they pass their school years. People feel influenced by others to try certain foods, visit certain places, and do certain things. This influence comes in the form of recommendations and suggestions with ranging consequences. For example, your friends might plan a sushi dinner and invite you. Their influence can positively introduce you to Japanese cuisine — something you might enjoy for years after — but it could come with the consequence that if you turn down their invite, you will spend the night away from your friends.

Everyone is influenced by their peers in some way, but some people listen to this influence more than others. Similarly, every group of people you interact with has different interests or values and they will try to influence you, meaning you get different opinions and beliefs from each person you meet with.

How Peer Influence Plays a Role in Marketing

In the same way that peer influence isn’t a new concept, the role of peers in marketing is also an age-old practice — most people just call it word of mouth promotions. More than 80 percent of Americans say that a word of mouth promotion makes them more likely to buy a product or service and Convince and Convert reports 50 percent of Americans would pick word of mouth promotions if they had to choose one source of information.

People trust their friends and family to steer them in the right direction and help them make choices that are in their best interest. This proves that influence is a good thing that most people rely on throughout their lives.

Markets already use peer influence to grow their businesses. Restaurants and service providers encourage customers to leave reviews on Yelp and Google. Hotels and tour guides ask for reviews and photos on TripAdvisor. These review sites are platforms for people to share their thoughts and influence others. Even though a complete stranger is offering helpful advice, people take their influence to heart and make decisions based on what others say.

How Marketers Can Tap Into Peer Influence

Beyond asking for reviews and recommendations from peers, there are other ways marketers can tap into peer influence to grow their brand. Influencer marketing is the process of asking people who have high influence levels to promote a product, service, or brand. These influencers could be high-level celebrities like Peyton Manning or local bloggers and Instagram pages.

While mega-celebs as influencers make it easy to reach millions of people, more companies are turning to smaller influencers that really connect with their target audience. For example, Elmer’s glue might work with YouTubers who create slime videos to connect with kids who want to create their own gooey creations. A local restaurant might create a dinner sampler for 20 of the top Instagrammers in the city as a way to reach more customers. Services like Intellifluence make it easy to find peer influencers and discover ways to collaborate with them.

Even though an influencer might not know each of their followers personally, they still feel like friends and have a closer proximity than big celebrities or major brands. This means their word is more valuable, and people are more likely to take action and make a purchase.

Peer influence will always be a part of the customer experience regardless of how social media evolves over the next few years or decades. Brands can tap into this social pressure to spread a positive message and drive sales or get left behind while their customers talk about them anyway. Your customers are already talking about you, do you have any influence on what they’re saying?