The role of influencers in changing public behaviors and perceptions is not a brand new concept. It has been practiced since humanity existed under different methods. Politicians and brands dedicate tremendous budgets to celebrities & professional influencers to promote their products and/or ideas for decades.
Who doesn’t remember when Cristiano Ronaldo, who has the world’s largest Instagram following of 422m, removed the coke bottles in front of him during a press conference, Coke lost $4 billion of its share value. On the other hand, who has not seen how Volodymyr Zelensky and the Ukrainian influencers managed to defeat Russia’s most sophisticated disinformation cyberwar through Influence Marketing?
But why is Influence Marketing so impactful?
- Since 95 percent of the people are imitators and only 5 percent are initiators, people are persuaded more by the actions of others than by any proof we can offer
- People generally look to other people similar to themselves when making decisions. This is particularly noticeable in situations of uncertainty or ambiguity.
- People are more likely to agree to offers from people whom they like.
- People tend to want things as they become less available and/or restricted. This has led advertisers to promote goods as “limited availability”, or “short time only”. And led political communication professionals to promote certain information as restricted or “hacked and leaked“. This makes people want the information more and will hold that information in higher regard.
- People value being part of a team or group. Used in a negative way, it can create an “Us vs. Them” mentality. This is often seen with conspiracy theory adapters. Used in a positive way, it can make people feel that they are part of a group in which everyone looks out for one another.
WHO ARE THE INFLUENCERS?
Influencers are people or accounts that have the ability to be leaders of public opinion. That is to say, they can point or start the discussion of a topic that can later be considered a “national trend“, which will generate significant traffic of users in the tags or hashtags that they establish to measure their influence on social networks. Remember how the #metoo hashtag started and created a global movement?
WHAT ARE THE FACTORS THAT CAN HELP INFLUENCE PEOPLE TO LIKE SOME PEOPLE MORE THAN OTHERS:
- Physical attractiveness can give people a halo effect whereby others are more likely to trust them and to think of them as smarter and more talented.
- People tend to like people who are most like themselves.
- People tend to like those who pay them compliments.
- People who they are forced to cooperate with to achieve a common goal tend to form a trust with those people.
- People tend to like people that make them laugh. For example, many lectures start with a joke.
Any one of the above methods may not help influence people, but used in combination, their effects can be magnified.
HOW IS INFLUENCE USED IN POLITICS?
In politics, it’s fundamental for politicians, political parties, and government entities to create their own group of spokespersons and build their influence over time. They also need to collaborate with existing influencers in order diffuse messages in their favor as well as become ambassadors of their ideas. This way, they can convince different specters of the public opinion.
In this sense, the influence strategy focuses on having all influencers as allies and at the same time, keeping them informed and well-briefed about any rhetoric you wish to convey. We have seen how, early when the Ukrainian invasion took place, TikTok influencers were briefed by the white house and how Russian TikTok influencers were reciting the same text related to the war in Ukraine. The Guardian also published “Russian influencers at war” detailing their common reactions and narratives.
In fact, Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube were historically the main social media channels used to influence political information and disinformation, however, in the last few years, politicians started also using Instagram and working with influencers on different platforms including Instagram and TikTok with the aim to reach a wider and younger generation.
Unlike in the past, when engaging celebrities for the purpose of influence was expensive and mostly out of reach. Today, creating influence campaigns is much easier and more on-target with social media providing a plethora of actors with a quick, cheap and data-rich medium to use to inject rhetoric & disinformation into civic conversations.
In short, the very design of social media technologies can enhance the speed, scale, and reach of influence propaganda and disinformation, engendering new international security concerns around foreign influence operations online.
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