6 Factors Of Social Influence – Why You Should Fight For Them

The short audio snippet below is from a segment of a bit of backstory I tee'd up recently with colleagues in a professional discussion group.  It was a bit about why I think issues of trust and transparency are so important to you and me.

The Backstory Is a Hoax

In the snippet above, you'll hear me sound a bit impassioned.  The reason is that I had just finished sharing the context of a debate I had a few weeks back in an online discussion forum.  The exchange was with someone in my local area.  This guy had previously perpetrated a hoax.  (My not so humble opinion is that he was doing it for personal gain in order to dubiously demonstrate his online influence... perhaps in response to some suppressed need to make his mother proud.  [Hey, that's not me making stuff up.  I'm referencing an event described in the article.  Read it if you want.])  Later, in a public presentation, he tried passing it all off as "satire."  The title of the presentation?  It was eponymously titled "...On Transparency, Trust and Attention"  Audacious.  I know.

The guy doesn't get it

Unless you're familiar with the issue and have an opinion about it, I don't necessarily want to unearth it again because it's not the main point of this article; it simply sets a little context.  (But, if you do have an opinion about it--or with my ability to take a joke, perhaps--go ahead and fire away in the comments.)

What is the main point, however, are factors of influence and how they play in to issues of trust and transparency, and our ability to function efficiently in today's world.  And why we shouldn't let these things go unchallenged when someone tries to game the system of influence for their personal gain.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Influence - The Psychology of PersuasionThere's a book I'd like to recommend you read.  It's titled, "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion," by Robert Cialdini.  The way I would recommend reading Cialdini's book is to start at the appendix.  Then head back over to Chapter 1 and continue from there.

The appendix is an easy read and captures the gist of 6 factors of influence and why they're so important.  Those six factors are:

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Consistency
  3. Social Proof
  4. Likeability
  5. Authority
  6. Scarcity

As Cialdini puts it, these six factors contribute to the influence each of us has on those in our social spheres.  And the reason they're so important isn't just because they help us understand how influential people become that way; rather we have an innate need to allow others to influence us.

In effect, it's a survival mechanism.

5 Exabytes of Information Every 2 Days

In a world of information overload, we need a way to filter what's relevant.  If Eric Schmidt (former Google CEO) is to be believed, we're now collectively generating the equivalent amount of information, every 2 days, what humanity generated from the dawn of time to about the year 2003.

That's a lot of information. And, despite all the cautionary points about double-checking everything that's given to us, the fact is, we can't.  I mean, we might be able to do that for a few things, but we can't possibly do that for all pieces of information we come across.

And, because there's just so much information out in the world today, it's important for each of us to find ways to filter all that noise so we can focus on the bits that are relevant.  One of the ways we do that is by leveraging each other.

You Scratch My Back, I Scratch Yours: Together We Live

In other words, nurturing trusting relationships isn't just an activity that falls into the nice-to-have/warm-and-fuzzy social category.  It's actually something we need to do in order to allow us to function efficiently and productively.  That trust allows us to give ourselves permission to let certain persons influence us.  Looked at another way, we become curators of relevant information for each other.

Think about it:  I follow some of you because you write and opine about things that I find relevant.  Over the course of time, I'd say that I will have invested precious hours to vetting and, yes, sometimes double-checking your information.  At least initially.  And when your opinions eventually rise to that threshold of trust, I then let you in, so to speak.  Moving forward, I'd be more inclined to just trust ya rather than vet every additional piece of information you write about.

On the flip-side: If you're a regular here, then I'd venture to say that, in the same way, you've come to trust the things I write about.  Sure, you might double-check some things I say.  And I might even be occasionally wrong about some things.  But, over time, you get a feel for what I have to say and you generally stop fact-checking everything.

Congratulations: You've just trusted me to be a curator for you.

So, it's in that way that we use each other as filters of information.  And, so when someone comes along and tries to game that precious system by using these factors of influence for their personal gain, then shouldn't we want to challenge it whenever it happens?

As Cialdinini puts it, these factors help us filter information so we can make informed choices.  And, while we understand cognitively that the risk is always present that we might act wrongly on some information that comes through our filters, we risk it anyway because we must.

"Despite the susceptibility to stupid decisions that accompanies a reliance on (the filters we choose), the pace of modern life demands that we frequently use this shortcut....  

The real treachery, and the thing we cannot tolerate, is any attempt (by others) to make their profit in a way that threatens the reliability of our shortcuts.  The blitz of modern daily life demands that we have faithful shortcuts, sound rules of thumb to handle it all.  These are not luxuries any longer; they are out-and-out necessities that figure to become increasingly vital as the pulse of daily life quickens.

That is why we should want to retaliate whenever we see someone betraying one of our rules of thumb for profit... We cannot allow that without a fight.  The stakes have gotten too high."

~Robert B. Cialdini 

What Are You Thinking Right Now?

Over the top?  Or right on point?


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About Mel

Mel is the online training architect and screencasting wizard at Kareo, one of Forbes' 2013 list of 100 Most Promising Companies in America. He's also the creator of Digital-Know-How, a training website devoted to developing learners' skills for screencasting and web video course development. Mel is also the chief blogger of ScreencastingWizard.com; Mel's personal blog. The comments and opinions you read here are Mel's and not associated with any other company.
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2 Responses to 6 Factors Of Social Influence – Why You Should Fight For Them

  1. Evan says:

    Thanks for this article.  Of course deception shouldn’t be the case for getting influence. But I’m also not too sure that we should just trust people simply because they’re a contact or in our network.  I think these days, its pretty easy to use search engines and other tools to double-check information.  I still like the idea of “trust but verify”    

    • Mel Aclaro says:

      Hi Evan.

      Would it surprise you to know that I agree with you?  I don’t think we should simply trust people simply because they’re in our network.  In fact, I think it’s important to do exactly what you say… to trust but verify.  At least initially.  My point — and I think Cialdini would agree — is that we should invest that effort early on to vet information that comes from people we interact with.  It takes time, but it’s important to develop that relationship of trust…. so that, we can eventually get to a point where we can eventually have comfort about accepting “short cuts” with those few people we’ve invested that time.  

      And that’s the crux of it.  Because that’s such a huge investment of time and effort, we each need to not take lightly those times when others try and abuse that system for their personal gain.  

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