A scientific approach to picking the right influencers and persuading audiences

For decades, researchers have been studying the factors that compel people to not just listen to certain speakers but also act on their ideas.

In the business world, where we talk about “conversions”, we’re talking about the audience – fans and followers who have been convinced that a particular brand or product can actually meet their needs in the best way possible.

So what drives people to follow one influencer over another? Research indicates there are certain psychological factors at play.

Understanding why people watch and follow certain YouTube channels over others, or why people retweet and share tweets from one user over others, helps us better understand how we can use this science to improve our marketing strategies.

The science behind influencer marketing is also meant to help entrepreneurs and marketers develop effective marketing strategies that are based on sound scientific principles.
There are several theories of influence and persuasion that accurately model user behavior. Understanding these principles can help you pick the right influencers and persuade audiences better. 

In this article, we investigate a few of these theories and learn what makes them so effective. 

1. The Amplification Hypothesis: Certainty Makes Influencers More Believable

What it is:

In the context of influencer marketing, this hypothesis tells us that the more certain influencers are about their subject matter, the more believable they will be and the more influence they will wield.

In other words, if an influencer has mastery over their subject, they are likely to have more influence on their audience.


  • You need to first understand your target audience before you can approach the right influencers
  • You need to perform some research into the profile of the influencers that you will be working with. This will help you better understand the relationships they maintain with their followers.
  • You need to avoid influencers who tend to be controversial because the resistance they face will be counter-productive to your marketing campaign


When picking an influencer, find one who:

  1. Can put the audience at ease, winning their trust. 
  2. Has a core set of values and attitudes that are aligned with those of your business and target demographic group.
  3. Inspires confidence among their followers.

Notable numbers and statistics

81% of teams using influencer marketing campaigns report that influencer engagement is highly effective.

2. The Conversion Theory: Vocal Minorities Hold a Lot of Influence in Groups

What it is:

When dealing with groups, a minority in the group can hold a lot of influence by converting the majority to their cause.

This is often the case because the majority in the group may not have formed strong beliefs or opinions yet. The majority may simply be going with the flow because there is no better alternative, or, quite simply, because it's the path of least resistance.

Additionally, the silent majority may be disillusioned with the group's process, purpose or leadership, and may be lookig for a worthwhile alternative.


  • Ideas or attitudes that are not universally popular still have a chance to gain a loyal following if executed and propounded the right way.
  • You should create lasting relationships with your key influencers in order to build rapport – it lends authenticity to the message and the campaign


If you have an idea that doesn't yet have universal acceptance, seek voices or influencers within the group who are consistent, confident, unbiased, and reasonable – and you may still be able to sway popular opinion to your side.


3. Priming: Offering a Stimulus to Influence Short-term Thoughts

What it is:

Priming involves offering a seemingly unrelated stimulus to influence short-term thoughts and actions. Additionally, priming makes it easier and faster for audiences to recognize what you want them to take away from a message.

In essence, priming brings old thoughts or ideas to the surface. It introduces new things into a person’s subconscious, making the primed ideas more accessible and more likely to be accepted.

Examples of priming include

1 Repetitive priming Where an idea is repeated several times so as to prime and influence a future thought.
2 Conceptual priming Where a related thought or idea elicits a specific response. For example, “butter” may be priming to elicit thoughts about bread.
3 Perceptual priming When a new stimulus is matched to a stimulus in memory, triggering stored responses to the old stimulus.
4 Associative priming When related ideas, especially free association word pairs, are linked. For example, an airplane primes the thought of speed.
5 Reverse priming When people who know they are being primed feel they have been biased and therefore overcompensate by choosing the opposite idea.
6 Masked priming Where an image or word is flashed and is thus not consciously recognized.


  • Strategic use of unconsciously primed ideas, things, or attitudes, tend to influence people to adopt the idea or request
  • Use the strengths of each marketing platform to craft appropriate messaging to influence audiences


  • For example, if you want to promote a certain smartwatch, ask your influencer to simply wear the smartwatch during YouTube podcasts without necessarily mentioning or talking about the product
  • Alternatively, the influencer can mention the smartwatch in passing several times when writing content on their blog
  • Priming can be useful for creating a “paradoxical intervention” (a reverse psychology effect) by framing a message to cause resistance to the message and thus cause a behavioral change.

Notable numbers and statistics

83% of consumers trust recommendations and 66% trust consumer opinions posted online. 

4. The Reciprocity Norm: People Feel Obliged to Reciprocate a Good Deed

What it is:

People tend to feel obliged to return a favor. The giver is then usually able to either:

  • Ask for something in return without having to wait for the taker to reciprocate or
  • Ask for more than they gave

For example, if you offer a small inexpensive trinket or helpful “usually-paid-for” information as a gift, you can easily request and get audiences to subscribe to a certain website.


If you offer your time, money, insights, or information in a way that’s helpful to your audience, then they will very likely feel obliged to align themselves to your cause by returning the favor.


Use social currency with influencers and audiences. For example, if you give your influencer gifts for themselves and for their audience, it will be easier for the audience to feel obliged to do you a favor in turn. Additionally, the influencer will also feel obliged to support you more.

However, you need to measure the social currency that you give. Otherwise, you may elicit feelings of manipulation which tend to be counterproductive.

Examples of social currency include:

  1. Content
  2. Brand recognition or affiliation
  3. Product samples
  4. Unique experiences, such as rewards or paid trips
  5. Sweepstakes and giveaways

Notable numbers and statistics

Giveaways carry more media value than any other form of social currency.

5. The Scarcity Principle: People Desire More of What They Think They Can’t Have


When people feel they lack something that is scarce, they desire it more. Furthermore, if it is anticipated that someone else will greatly benefit from the scarce item, the desire for the scarce item is heightened.

For example, an offer for a service that is due to expire in24 hours (scarcity of time - creating a sense of urgency).


You can create great desire for a product or service by making it scarce. In essence, sell the pain of missing out.


  • You can make your product time precious by offering limited quantities or selling at a reduced price for a limited period of time
  • Carefully examine and monitor content, product, and engagement with audiences to gauge the desire for your products

6. The Sleeper Effect: Messages with Low Persuasion Tend to Gain Persuasiveness Over Time

What it is:

Persuasive messages tend to lose their impact over time. However, under certain conditions, the sleeper effect predicts that messages that have a low persuasion quotient (because they are from a low credibility source) tend to increase in persuasiveness over time, especially when the low credibility messenger is dissociated from the message.


If you make your message powerful enough to supersede the influence wielded by the endorser or messenger, in time, the source of the message will be forgotten, but the message will remain.


Even if you have a biased messenger or influencer, if the message is powerful enough, it will still have a strong impact.

Notable numbers and statistics

When youth were asked if celebrity support of a product would make them more likely to buy it, 18% said YES, 25% said NO, and 57% said MAYBE. 

7. Social Influence: Influencers Cause a Behavioral Change in the Audience


Social influence is the behavioral change that an influencer can cause based on the perception of the relationship between the audience and the influencer.

The Trifecta of social influence includes:

  1. Compliance: When someone does something that they are asked to do by another person, especially when social rewards or possible penalties are dangled to prompt acceptance or acquiescence.
  2. Conformity: Modifying your behavior to mirror that of others in a group. 
  3. Obedience: Doing a task asked of you from an authority figure without resistance. It is different from compliance because with obedience there is a perception that you have no choice but to act as you are told to.

For example, if a doctor wearing a white lab coat and stethoscope tells you that a certain product is healthy for you to eat, you will tend to obey without question.


  • We tend to listen to people we trust and get influenced by what our peers are doing
  • If you choose authoritative individuals as influencers (e.g. uniformed individuals or people who have earned trust and authority over time), you will tend to have a greater positive impact with your marketing campaigns


Engage everyday consumers as your influencers so as to have a greater impact on peers instead of relying on your ability to influence others

  • Simply point out that several other people have conformed to your request or state the most desirable behavior
  • Ask your supporters to validate your credentials or authority by being public about it

Notable numbers and statistics

Word-of-mouth inspired marketing generates 2X more sales than paid advertising, and these customers are 37% more likely to remain loyal customers.

8. Yale’s Attitude Change Approach: Influential Speech Has Certain Characteristics


A research project carried out by Yale University found that persuasive and influencers had certain characteristics in common:

  • They are more charismatic and positive in their outlook
  • They are enthusiastic and sincere about the cause they espouse 
  • They regularly present views that run counter to their convictions, making their case in a just manner.

Yale's study also noted highlighted other important characteristics of speeches delivered by influencers:

  • When you have two speakers passing a message, the first speaker has more impact (primacy effect)
  • If you have more than one speaker passing a message with a delay between them, the last speaker has most impact (recency effect)
  • The influencer should use distractions when presenting arguments to an audience


The source of the message, the nature of the message, and the nature of the audience need to be carefully considered in the influencer marketing campaign.


  • Use this research to inform the message your influencers put out.

Notable numbers and statistics

When asked about reliable sources for information about apparel trends, 33% said department stores and independent retailers, 26% said ads, 19% said men’s magazines and 11% said TV shows.

9. Ultimate Terms: Certain Words Have More Power to Influence People, than Others


Certain words have been proved to possess great power, influence and persuasiveness. For example, words like value, progress, contribution, freedom, guarantee, we, happy, and belong.


  • When engaging influencers in your marketing campaigns, ensure that you have verbiage associated with your brand that will resonate with the audience
  • The audience should not feel as though they are being influenced. Otherwise, the words will lose their power, or worse, elicit a negative reaction.
  • Use superlatives


  • Perform an audit of your influencers’ old work so that you can analyze their way with words (and specifically ultimate terms) because this can have a huge impact on an audience
  • The terms or words used should carry power and have culturally sensitive meanings
  • The message should be subtle yet powerful
  • Work with your influencers so that you can create messages that resonate with their audience

Notable numbers and statistics

The top 5 most persuasive or influential words that you can use include: Free, Because, Instantly, You, & New.

10. The Cooperative Principle: Effective Speakers Shape What They Say to Be Better Understood

What it is:

When influencers and audiences engage, they share a cooperative principle. In essence, speakers tend to shape what they say so that what they say can be better understood by the listeners.

This interaction between the speaker and listener can be analyzed using 4 conversational maxims including:


Disrupting and reframing information can be a useful tool for persuasion and influence.


Look for different ways to disrupt and reframe information in order to trigger a wake-up call. For example, pitching a product for sale as equivalent to 2 cups of coffee instead of $4.

Data Science and Influencer Marketing.


Through the science behind influencer marketing, we are able to:

  • Analyze the relationships between audiences and influencers
  • Analyze and understand how audiences and influencers align with each other according to ideas or requests that resonate, without feeling manipulated into doing something
  • Arrive at a scientific way of choosing influencers using mathematical formulas and algorithms
  • Gain a better understanding of how spammer networks congregate and how to avoid spammer related influencers

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