What is Influence?

The power of trust

I talk a lot about influence. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen me ranting. In the last couple of days a great way of understanding influence has presented itself to me. I’ll tell you what happened, and then we’ll look a little deeper.

The Ask

On Twitter yesterday someone I didn’t know at all asked me to retweet something. Didn’t even consider it. This morning, a friend I talk with daily asked for the same. I did it without hesitation. The difference? Influence.

What is Influence?

Influence is not celebrity. Influence is based on a formula of relationship and community. You listen more to people you know. It’s just that simple. When you have purchasing decisions, you ask your friends, neighbors, fellow classmates and tenants, church members and parents of the local soccer team. You also ask people in communities that have expertise. When you want to buy a tent, you’ll talk to the dads in your kids’ scouting troop. That’s the community. When you have friends in that community, those are the most influential people to you on relevant decisions.

Celebrity Influencers

On the other hand, there are a few problems with the idea of celebrities as influencers. Do you trust them? Maybe they’re just saying things because they’ve been paid endorsement money. Do you have access to them? Will they actually reply to you? Do they understand you — your budget, your preferences? Are they experts in the particular thing you need help with?

The Research

True influencers are people you’re close to, people who have expertise in the relevant subject matter, who will tell you what you need to hear. This is why referrals and word of mouth are so incredibly powerful. Here are some stats.

Harvard Business Review found that of 10,000 accounts at a large German bank, over a period of three years, customers obtained from referrals were 18% more likely to stay. Even better, they were 16% more profitable.

Word of mouth is trusted 20–40% more than TV and print ads and social media. And customers from word of mouth spend 200% more than average customers, and make 2 times as many referrals.

Brains on Fire did tons of research into word of mouth effectiveness with a list of major brands. They found 13% of all consumer sales are because of word of mouth conversations, which includes social media mentions. Incidentally, 13% of all consumer sales is $6 trillion annually. For high consideration products, that goes up to 20%.

Customers from relationships are more profitable. They don’t need to be replaced as often (churn), and they bring in other customers.

Sweet.

But what does that have to do with influence? Well, your friends get you to do things, like purchase products or choose one product over another. You listen to them. You trust them. You ask them when you need to know what product to buy. Your influencers are the people you trust, who you know have the knowledge you need, and who you have access to — they’ll answer when you call. People are not nearly as influenced by ads as by word of mouth or referrals. Many people today don’t even notice ads on websites or direct mail, never mind pay attention to them. Do you?

If you want to convince people to purchase from you, you have to win their trust.

You can win the trust of people, and get them to consider being your customers, by building a relationship with them. You do this by listening and helping. You show that you’re worthy of their trust, and that you have expertise in your field. You build a community who vouches for your behavior and your knowledge. You don’t win the trust of people by broadcasting at them, or having famous people tell them what to do.


Originally published at joshmccormack.com.