Social influence in marketing is a new concept that has emerged especially with the advent of the internet and the creation of social networking sites such as Twitter, Myspace and Facebook. People in these online groups are able to influence one another through peer pressure, personal experiences, reciprocity or flattery which has led to this new form of marketing referred to as social influence marketing.
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Social influence marketing (SIM) is a concept that has continued to grow given the various technological improvements and the continued use of the Internet as a tool of communication and selling. The boost in SIM has indicated the need for marketers to include the use of the digital web as well as the public networking sites so as to deliver better value on their products or services and also allow for the influence of customers in a more direct way.
The concept of social influence marketing as well as selling has become a driving force that affects every activity a marketer and seller undertakes. This concept is slowly replacing the traditional pillars used in marketing which are brand marketing and direct response by incorporating both of these pillars into its own dynamic and paradigm.
As the concept of social influence marketing continues to grow, every company in both the present and future context will begin to conduct marketing efforts that have incorporated the social influence component in their marketing strategies.
Companies will begin to realize the importance of social influence marketing in transforming their brands and products as well as their relationship with their customers and clients. As marketers everywhere increase their use of social influence marketing, certain trends will emerge some of which are that the marketing focus will shift on the people who influence buying and selling decisions. Such influencers might include bloggers or the members of a social networking site.
There will also be the emergence of top down branding where the influencers and customers get to brand the company’s products through their opinions and views. The use of social advertising will also increase where product adverts will be placed in social platforms in relation to the user’s behaviour. This form of advertising will ensure that adverts are linked to the various forms of social marketing over the Internet which include social credits, widgets and blogger comments (Singh, 2009).
Other trends that will emerge with the continued use of social influence marketing include marketing innovations being supported by portable social graphs which are the news feeds, activity streams and status comments that exist in social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
Social research into the concept of social influence marketing will gain more importance as research work will be conducted on how marketing campaigns and new product/service developments can be conducted through the use of social influence marketing.
Marketing activities will also be developed and organized around social influence marketing. These activities will include public relations, direct and personal selling, brand marketing, customer intelligence and sales support (Singh, 2009). Such trends demonstrate the growing importance and usefulness of social influence marketing as a tool of selling a product through the use of social influences and peer pressure over the Internet and in social networking sites.
The purpose of conducting the literature review is to gain more information on the topic of social influence on marketing and selling. The research question for the purposes of the review will be; what social influence marketing is and what role does it play in the marketing and selling of a product.
Singh (2009) defines social influence marketing as the type of marketing that is performed in a network of peers or colleagues who surround and influence each other across the social networking platforms. Razorfish (2009) defines social influence marketing as the use of social media and social influencers to achieve marketing objectives. It involves recognizing the fact that particular consumer purchasing decisions are influenced by the different circles that the consumer has.
The history of social influence marketing can be traced back to the launch of the Blogger in 1999 which began the social influence phenomenon over the Internet. The Blogger was one of the earliest dedicated blog publishing tools that allowed users to post comments and activity streams that would be viewed by other people. Such posts were seen to influence the activity or behaviour of the blog users (Becker et al 2010).
The introduction of Facebook, Twitter and MySpace continued to increase the social media phenomenon as more and more people joined these social networking sites to post their opinions and views on a variety of topics or social issues.
With over 260 million people around the world using the World Wide Web on a regular basis, the Internet has become a major social media tool. Social influence has forced companies to rethink how they market their products and services online. It has also forced them to restructure their marketing activities so that they can be able to support social influence marketing (Singh, 2009).
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The basis of social influence marketing is how peer influences work. With most of the digital world becoming more social, peer influence has greatly impacted on the brand affinity of most company’s products and it has also affected the purchasing decisions of consumers.
To better understand this concept questions need to be asked as to how social influence marketing works, who are peer influencers, how do the peer influencers work, what motivates a person to share a piece of media information with other people, how does one person’s purchasing behaviour affect another’s and how can a company design its marketing activities to be influential in the social media.
Social influence marketing is mostly based on social media which includes podcasts, blogs, wikis and social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. Social media refers to the content that has been created and consumed by normal people.
Social media refers to the comments a person adds at the end of an online article or blog material, and online conversations that the person has with their peers. Social media has basically given regular people around the world the chance to publish and add content online without necessarily possessing the necessary skills or knowledge that are needed for online publishing (Becker et al, 2010).
Social influencers have been defined as regular people who influence the average consumer by affecting their purchasing decisions. Social influencers are the people who influence the affinity of a brand by relaying their experience of the brand to their peers in the social media. This information can be positive or negative depending on their experiences.
The amount of content the social influencers post online determines the success of the brand affinity. Social influencers are important to marketers who want to incorporate social influence marketing in their promotion and selling activities. The most important question that marketers should ask themselves is which kind of social influencers are important in influencing other consumers purchasing decisions.
The various types of social influencers that exist in the social media include the referent influencers, expert and positional influencers. The importance of each influencer varies with the kind of purchases they make in their daily lives. Determining the type of social influencer is important for a marketer in developing a marketing or promotion campaign (Becker et al, 2010).
Referent influencers according Becker et al (2010) are the people who participate in social platforms such as Myspace, Twitter and Facebook by posting their experiences or comments in these social media. These influencers affect the purchasing decisions of consumers when they post their own personal comments or reviews on these social networking sites.
The purchasing decisions are also affected by blogs and forums posted by these types of social influencers. Because consumers know and trust referent influencers, they feel confident whenever they base their purchase decisions on the influencer’s opinions and reviews. Referent influencers affect the purchasing decisions more than other people during the consideration phase of the marketing funnel.
Expert influencers are the people who have a particular authority on the type of product that a consumer wants to purchase. These types of influencers rarely have any personal information or connection with their audiences. Expert influencers are people who are recognised on a more large scale and they have some particular expertise on certain areas of interest such as on automobiles, insurance, health, or on education. Their influence is usually derived from the skills, knowledge and expertise that they possess based on their level of training.
People who have positional influence are known to have a relationship with both the consumer and purchasing resolution and they include close friends, family members, or people within the consumer’s inner circle. Positional influencers affect the purchasing decisions of consumers directly at the point of purchase. These types of people usually derive their influence from their relative position and duties with relation to the actual consumer (Becker et al, 2010).
Social influence has become an important concept today to marketers because of the increasing use of the Internet and social media consumption. People are making more of their purchasing decisions online everyday. It has become as natural and normal as going to the physical store.
Not only do people purchase products online but they also converse with their peers about their purchases. Smart companies have now begun to realize the importance of designing their websites to convince consumers to bring in their social influencers in the purchase decision process (Becker et al, 2010).
The motivation to share as described by Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of need has been described as the most important aspect of social influence marketing. Maslow’s argument was that most people were mostly self interested instead of selfish when it came to sharing information, beliefs or personal values.
People mostly prescribed to the “what’s in it for me” mantra which also applied to the social networking sites. People who share online do so only when they have the incentive to do so and also if there is the potential for gaining personal value (Singh, 2008).
According to Shirky and Kollock (as cited by Singh, 2008) a person who has received some benefits from an individual experience is more than likely to share their experience with other people in the social media. The user realizes that through the experience they can be able to derive more value from that experience by sharing it with other people.
The implications of this line of thought to marketers are that they have to create online marketing campaigns that are valuable to one person. This is because the valuable experience of one person will affect the experiences of other people.
Findings and Implications of Social Influence in Marketing and Selling
Razorfish conducted a survey of social influence marketing amongst 1,000 consumers some of whom were social network users while the rest were consumers from the general population.
Razorfish is one of the world’s largest digital interactive agencies. The services that are offered by Razorfish include digital advertising, media buying, content creation and user experience (Razorfish, 2010). Razorfish conducted the survey in social influence marketing to determine the variations that existed in responses by participants who used social media and those who did not.
The results of the study showed that social influence marketing had a variety of implications to marketers some which were that traditional top down branding would become obsolete as social media grew, the reliance of consumers on personal networks would enable them to learn more about products and services, consumers would shape brands through the social media, brand management would require a lot of transparency and a stronger connection with consumers.
In analysing the influence of social influence in top down branding, the results of the survey showed that 80 percent of the respondents belonged to three or more social networks while 40 percent reported being active members of two social networking sites (Razorfish, 2009).
The implications of these findings is that people are now choosing to focus on building their social networking activities which will have an impact on social media platforms and social influence marketing in the future. This was further evidenced when 71 percent of the respondents said that they contributed regularly to the social networking sites and they also recommended products or brands to their peers or followers.
The rest of the respondents only contributed to the social media at least every few weeks. When it came to whether they asked for other people’s opinions in the social networks before they purchased a product, 62 percent replied that they did not while 38 percent replied that they asked for other peoples opinions before they made a purchasing decision (Razorfish, 2009).
Consumers in social networks do not usually realize that they are influencing each other or are being influenced by the conversations they have with people in these social platforms. This level of influence has had a considerable impact on the kind of relationship that consumers have with company brands.
The increasing use of social influence marketing has given consumers the power to shape brands according to their own views as well as the views of other people. Marketers and brand managers will have to be more transparent when developing their brands to ensure that they have brand affinity from their social media customers.
Such transparency will reduce the role of top-down branding in the marketing of products which will render this type of branding obsolete as more people continue to use social media. The implications of social influence marketing on brands as highlighted by the Razorfish (2009) survey are that brands must socialize with consumers by being involved in social media conversations and exchanges. The brands should also be designed in a way that they can be able to return emotion to the targeted consumers.
Other implications from the study are that marketers who develop brands have to know the people who influence brand perceptions as well as what effect influencers have on the marketing funnel. The brands also have to connect with consumers on a level where they can easily converse and connect with other people on the social media platforms.
The brands also have to look at the holistic nature of influencers and how they influence purchasing decisions as well as brand affinity. “The brands should also focus on value exchange where the brands should focus on the fact that consumers look to other people to make their purchasing decisions” (Razorfish, 2009). These implications have shown that marketers who design brands should not overlook the importance of social influence marketing when performing branding (Razorfish, 2009).
Relevance and Significance of Social Influence in Marketing
The relevance and significance of social influence marketing is mostly assessed by determining the importance of social media to the marketer. In designing a brand that will be marketed through social media, the marketer has to make sure that the brand will be relevant to the target audience or market.
This can be accomplished by looking at the various conversations that take place in the social media platforms when it comes to brands, products/services or affiliated brands. The increase of social influence marketing has changed the traditional way of marketing where marketers and brand managers have been forced to earn the attention of consumers through social networking platforms (Solis, 2010).
The current online behaviour demonstrates that consumers will always support the brand or product that they admire. Their online responses usually demonstrate a pattern of consistency when they are introduced to new products, brands or services that compel them to share their experiences with their online friends.
The marketer therefore has to consider the following when creating a brand through the social network; what value will the brand add, what makes it worthy of attention, what actions will the brand inspire and how will it be shareable in the social media platform.
The significance of social influence marketing in the social media context is that the brand’s reputation and its influence is either increased or decreased based on how people accept it. Significance is mostly measured by the brand’s affinity and its collective influence on the reactions and actions of users (Solis, 2010).
The above study has shown that social influence marketing is a growing phenomenon when it comes to the marketing and selling of products through online intermediaries. Consumers and influencers have been viewed to be the most vital component of social influence marketing as they have the power to influence other people’s purchasing decisions.
Marketers have to learn how to participate with social influencers in the social media context if they want to ensure the success of their brands in the online market. This will involve redesigning their brands to be more focused on the social media users and influencers who have a high impact on a consumer’s purchasing decisions. Marketers and companies are challenged to manage their marketing efforts towards using social influence marketing in their brand promotion and marketing activities.
Becker, M., Singh, S., & Williams, R., (2010). Social media marketing for dummies, Indianapolis. Indiana: Wiley Publishing.
Razorfish (2009). Razorfish social influence marketing report. Web.
Razorfish (2010). About us. Web.
Singh, S., (2008). Social influence marketing: understanding those peer influences. Web.
Singh, S., (2009). Trends in social influence marketing. Web.
Solis, B., (2010). Social media’s critical path: relevance to resonance to significance. Web.