If you look at classical definitions of social influence, there are three general levels as defined by Dr. Herbert Kelman in 1958:
- Compliance: when someone changes their behavior (even if temporarily) but not their beliefs.
- Identification: when someone accepts new beliefs based on input from others, especially someone liked or respected.
- Internalization: when someone changes their beliefs and behaviors.
Let’s say we have a prospective customer who doesn’t like your brand, and how these three levels of influence act on that prospect.
When we talk about social media influence as marketers, we’re often talking about very superficial influence, the influence that leads to compliance. For example, if a celebrity or a peer group tells you to buy something or do something, they are exerting influence over you that can lead to compliance. Compliance is what most marketers are chasing – can you get the prospect to buy so that you can make my numbers this quarter? Can you lower prices enough to make you comply even if your beliefs about the brand are in opposition to the desired behavior?
The second level of influence is much stronger, where you accept beliefs and inputs from others that are different than yours. This is far beyond “buy our crap”! Identification starts to change how you feel. If you have had a bad experience with a brand, but the people around you that influence you have good experiences and share that with you, it can cause your beliefs to be less certain and for you to accept the beliefs of others that the brand is really okay, and that you just had a bad, isolated experience (even if your belief is still unchanged). Most marketers seek this sort of outcome, changing minds, but have no plan or strategy for accomplishing it.
The third level of influence is the most powerful of all: you internalize new beliefs. You believed that a brand was bad, but through a combination of outside influences and new experiences, you now believe that brand is good. Your beliefs have changed, and that governs your long-term behavior. You might have once avoided a brand, and now you actively seek it out. This is the best case scenario for any marketer – turning enemies of your brand into brand ambassadors. As with many best cases, most marketers see this as an unachievable pipe dream. It isn’t.
Here’s the value of social media: done well, social media builds the bridge from compliance to internalization. Think carefully about what makes social media powerful. It isn’t just people with high Klout scores. It’s the cumulative effect of many people, some of whom are influential broadly, but many who are influential specifically to you, and the sum of their experiences that weigh upon your mind. That community, filled with a few influencers and many, many peers, is what guides you through the transition from compliance to accepting the possibility of change to making the change yourself.
Social media can be a vital part of creating belief change if you do it well through effective community cultivation – and you don’t need to fill it with Klout high-scorers to do the job.
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