The Science Behind Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing is an extremely effective method of generating leads and sales. We look behind the curtain as to what is behind its effectiveness.


Bill Arnold

12/27/20237 min read

science behind influencer marketing
science behind influencer marketing

When we wrote about the new classifications of Influencers in yesterday's blog, "Who Are Influencers," we never anticipated the questions that article would generate. So we are now turning this into a series. Today we twill cover the behavioral science behind influencer marketing. In a future articles, we will discuss the metrics you should track, what campaigns we recommend, and how to find the right influencer for your business.

Influencer marketing has emerged as a highly effective method of generating leads and sales for businesses across various industries. This marketing strategy involves collaborating with influential individuals, known as influencers, to promote products or services to their followers. The power of influencer marketing lies in its ability to leverage the trust and credibility that influencers have built with their audience. In this blog post, we will explore the science behind the success of influencer marketing and why it has become such a popular approach in the digital age.

True scientists would regale you with how, influencers create neural couplings when followers are caught up in an influencer’s stories, or how these stories elicit emotions from the followers, and their brain releases a pleasure neurotransmitter called dopamine. (Linqia) While all that may be true, the real question is WHY are followers so influenced by people they really don’t know and probably will never meet?

The best answer to this question can be found in a book written by Robert Cialdini, PH.D. in 1984 called Influence. Dr. Cialdini's book describes his research and findings as to why he was buying goods and services he didn’t need or want.

The book was not meant to be about online influencers as the Internet was a mere concept having been officially started in 1983. However, the way we interact today through social channels and email makes his findings more profound and impactful. If you want to understand how to get individuals to buy your product, I highly recommend you read Influence - The Psychology of Persuasion.

Dr. Robert Cialdini is the Godfather of Marketing Psychology. He has over thirty-five years of rigorous, evidence-based research and a comprehensive three-year program of study on what moves people to change behavior. His findings are found in over twenty (20) books on psychological persuasion, but his original publication, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion is the foundation. It sets forth the psychology of why people say “yes” — and how to apply these understandings.

His recently updated book identifies seven universal laws of persuasion that apply regardless of gender, age, nationality, or political beliefs. These are:

1. Law of Reciprocity

2. Law of Commitment & Consistency

3. Law of Social Proof

4. Law of Authority

5. Law of Liking

6. Law of Scarcity

7. Law of Unity

While all of these laws are impactful and find their way into how an online influencer works, there are four of them we will explore in detail as they answer the question “Why are people so influenced by people they really don’t know and probably will never meet?”.

The Law of Social Proof – With the advent of the internet, the world has sped up, we are on a twenty-four (24) hour continuous news cycle and we are constantly bombarded with products and services to purchase. Nobody has the time he learn about everything so we have developed shortcuts. One of these is the law of social proof which states we determine what is correct or good by what other people think is correct or good.

What is the internet if not a collection of people and organizations telling us what they think about everything? When you are in a new town and want to figure out what restaurant you should go to for dinner. Many people check with services such as Yelp which is essentially a collection of people telling us what is good and what you should avoid.

Most likely there is not a single review from a person you know, but you trust and rely upon the opinions of people you will never know or meet. The collective opinions of strangers influence your decision. We make fewer mistakes if we act on social evidence than if we don’t.

The Law of Authority - Mega Influencers and Subject Matter Influencers primarily get their sphere of influence from the law of authority. There are two reasons this principle works so well. 1) We are taught from a very young age that obedience to authority is good and disobedience is wrong. 2) In many cases authority figures are experts who have taken the time and energy to develop specialized knowledge. Examples of these pre-internet were doctors, lawyers, and academics. In today’s world, Subject Matter Influencers are also afforded that status. We listen and react to their advice and wisdom because they have specialized knowledge that we have not taken the time to develop or the confidence to act on our own.

In the pre-internet world, we would identify people of authority by their titles (e.g., doctor, lawyer, etc.), and the clothes they wore (e.g., policeman, military, etc.). Today, we confer the mantle of authority based on three factors.

Expertise – The individual exhibits a heightened knowledge about a topic that is not generally known without research or study.

Trustworthiness – The information rings true and can be relied upon. Do they attempt to depict reality accurately rather than to serve their own self-interests? Any person who continually gives false advice will eventually lose their status as an authority.

I understand society is replete with authority figures particularly politicians who seemingly give inaccurate information that only serves their self-interests but who remain an authority figure. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For the group of people who see that person as an authority, what they hear rings true for them.

Reach – To be an authority figure, you have to have followers who see you as relevant. The larger the group the more people see you as an authority and someone who should be listened to and followed. This is why the law of authority works principally for Mega and Subject Matter Influencers who have a large following.

The Law of Liking - It should be no surprise that we are more influenced by people we like, for example, friends and family. This is why Nano and Micro-Influencers are powerful advocates when selling products or ideas to friends or family. However, the law of liking can also extend to strangers.

People tend to like and be influenced by strangers if they see a connection between themselves and that stranger. Here are some examples:

Physical Attractiveness – It is no surprise that good-looking people have an advantage in the world. It is instinctive that we automatically assign favorable traits to people we deem good-looking. This includes characteristics that have no relation to looks at all such as honesty, trustworthiness, and intelligence. It is any wonder that we are also influenced by what this person says or does.

Similarity- In a massive study of 421 million potential romantic matches from an online dating site, the factor that best predicted a favorable match was similarity. (Influence) When you see someone who you feel has similarities you tend to trust their advice more. You will notice that many television networks and social platforms are comprised of people with the same political beliefs. Everything that is communicated on those platforms rings true to them because the person speaking has a similar belief system.

The Law of Unity – The world has become increasingly developed a tribe mentality dividing everyone into two groups “us” and everyone else. This is very similar to the law of liking in that people are inclined to be influenced by and say yes to someone they consider to be “one of them”. Unlike the law of liking this is based almost exclusively on who you see as part of your tribe which usually is a group of people of a similar race, ethnicity, nationality, family, political party, or religion.

In the past few years, we have seen that the Law of Unity is arguably the most powerful law of influence. We will be in a society with two belief systems. The population believes that COVID-19 vaccines saved lives and the other half believes it was a conspiracy by the pharmaceutical companies to line their pockets. Half the US population believes that the 2020 Presidential was stolen and the rest believe that that group lost touch with reality. This is all because we have aligned ourselves in tribes. While many companies have tried to remain political those who have not have often seen the power of tribalism. An example is the cancellation of Bud Light which violated the tribal norms of the anti-LGBTQ community.

The Impact of Emotional Connection - Influencers have the ability to evoke emotions in their audience through their content. Whether it's through storytelling, humor, or inspirational messages, influencers can create a strong emotional connection with their followers. This emotional connection plays a crucial role in influencing consumer behavior.

When an influencer promotes a product or service, they evoke emotions such as excitement, curiosity, or desire in their audience. These emotions can trigger a psychological response known as emotional contagion, where individuals mirror the emotions of others. As a result, followers may feel compelled to take action, such as making a purchase, to experience the same positive emotions.

Research has shown that emotions play a significant role in decision-making processes. Consumers are more likely to make impulsive or emotional purchases, driven by the desire to replicate positive emotions. By leveraging the emotional connection that influencers have with their audience, businesses can tap into this aspect of consumer behavior and drive sales.

The Power of Authenticity - Authenticity is a key factor in influencer marketing. Influencers are known for their genuine and transparent approach to content creation, which resonates with their audience. This authenticity is crucial in building trust and credibility, as followers perceive influencers as individuals who are not solely driven by financial gain.

When an influencer promotes a product or service, their audience perceives it as a genuine recommendation rather than a paid advertisement. This perception of authenticity enhances the impact of the influencer's message and increases the likelihood of consumer action.

Research has shown that consumers are more likely to trust and engage with content that they perceive as authentic. Authenticity creates a sense of transparency and honesty, which fosters a stronger bond between influencers and their audience. By partnering with authentic influencers, businesses can establish a genuine connection with their target market and drive brand loyalty.


Influencer marketing has proven to be a highly effective method of generating leads and sales for businesses. The success of influencer marketing can be attributed to various psychological factors, including social proof, authority, relatability, emotional connection, and authenticity. By understanding and leveraging these factors, businesses can harness the power of influencer marketing to reach their target audience, build brand awareness, and drive conversion rates.