Let’s be honest, you don’t just want your voice to be added to the conversation; you want your voice to be heard, repeated, and valued—and your message to be influential.  Ultimately, you’re after influence.

So what better way to understand social media than by looking at the fundamental principles of influence as taught by Dr. Robert Cialdini, professor of psychology and marketing at Arizona State University? In his seminal book, Influence, Cialdini covers six “weapons of influence”  that are hardwired into our social and cognitive minds.  In other words, we can’t help but behave in accordance with these laws of social interaction.

Does this sound like something useful to keep in mind during your social media engagements?  Well, let’s take a look six powerful persuasion techniques:

1. Reciprocation


In Cialdini’s words, the rule for reciprocation “says that we should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us. If a woman does us a favor, we should do her one in return; if a man sends us a birthday present, we should remember his birthday with a gift of our own; if a couple invites us to a party, we should be sure to invite them to one of ours.”

And so it is in social media: we’re more likely to retweet someone who has already retweeted us.  We link to people who have linked to us.  And we tend to give a business far more trust after it has provided us with a lot of free value.

Used manipulatively, this turns into autofollow bots that help you amass thousands of followers in a breathtakingly short time—none of whom may actually care what you have to say.  Doh!

Used more positively and constructively, if you focus on initiating reciprocity by providing no-strings-attached value to those in your network, you’ll ultimately wield far more influence.  Not because the gift economy is a new fad in marketing, but because following the law of reciprocity is how we’re wired as humans.

2. Commitment and Consistency

“Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment.  Those pressures will cause us to respond in ways that justify our earlier decision,” said Cialdini.

Chances are, you follow too many people on Twitter.  And you’re signed up for more RSS feeds and newsletters than you can really read.  Objectively, purging your list of followers and unsubscribing would eliminate distractions and increase your social media signal-to-noise ratio.

But most people never make that purge and hardly ever unsubscribe.  Part of it goes back to reciprocation, but a larger part stems from consistency: you’re loath to admit that following and subscribing to those people and newsletters was a mistake.

On the positive side, how much more likely are you to comment on a blog that you’ve already commented on before?  Especially if you’re now “signed in” to comment on the blog during future visits—and if your Gravatar or Disqus headshot shows up next to the comments?

According to the principle of consistency, you’ll want to remind people of their previous positive commitments through perks, public displays, an elimination of friction for increasing their commitment, etc.  It works for Amazon prime, Amazon’s 1-click ordering, and Amazon’s reviewer system, and it will work for fostering blog comments and a blog community, too.

3. Social Proof

One method we use to determine correct behavior is to find out what other people think is correct. We view a behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it.

Just watch this video to see this in action!

Whether we admit it or not, most of us are impressed when someone has a ton of blog subscribers, Twitter followers, YouTube views, multiple blog reviews for their upcoming book, and so on.

Yes, people can game the system (autofollows and such), which can jade our intellectual response, but our core and initial emotional reactions stay the same.

On the positive side, creating a lot of value for others can help companies and individuals gain social proof via reciprocation: writing engaging content for guest posts, offering to interview authors and subject matter experts, and so forth.  Not only do these activities provide social proof in themselves, but they can help you gain a support network capable of “salting” your blog comments, your retweets, etc.

And when it comes to social proof, tribes matter.  It’s not just about what the mass of people are doing on social media that constitutes proof, it’s what other like-minded people and peers are doing.  So according to the principle of “social proof,” you should concentrate your social media efforts on finding and building social proof within your tribe.

4. Liking

“We most prefer to say yes to people we know and like,” says Cialdini. Extensions of this principle are:

  1. Physical attractiveness creates a halo effect and typically invokes the principle of liking;
  2. We like people who are similar to us;
  3. We like people who compliment us;
  4. We like things that are familiar to us;
  5. Cooperation toward joint efforts inspires increased liking;
  6. An innocent association with either bad or good things will influence how people feel about us.

How does this work for social media?  Well, to start with the virtual equivalent of physical attractiveness, we give extra credence to attractively designed blogs, messages contained in videos with higher production quality, and corporations’ landing pages displaying a better sense of social media savvy in their overall design and layout.

Similarly, individuals involved in coordinating joint ventures for the common good are associated with—and therefore “haloed” by—those efforts, while at the same time invoking cooperation toward a joint effort, which further increases “liking.”  Think of Seth Godin’s efforts at compiling free and thoughtful ebooks and then using the compilation to raise funds for a non-profitBryan Eisenberg’s Trick or Tweet efforts from a year ago also come to mind.

As for complimenting others, what else is a retweet, a trackback, or a positive blog comment than a social compliment?  And yes, those are all activities you should participate in authentically, sincerely, and liberally if you wish to leverage the principle of liking to your advantage.

5. Authority

Cialdini talks about “The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of authority…”  In his book, he examines how authority can be conferred by (and also manufactured by) titles, clothes, and trappings.

In social media, authority is less about titles and clothes than about virtual trappings.  In his (fantastic) report, “Authority Rules,” Brian Clark talks about how perceived expertise can frequently differ from real expertise.  Meaning that the guy known for blogging about and offering intelligent commentary on a subject will likely have far more perceived expertise (and therefore influence as an authority) than a genuine but unknown non-blogging expert.

But perhaps the most direct measure of authority is the number of people who will buy or download a recommended resource based on little more than an authority’s endorsement.  How many people would buy a copywriting book simply because Brian Clark said it’s a must-read?  How many people will download a free PDF on nothing more than Seth Godin’s evaluation that it contains important insights?

But one thing social media has seemed to spark is a dawning understanding that authority is (or should be, at least) limited to a legitimate field of knowledge.  So when a relatively famous figure like Robert Scoble states on his website Scobleizer that search engine optimization isn’t important for small businesses, he’s “taken to task” on it rather severely.

6. Scarcity

Apart from reciprocity, this is perhaps the most used tool in social media.  When bloggers open up a class or inner circle membership or subscription service, it is never for an unlimited number of customers or for an always open/unlimited time.  Smart bloggers either create or fully leverage already existing scarcity by limiting seats available, length of time to buy, etc.

Laura Roeder has rather famously made scarcity a centerpiece of a signature technique,  wherein bloggers hold competitions with free services as a prize.  When contestants don’t win, they then value the prize more highly precisely because of the newly perceived scarcity.  This makes them more likely to accept a consolation prize of getting the services at a slight discount.

Parting Recommendations

While the six principles of persuasion started out as “weapons of influence” that were used against us by “compliance professionals,” I—along with Cialdini—would encourage you to practice the positive side of wielding influence. To sum up many of the recommendations from the post, here are some very positive ways to leverage the principles of influence to increase your social media success:

  • Focus on creating value and initiating the reciprocity principle by gifting your social media contacts with high-value content, insights, reports, etc.
  • Sincerely flatter your subscribers, friends, and commenters by responding to them and nurturing your growing community.  Actively reach out to people you admire using social media and pay them the compliment of commenting on their blogs, following their tweets, linking to their content, etc.
  • Commit to consistent engagement on the social media platforms you chose to use, to the point of staying away from new social media platforms that you don’t have the resources to actively participate in.
  • Use social proof as credibility cues where appropriate.  Show off your number of subscribers next to the Subscribe button.  Possibly use colleagues to “salt” your comments on important posts, build up your network by guest posting, commenting, and retweeting.
  • Coordinate within your community on larger efforts for the greater good.  You’ll probably be psyched at what you create or accomplish, you’ll do good and feel good about it, and you’ll likely become associated with the effort.
  • Put the extra effort in on achieving professional and inspiring design.  Dress for success on your blog, website, and social media landing pages.
  • When creating a contest or trying to spark immediate action, use the scarcity principle to positive effect.  But be honest about it—no changing “last day for” dates, no miraculously replenishing supplies, etc

But, hey, I’d be THRILLED to add to the list if you recognize any of your tried-and-true techniques as falling within—or totally falling outside of—these weapons of influence.

What are your secret weapons of influence? Let’s engage.  Please comment below now.

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  • Guest

    Hello Jeff!
    Great tips about social media persuasion techniques!
    As you mentioned in the recommendations, people will recognize someone’s good intentions when someone focus on creating and giving them content of value.I just want to emphasize that once again!

  • JeffSexton

    Thanks, Branko,

    I agree that good intentions, when indicated by action and the creation of value, tend to shine through, and people respond to that with their own “good faith” actions.

    – Jeff

  • Wow, killer tips Jeff. I’m trying to think of what to add but I think you pretty much covered it all. The first 3 seem to be the most important in my opinion. Reciprocation has always been at the forefront of what I do because the more you give and help others, the more you’ll receive in return

    Commitment and consistency is just as important when you look at it as what we do because without either of those in what we do, will result in some not so great, well, results! And a lot of people underestimate social proof but it’s extremely powerful what also allows many internet marketers, aside from social media, to really do these big launches.

  • It’s all about building relationships and call to action! Well outlined and very clear thoughts. Thanks for sharing!

  • JeffSexton

    Thanks, Mike and Shannon! It’s interesting because after writing this post I received a review copy of Switch, Chip and Dan Heath’s new book, and in that book, many of Cialdini’s influences are discussed very prominently in terms of fostering or helping change efforts. And the two that stood our where Commitment and Social Proof. So while I agree that Reciprocation is at the heart of things SM, I also think some of the best areas for leverage are in those two principles – principles which are at the heart of starting a Tribe, when you come to think about it.

  • Juicy list. I’ll be sharing with the team. Thanks Jeff.

  • Steve Johnson

    Thanks for this information. I have been trying to figure this out and this helps.

  • Jeff, these are indeed powerful social media persuasion techniques. Tip # 5 stands out for me because perhaps it’s the hardest for most people to achieve with all the noise on social networking websites. Now that I think about, combining the other persuasion tips make being recognized as an authority a bit easier. Thanks for an excellent post.

  • I love to compliment others and I love to repay favors. I just don’t feel right when I don’t. When someone does something wonderful for me – I often feel like can’t thank them enough and so I go out of my way to do things for them in return. My mother-in-law is the most generous person I know, and because she’s done so much for me – I try to do more for her in return. If we treated people this way online, we’d spark a whole wave of internet kindness.
    You’re absolutely right, reciprocity is contagious.

  • Good stuff that is really based on a fundamental and reknown Bible principle: You reap what you sow. How ever you really broke it down and explained it well with respect to social media and networking online. I like the repeated emphasis on being genuine. Good work!

  • Based on the Commitment and Consistency, here I ‘m commenting on your blog again. It does make sense that we end up coming back to comment at the same blogs where we feel like part of the family. As for unfollowing and unsubscribing, I’m still trying to coming to terms on this one. I feel a bit ungrateful unfollowing people that are following me. I usually feel blessed that they are following me.

  • Awesome post, I’ve used each one of these in what we do and have wanted to do something like this post for a while. Now I have something to share with people to really explain how to implement each level of what is discussed in Cialdini’s original book.

  • I’m always really impressed by the articles on this blog. I’m relatively new to social media, and through my current role, trying to engage school districts in social media and why it is important in their overall communication plans. I appreciate having great sources of information to direct them to.

  • While it is good to know what kinds of persuasion techniques work and why they do lets not reduce Social Media to another traditional marketing tactic. What I love most about Social Media Marketing is the fact that it is based on building relationships with people in your target market first by offering valuable and relevant information and then later, after those people know like and trust you, they should feel comfortable doing business with you.

    I hope your readers all made it to the end of the post where the author pointed out the positive ways to wield influence instead of just trying to use them as “weapons of influence” which is why the actual book was most likely written.

  • Good list, Jeff. I believe initiating the reciprocity rather than waiting your turn is so important. It’s a busy world, and sometimes you have to initiate to get noticed.

  • The best secret(s) of influence – Integrity & humility.
    Integrity-Simply doing what you say you’re going to do when you said you would.
    Humility- If you practice humility you can’t be humiliated.

  • JeffSexton

    I’m right with you on the following thing, brite2briter. For now I actually click through to each person’s page and decide whether to follow them or not based on their tweet stream. But that’s time consuming. Doesn’t seem to be any other way to do followers justice, though. And, yeah, the auto-follow jerks really stand out when you look at their tweet streams, don’t they?

  • JeffSexton

    Hey, Lauren, thanks for your thoughtful reply. I did indeed try to emphasize the Social part of Social Media, which is why I wanted to examine Social Media engagement practice in light of known social influence principles. The idea isn’t to use them manipulatively, but to understand how to strengthen one’s own good-faith efforts at engaging other people, providing value, and, yes, building one’s platform.

  • krystalhosmer

    I am struggling with this at my current company. They are a little old school and still stuck in the “SHOVE IT down their throats” model of communication. This article should help me reinforce the share to get ahead way of thinking that works in social media.

    This will also serve as a great “rules of the road” primer for my Twitter for Business students.

    Thank you as always for the solid pointers!

  • JeffSexton

    Thanks, Tom. I couldn’t agree with you more. Initiating the relationship with a good faith gift will almost always beat the pants off of a “let them come to me” approach. I think a lot of this ties into your work with Signaling Theory and Currencies that Buy Credibility. The good faith engagement and creation of value works as a trust signal for your Social Media contacts.

  • JeffSexton


    I agree with you, but I’d caution others about how they interpret humility. Sometimes humility means understanding that other people are way too busy to pay attention to you and your message unless you give them a good reason to do so. And sometimes humility means understanding that you have to work with Social Principles that are more powerful than you, rather than trying to fight them. There are times when people shy away from marketing because of their imagined humility, when understanding the need to engage people about what matters to them (in other words to use good marketing) is really the greater sign of humility. The piano player who salts his tip jar with a few $20 tips isn’t being arrogant because he expects $20 tips, he’s being humble enough to know that most patrons aren’t going to give his playing their full attention long enough to judge the merit of his music, but will probably just follow social cues to determine how much he should be tipped.

  • Very well written and easy to digest. Most of us who have been successful in the social media arena=created community…has been with a Go-Givers mindset.

    It is funny that we have to talk about these principles and yet I see great opportunity for more collaborative mindset teaching in our schools and at home. Let’s face it being brought up in American has grown our competitive muscles strongly, this shift in communication has required we all learn new skills and reformat our mindsets so we are in alignment and thereby receive the results we “say” we want

    Thanks for giving us a fun and informative water cooler to gather around and chat!

  • Jeff

    Great Post> to start just be kind and open. I am always looking for those that are that way to me and my circle of is easy to find those folks. They are just hovering outside your day to day activities- in this skim and go world of information it always stops me in my tracks when I get great comments back on what I am finding and sharing….

  • These principles are PRICELESS! They are time-tested & proven! Please belive me when I tell you that they are!

  • Excellent post Jeff! You provided some very good insights not found in most blog posts. I think we all need to admit that we follow too many people and subscribe to too many newsletters and RSS feeds. I for one am going to make it a priority to “cull the herd” so I can renew my focus on and engagement with social media fans and followers. It really is about quality and not quantity on social media platforms and building social authority or proof through tribes. There were many other great tips here, too many to mention them all, but I did also particularly find helpful your comments on the halo effect of physical attractiveness and increasing one’s likability by doing good for others through joint efforts. Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if we all would just do that one thing?

  • philipp_thurmann

    Excellent article! The challenge is just to realise these advices; especially when I think about point 4. I work for several clients with heterogene target groups. For developing a high value follower list it’s usually necessary to get into personal conversations beside the pure provision of content (articles, promotions, videos). As you mentioned with “similarity” valuable conversation is always easier to create if you have close relations to your target group, know about their interests, hobbies etc. Guess specialisation on certain target groups is also a key to success.

  • This is an excellent paradigm of being as Bob Burg describes as a go-giver in a tangible social media context. Thanks, Jeff!

  • greigwells

    This blog post is a nice example of using some one elses content (Cialdini’s 6 principles) to write a blog post that becomes very popular. Too many people are full of excuses saying they have nothing to write about on their blog when the world is full of content which you can give your opionion on. Kudos to Jeff for being an action taker.

    Thanks to Denise Wakeman for bringing this post to my attention on Facebook.

  • Excellent use of a classic video… Thank u for some powerful tools that couldn’t be more true

  • thedailyblur

    Fantastic piece, Jeff. I look forward to sharing these meaty bits with my colleagues.

  • This blog post is insanely relevant right now – great subject, timely – and since I’m new to your blog, I’d like to also say it looks and feels fantastic!

  • I agree with Jennifer, above. Great website theme! Loving the safari dude metaphor. <3

  • JeffSexton

    There’s no question that schools aren’t currently set-up to teach kids the skills they’ll most need in life. Anyone who’s read A Whole New Mind or watched Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk knows this all too well.

  • JeffSexton

    Culling the herd is hard because you always fear that the unfollowed people will take it as a judgment on them rather than as a sign of incompatible interests as expressed though twitter streams. I know I do.

    As for joint efforts, they’re a way cool way to tap into your passion and do some good, but it can be even simpler than that. Doing an interview with people you admire in order to help get them more exposure is an easy way to start.

  • JeffSexton

    Really interesting take on that Phillipp. You’re right, sometimes meaningful or skillful “small talk” can be difficult between people of divergent backgrounds and interests. I might suggest looking to common cyber-culture reference points. Also, a strong brand personality means that not everyone will like you. You have to come to terms with that when designing your brand or you’ll end up with a bland instead.

  • JeffSexton

    Thanks, Greigwells,

    The world is full of interesting and cool crossroads, as Brian Clark would call them. Looking at one subject through the lens of another is always a good way to brainstorm some blog posts.

  • Great techniques! I enjoy your blog a great deal and get lots of relevant information. I took your techniques and kind of translated and reblogged them into “education world” in hopes that this might inspire more educators to embrace online communities. We’ll see!

  • It’s great to know that someone of influence like DR Robert Cialdini, who is outside our Social Media can add so much weight and credibility to Internet and Social Media Marketing. Thanks for turning his ideas into useful tools for us to use.

  • Guest

    One BIGG! article as we like to say here in our community! We were talking about this very subject this week in Alex Mandossian’s Teleseminar Secrets Program and Dr.Cialdini was on the call. Keep up the great work Jeff… much appreciated!

  • Great post (and I’m not just complimenting to raise my likability quotient:-) Thanks.

  • wendyblomseth

    thanks Jeff for your insights. Yes, I actually am part of the minority that has taken the leap and unscribed. After building up my list to 2,001 I realized it was unmanageable. I spent HOURS unfollowing and am now down to a friendly 800. I’ll probably go down one more round later.
    I want to stay connected with the people I can learn and share with regarding PERSONAL BRANDING WITH PHOTOS.


  • JeffSexton

    Way cool, Lee Anne,

    I’m glad you found the post helpful and applicable to your field. Thanks for giving us a peak at your blog, too.

    – Jeff

  • Excellent post. Great tips about social media persuasion techniques! Thanks for sharing article.

  • wicked joker

    word the media is full of douche bags. its bull s*** that they use this s*** on us.

  • wicked joker

    corporate america is the most curupt piece of shit on this planet

  • wicked joker

    bob of the box swing on a spring big violent j with the ax out shing-trouble we bring a juggalo thing wicked clowns with the boom pow bang-in yo face. smash through the glass as tha fireworks blast
    shaggy the clown here to murder some ass i be the stragler known koast 2 koast and ill turn any thug into a ghost-in yo face

  • Jeff, superb application of the PoP’s on Social Media. One addition: Following the principle of Liking, don’t forget giving LinkedIn recommendations. Reciprocation will make the other person recommend you right back. And if enough of your connections do just that, Social Proof wil take care of the rest 🙂

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