Dr Rodrigo Perez-Vega (@rpvega) is a Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Henley Business School. His research focuses on how to make branded social media presence more engaging for customers. He has consulted companies on digital marketing and social media strategy in the UK, France, Spain and the Middle East.


In the current hyper-connected environment where companies and consumers interact, learning how to leverage social influence marketing techniques can be a source of competitive advantage for your business. The Internet is among the top sources of information that consumers use for decision making. We use it to get information about products and services, and we rely on other people experiences on those purchases to assess the fit of a product with our unique needs. Understanding how social influence marketing works can help companies to provide with information that prospective customers are looking to make a decision, and can also provide positive business outcomes for that organisation. Social influence marketing refers to the strategies that are implemented by marketers to change the attitudes, feelings and behaviours of consumers based on the actions of others. Social media has facilitated the use of social influence strategies in online settings, as content can be easily created by users and shared on the web.


Why do we let others influence our decision making?

The answer to this is rather pragmatic; we are just trying to fill in the gaps. It is impossible to know everything about a product, especially when this is unknown to us. We are faced with several choices when we are trying to fulfil a need. Think of the choice that you make when you are trying to go to find a good sushi restaurant. In general, you can have two options: you can start visiting all the sushi restaurants in the UAE to get first-hand experience of their culinary skills. However, this would take time and a considerable amount of money. This becomes cumbersome, and therefore we find shortcuts to those gap of information. We rely on friends and people that we trust. We rely on ‘experts’ such as food reviewers, and even on the experience of unknown customers through the reading of online reviews. However, how can you use this for your business? Here are three strategies that are easy to implement and that can improve your business outcomes:


  1. Allow online reviews in your website or third party websites

Online reviews are a type of electronic word-of-mouth that is very effective at helping a consumer make a purchase decision. If your site does not have the capability to allow this kind of reviews, adding them and encouraging customers to leave reviews can help your business in the long term. Are you worried about negative reviews? A recent study has found that consumers are untrustworthy of extreme reviews (overly positive and overly negative reviews). Consumers believe that these type of reviews are more likely to be manipulated, namely posted by the owner of an establishment, by competitors, or by overly critical people.

  1. Use existing reviews smartly in both online and offline marketing material

The effect of the valence of a review (positive or negative) is moderated by the profile of the reviewer. We tend to get influenced more by people that “are like us”. Leveraging on this effect can be done by displaying the reviews that are more relevant to a target audience. For example, if you already know that your primary customer base is of a particular gender or age brackets, then displaying reviews from people within those criteria can strengthen the effects of those reviews. This can also extend to offline marketing communication materials.


  1. Let your potential customers know about the behaviour of others

This is a technique widely used by star e-commerce websites, and that is still unknown for many SMEs. Companies such as EasyJet or Booking.com display how many people purchased a specific product or are even looking at it right now. This creates a sense of urgency to take a decision, but also of validation that the product is worth it since many other people have already bought it. Transferring this into other industry contexts could lead to adding the number of orders of a particular product in the day or month. Alternatively, if your price varies depending on the demand of it, displaying how many people are looking at the product in real time can also improve the conversion rate that you are currently getting.

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