Tag Archives: Invisible Influence

Why Social Influence is Important in Business: Q&A with Jonah Berger

We were lucky enough to recently catch up with one of our
favorite conference speakers Jonah Berger, who is well-known as a Wharton
Professor and Bestselling Author of Invisible
Influence
and Contagious:
Why Things Catch On
.
Berger shared some key insights about why social
influence is key to business from his new book Invisible Influence.

Here’s what Jonah had to say:
What is ‘social
influence’?
Berger: Social
influence is the impact people have on others around them. We vote if our
spouse is voting, run faster if someone else is watching us, or switch our entr??e
if someone at the table orders the same thing.  In each instance, others’
behavior influences or affects our own. Those others can be spouses and
friends, but also people we never even talk to, like the stranger sitting next
to us on the plane.  Social influence effects small things, like the food
we eat, but also big things like the career we choose or whether we save money
for retirement. Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of all decisions are shaped by
others. It’s hard to find a decision or behavior that isn’t affected by other
people.
Why is social
influence important in business?
Berger: If we
understand how influence works, we can harness its power. We can convince
a client, change the boss’ mind, and motivate employees to take action.  One section of the book, for example, talks
about how being a chameleon can make you more successful. Researchers looked at
what makes someone a good negotiator. 
What makes them more likely to reach a deal when all looks
lost. And they found that one simple trick led negotiators to be 5x as
successful. That trick?  Imitating or mimicking the language,
behavior, or facial expressions of their negotiating partner. If their partner
crossed their legs, they did the same.  And if their partner leaned back
in the chair, they did so as well. Not obviously, but subtly mirroring
their partner.  Turns out the same trick works in a range of
contexts. Waiters or waitresses that mimic their patrons’ orders get 70%
higher tips.  Mimicry increases liking, trust, and affiliation.  It
deepens social bond and makes people feel a kinship that turns strangers into
friends and acquaintances into allies.
Why is social
influence key to reaching the right customers?
Berger: Word of
mouth is 10x as effective as traditional advertising. People trust it more and
its more targeted.  So, to reach the right customers, we have to turn our
existing customers into advocates. Use social influence to get them to
talk about and share our message and bring new converts in along the way. 
 
How can individuals
harness the power of social influence to make better decisions in their
personal lives?  
Berger: If we
understand how influence works, we can take advantage of its benefits and avoid
its downsides. Following others can provide a useful shortcut that saves
time and effort. If lots of people chose or did something, it’s probably pretty
good. So, others can be a valuable source of information, a heuristic that
simplifies decision making. Other times, however, following others can
lead us astray.  So, simple tricks like considering whether others have
the same preferences as we do can help us avoid going the wrong way.
Have you ever been personally affected by the power of
social influence? What is an example?
Certainly. I was telling lawyer friend of mine from DC about
the book and he was lamenting the effect of social influence on his
colleagues. He said the first thing new lawyers in DC do when they make
partner is go out and buy a BMW.  I said that was interesting, but then
pointed out that he himself was a DC lawyer and drove a BMW. He said yes, but
they all drive grey BMWs. I bought a blue one.
What I love about this story is that it perfectly
encapsulates the tension inherent in social influence.  People often think
being influenced means doing the same thing as others, but it’s more complex
than that.  There’s more than one flavor of influence. Sure, sometimes we
imitate those around us, but we also care about standing out and being
unique.  So, when do we do the same thing as others and when do we do
something different. 
In your book, you
share an experiment about cockroaches and how their behavior changed when they
had an audience.  What insights can you share about how we behave when our
actions are observed?
Berger: It makes
sense that people and animals might work harder when there is a
competition.  If two pigeons are racing to get the last piece of bread, or
two people are competing to win a golf tournament, the desire to achieve the
reward or win the competition might lead people and animals to work harder.
Even the mere presence of others though, can have similar effects. 
Cockroaches, for example, ran faster through a maze when
other cockroaches were watching them, even though those others weren’t directly
competing.  People behave similarly.  The mere fact that someone is
watching us can increase motivation and performance.  But for new or
difficult tasks, others can sometimes have the opposite effect.  Having
someone else in the car when we’re trying to parallel park, for example, makes
it harder for most of us to fit in the spot.  So, whether others presence
helps or hurts depends on the nature of the task.