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The Friendly Sell

Uncovering the Persuasive Mechanisms of Social Media Influencers

The unparalleled growth and confirmed effectiveness of influencer marketing is juxtaposed to an increasing mistrust from the consumer’s side. Consequently, the question arises of what makes social media influencers so uniquely effective?To answer this question, this study proposes “the Friendly Sell” as a novel conceptualizing framework. The framework aims to better explain the emergence of sWOM, purchase decision, and purchase intention for the influencer context. Thereby, Cialdini’s principles – strategies that activate cognitive shortcuts resulting in compliance – represent the active side of the persuasion process, harnessed by social media influencers. More precisely, reciprocity, commitment & consistency and similarity are identified as antecedents of parasocial relationships. Physical attractiveness, social proof and expertise are argued to increase the credibility of an influencer. Scarcity is proposed as a standalone technique to yield sales. The framework reasons parasocial relationships and source credibility to serve as passive persuasion amplifiers, while being decisive for persuasion success by themselves and through their interconnectedness simultaneously.

To evaluate the framework, 9 qualitative in-depth guided interviews were conducted with participants savvy to talk about the given topic. The interviews affirmed most of the suggested intercorrelations. The most notable alterations undermine the notion of previous research that known iterations of parasocial phenomena and source credibility may not be directly translatable into the influencer world. Moreover, especially reciprocity becomes strikingly evident as a mechanism for successful persuasion of social media influencers. Amongst others, this a new insight that was entirely disregarded in the reviewed literature.

Albeit the framework can only be viewed as a general point of reference for further research, its’ most valuable contribution is the examination of persuasive mechanisms that can be actively harnessed by social media influencers, rather than giving another explanation as to why users are influenced on social media. Hence, it is argued that influencers apply these strategies in goal-oriented ways, and with great awareness.