How do Influencers Influence?

Have you ever purchased anything based on the suggestion of friends or family? I know I have. I do my own due diligence of course and narrow down my decision to a few particular products. Then I ask friends who already have that product for their opinion. What do they like or dislike about the product? Would they buy it again if they had to choose all over? I find some of my friends are more reliable sources of information than others.

It seems influencers can sell products so well for the same reason. Followers consider the influencer a friend. They consider themselves part of the influencers’ circle or “pack” – as psychologists like to call it. Fans form bonds with the influencer, especially if the influencer is good at making personal connections with them: posting personal stories and photos, sharing good and bad moments, communicating directly with fans, etc. But to be a successful product mover, you’d need much more than getting personal. 

One of my favourite books is Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. In his book, Gladwell looks at how epidemics happen. He looks at how a virus or idea starts small and spreads slowly at first until it reaches a tipping point and goes exponentially huge. 

Tipping Point Book cover
Photo source: Wikimedia commons

What causes an idea or product to reach the tipping point?  Three factors: The message itself, the context of the message, and the messenger (for the purpose of this post: the influencer).

Gladwell believes the majority of the influence comes from a few of the messengers. He calls this “the law of the few” (cf. the Pareto Principle). He puts these heavy lifters into three categories: The connectors, the mavens and the salesmen (the persuaders). 

The connectors are those with a large social following. The one who knows a lot of other people, the social hub.

The mavens are the know-it-alls. The ones who always know about the latest gadgets and trends and love to talk about them and share the information. 

The persuaders are the ones who could sell you anything or any idea regardless of the product or idea’s merit. These are born salespeople with the extraordinary knack for convincing others through both verbal and nonverbal skills. 

Now compare these three characteristics versus those of social media influencers who are very successful at selling.  The successful influencer has a large social circle with whom he/she forms a strong bond (connector). He/she is is a maven in a particular domain and sticks to promoting products in that niche.  And last but not least, the successful influencer is a master of the art of communication and persuasion. 

As Gladwell puts it the messengers are only part of the reason for a message’s success. We still need a good message and the right context for the message to reach the tipping point. But getting into those two factors requires other posts.

Another book I recommend for those interested in this topic is Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath. 

Have you ever bought a product through an influencer’s link? What did you buy? Why?

How do you think influencers and celebrities are different in terms of product promotion? 

Facebook: What are the three characteristics of a successful influencer? Read more:

Twitter: Why do we buy from influencers? Read here:

Freud Would Have Enjoyed Social Media 


In my university literature courses, I learned how to read characters’ personalities from the way they talk, dress, interact with others and react to events. Later, I used those skills to analyze real-life people; the techniques worked just as well. 

Lisbeth Salander’s description in Steig Larsson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: ‘Armansky’s star researcher was a pale, anorexic young woman who had hair as short as a fuse, and a pierced nose and eyebrows.’ Photo: Wikimedia commons

Psychologists have been using the same elements to assess different aspects of human personality. The larger their data set gets, the more accurate the discoveries and theories become. Before social media, psychologists were limited to the data they gained from their patients, but with the prevalence of social media and the treasure trove of data publicly available to them, they are now able to propose, test, and fine-tune their theories more quickly and better than ever.    

Psychologists now use social media in very diverse and creative ways to assess different facets of our personality.  

In this study, for example, they look at how much Twitter profile pictures reveal about the users’ personalities. It seems like profile pictures can be used to “predict personality traits with robust accuracy.”

This one determined that a user’s personality can be accurately predicted through the publicly available information on their Facebook profile. 

Other studies have tried to find out what kind of people are more likely to use social media frequently. According to this one, “extraverted men and women were both likely to be more frequent users of social media tools,” and “only the men with greater degrees of emotional instability were more regular users.”

Psycholinguists have proposed that language use on social media has direct correlations to personality. This study too used Facebook and looked at the correlation between predictive language and personality. The authors believe “this approach can complement and extend traditional methods, providing researchers with an additional measure that can quickly and cheaply assess large groups of participants with minimal burden.” 

Psychologists have also used social media to:

Measure social conformity,

Detect fake news,

Measure curiosity (e.g. through scrolling speed and clickthroughs), 

Study differences between politeness norms offline and online. 

I think Sigmund Freud would have enjoyed testing his theories on social media. 

Have you seen any other psychological studies based on social media? 

Do you have any creative ideas of your own as to how scientists can use social media?

Facebook: How are psychologists using social media for their research? What are they discovering about us? Read my post here: #socialmedia #psychologyposts    

Twitter: Social media is an excellent research tool for psychologists. Read here:  #socialmedia #psychologyposts   

Away, Away with Facebook and Instagram!


It seems like the crimes of Facebook are finally catching up with it. There are more and more disillusioned and disgruntled people doing away with the company’s controversial products, abandoning or deleting its apps in hordes and replacing them with safer options.  

Faces expressing the human passions-coloured engraving by J. Pass, 1821, after Charles Le Brun
Source: Wikipedia

We all know about the downsides of using Facebook and Instagram (apparently, Facebook knows about them too. See this article by The Guardian). 

Here is a sample of many well-documented drawbacks: 

The problems have reached a tipping point where the disadvantages of these platforms outweigh their advantages for growing categories of users. 

One such former user is my husband. He abandoned his Facebook account a few years ago in protest after several reports of Facebook’s mishandling of user information came out. Last year, he deleted WhatsApp messenger when the company refused to change its Terms of Use leading to a global backlash over privacy issues (The company later backed down somewhat). And recently, he finally deleted Instagram, his last piece of software owned by Facebook. 

Has he become a social media teetotaller? No! He has replaced them with safer (for now?) options.  He uses Signal and Telegram (both apps are non-profit and run based on donations, hence no need to peddle user data). He is happy! It works for him since he is not promoting a business and he uses social media to keep in touch mainly with family and a group of close friends. 

Telegram’s 500 million active users come nowhere close to YouTube and Facebook’s billions, but such privacy mindful apps are closing the gap.    

Maybe we can finally sing:

Away, away with Facebook and Instagram

Here we come united, you should scram! 

Are apps such as Telegram and Signal the future of Social Media? Is the Facebook business model going to stay the same over time? Will businesses stay on these platforms if a good number of users quit them?

What do you think? Are users going to win one day over corporate profits?

Facebook: Do you think it’s time to boycott social media sites that breach user privacy? Will privacy-minded apps prevail over those that peddle in your data? Read my post here: #socialmedia #quitfacebook   

Twitter: Will Telegram dominate Facebook and WhatsApp? It might just be possible! Read here: #socialmedia #quitfacebook   

Social Media Gods Are Tyrants


Instagram-Facebook giant
Instagram-Facebook giant cyclops! Image courtesy of my daughter

In Greek mythology Zeus is presented as the embodiment of courage and justice. He liberates his brothers and sisters from the tyranny of their selfish titan father and becomes the symbol of fairness to all gods and men. And yet, later we see an established, older, omnipotent Zeus who does not follow any rules, does not respond to any authority, and makes up his own laws. He is promoted by his oracles as justice itself. After all, he is the one who decides what is wrong and right. He rules through punishment and intimidation and when it serves him, he lies, cheats and deceives both humans and other lesser gods. He inflicts harm on humans on all scales through nuisances all the way to calamities. 

Social media titans of today all started as lesser entities that were harbingers of hope and liberty. They promised accessibility, equality, connection, fun, entertainment, and freedom from the monopoly of traditional news and entertainment giants. Yet, in only a few years, they turned into greater evil than their predecessors.

We have all been smitten in one form or another by these tech platforms. Adsense suspends our account and when we reach out to see why, we receive a form letter saying that the account was suspended due to violation of their terms of agreement and the exact nature of the violation cannot be discussed as it would compromise their algorithm. Instagram blocks our reel due to copyright infringement, because we used 20 seconds of a copyrighted music track and then it offers us a longer version of the exact same track through its library. Just yesterday, Instagram suspended the account of Zeinab Mousavi, an Iranian stand-up comedian who criticized Iran’s president and invoked the rage of the dictatorship’s army of trolls and bots who in turn reported her en masse to Instagram. Good luck to her getting her popular account reinstated.      

On a grander scale, we all witnessed Facebook’s destructive role in the 2016 US presidential election with the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal, or YouTube, Twitter and Facebook’s reluctance to address extremism of all sorts on their platforms. How about the misinformation and disinformation disseminated about Covid-19 and vaccines? Or about practically any important contemporary issue? In one instance, Facebook refused to even discuss the extent of misinformation on its sites with the US senate.

Some argue that running such large social media platforms is a Herculean task that brings with it several difficulties and ethical dilemmas. They argue that you cannot make everyone happy, that there are always some difficult decisions that need to be taken and compromises that need to be made. I’d say power and size are not excuses for placing these entities above the law. As Spider Man’s Uncle Ben would say, “With great power there must also come great responsibility.”

President Barack Obama attends a dinner on jobs and competitiveness with technology business leaders in San Francisco, California, Feb. 17, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza. image source: Wikimedia commons)

The sheer size and political reach of these corporations make it difficult to hold them accountable and they are yet to reach the apex of their size and power; they continue to permeate every aspect of our personal and public lives and get to know us better than any ancient god could ever dream of knowing his subjects. However, it is still not too late to stop their irresponsible behaviour and curb their playing gods above the rule of law. It is up to each and every netizen to engage with their governments and make themselves heard. 

Isn’t it time we made sure Prometheus stays Unbound? Let me know how you think we can combat social media gods. Leave a comment below.

Facebook: Share this post with your friends. Let’s hold social media giants accountable before they turn into tyrants.

Social media giants should be held accountable.