by Lauren Shapiro*
Are you an obedient consumer? A study in the 1960’s by Stanley Milgram proved that we, as human beings, are obedient to our instructor even when what we are asked to do may cause harm to another person. The study, mirrored by the 2009 movie The Box, asked participants to shock their co-participant (an actor) any time he answered a question incorrectly. Out of the forty participants, all 40 agreed to induce shock when asked to by the scientist. 62 percent gave the highest shock and 65 percent of participants continued to administer shocks even when the person being shocked said he was experiencing heart trouble. Now, a French reality show, The Game of Death, puts a new spin on the Milgrim study to see if contestants in 2010 will be as obedient as the participants from the sixties. Their findings? Out of 80 participants, 81 percent administered shocks and more than four out of five gave the maximum jolt.
From both experiments, it is clear that we are very influenced by individuals of authority. The studies take the point to an extreme, but the fact itself is true. Take, for instance, the role of public relations, marketing, and advertising which attempt to influence the way people think about a certain brand, product, or person. Some people are more influential than others and their message can make consumers more or less obedient to their instruction. For example, Tiger Woods was a significant “authority” in the sports world and he received many endorsement deals with products such as Gillette, Tag Heuer, and Gatorade. His wholesome, positive image made him the perfect spokesperson whose message would yield obedience by consumers, creating and tracked by higher sales. However, Tiger’s most recent popularity in the media has caused him to lose endorsement opportunities and downgraded his authority as a person of influence in the media.
Social media has allowed for the non-celebrities of the world to become important influencers, too. According to adage.com, an influencer is “a visitor who’s subsequent sharing actions result in at least one additional site visitor.” In the PR and marketing industries, these influencers and their reach are extremely important in identifying who to engage and in measuring social media success. Adage.com also found that “content spread from consumer to consumer through word-of-mouth is far more powerful at driving brand preference and purchase intent than content distributed by the brand itself.” But, do top social media influencers create obedience in their followers? Adage.com uses the 2-4X rule, stating that “visitors driven to a site by influencers are 2-4X more likely to convert compared to visitors from other sources.”
With social networks like Facebook and Twitter users get to pick and choose who they want to be influenced by. Unlike Milgrim’s study or the French game-show, consumers are dealing with the conundrum of whether “to buy or not to buy” versus “to shock or not to shock” which is a far more pleasant dilemma. However new social media tends to be, it appears that users are still more obedient to their own social media authorities than the influencers presented to them by corporate branding strategies. Consumers have taken over branding the social media outlets to let their peers know the “real deal.”
In the world of PR, marketing, and advertising – how are you using authority to influence the decisions of constituents? Do you target social media influencers in your PR pitches? As a consumer, are you swayed by a person’s authority or influence when making purchases? Please share your thoughts with me and the readers of BurrellesLuce Fresh Ideas?
*Bio: Soon after graduating from the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, in 2006 with a B.A. in communication and a B.S. in business/marketing, I joined the BurrellesLuce client services team. In 2008, I completed my master’s degree in corporate and organizational communications and now work as the supervisor of BurrellesLuce Express client services. I am passionate about researching and understanding the role of email in shaping relationships from a client relation/service standpoint as well as how miscommunication occurs within email, which was the topic of my thesis. Through my posts on Fresh Ideas, I hope to educate and stimulate thoughtful discussions about corporate communications and client relations, further my own knowledge on this subject area, as well as continue to hone my skills as a communicator. Twitter: @_LaurenShapiro_ LinkedIn: laurenrshapiro Facebook: BurrellesLuce