The psychology of following—how social influencers impact purchasing behavior

New research from visual content firm Olapic finds social influencers have even greater impact on consumer brand awareness and purchase considerations than we thought, as 31 percent of consumers across the U.S. and Europe said they have purchased a product or service based on a social influencer post.

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The study, Psychology of Following, conducted by CITE Research, aims to understand the psychology behind why consumers follow, listen to and trust social media influencers—and how they act on those recommendations.

“Through our extensive work with brands, we’ve found that influencer content is most resonant and powerful when influencers apply their own expertise, style and creativity – without heavy brand influence,” said Pau Sabria, co-founder of Olapic, in a news release. “Brands understand social influencers are essential to helping build brand equity, engagement and sales. And, consumers are more astute when they are marketed to—both directly and indirectly by the brand—which is why it’s no surprise that this study found that authenticity is the single-most important factor to ‘following’ an influencer.”

Results of the study uncovered a variety of interesting insights around following behavior, important attributes of an influencer and preferred platforms.

Definition and behaviors of an influencer

When asked to define what qualifies as a social influencer:

  • 53 percent of total respondents said it’s someone who has more than 10,000 followers;
    • German respondents had a higher threshold, with 34 percent of respondents suggesting an influencer has 50,000 or more followers.
  • 42 percent said it is someone brands engage to help promote their products and services; and
  • Only 21 percent classified these influencers as someone “famous.”

When asked to describe how the behavior of influencers is different from that of average social media users:

  • 42 percent of respondents said influencers share more information;
  • 39 percent said they have higher quality posts; and
  • 31 percent said they use more ads in their posts.

Content and platform preferences

According to the survey, Images and video content are the most preferred types of influencer content while Facebook, Instagram and YouTube were the most favored platforms for following influencers.

  • 33 percent of respondents said videos with sound in their feeds (as opposed to stories) is their favorite type of content;
  • 25 percent of respondents said still images in their feeds was their preferred content;
    • However, 35 percent of 19-24-year-olds listed still images in a feed as their preferred content.
  • Followers primarily turn to visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat to find influencers in Beauty, Fashion and Lifestyle.
    • Within the Beauty segment, followers placed the highest importance on the aesthetic of visuals (25 percent) and informative content (22 percent) as to why they follow influencers in this market;
    • 27 percent of followers said they wanted to be “inspired” by the content that Fashion influencers post; and
    • Lifestyle segment followers said that inspirational content (24 percent) and authenticity of content (23 percent) were the most important factors in determining influencers within this market.
The psychology of following—how social influencers impact purchasing behavior

Authenticity or bust

Authenticity is the most important factor when it comes to following influencers and trusting their endorsements.

  • 43 percent of respondents said authenticity was the top reason to “trust” an influencer;
  • 39 percent said it was important for the influencer to show any “endorsed” product in use; and
  • 39 percent said the expertise of the influencer would make them trust the endorsement.

Taking action based on influencer content

Social influencers are increasingly prompting consumers to consider purchasing a product or service, particularly in the U.S. and U.K.

  • 44 percent of all respondents said they have considered purchasing a product or service based on a social influencer post;
  • 31 percent said they have already purchased a product or service based on an influencer post; and
  • 24 percent said they have recommended a product or service based on an influencer post.

See more information about the survey here.

The psychology of following—how social influencers impact purchasing behavior

The survey polled 4,000 active social media consumers ages 16-61, across the U.S., U.K., France and Germany.


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