Social Media Strategy: Cialdini’s Weapons of Influence

June 30, 2021 Social Influence 2 comments

Here’s a good way to improve your social media marketing strategies: Tap on the principles of social influence.

And the best person to learn from is probably Dr Robert B. Cialdini—the “godfather” of social media influence.

Thanks to his book Influence: Science and Practice, countless marketers around the world have sharpened the way they influenced their target audiences to take the right action—often with minimal persuasion needed.

Never heard of Cialdini’s laws of influence or of Cialdini himself? You’re in for a treat!

In this article, I will summarize the key learning points from his amazing volume, and suggest ways for you to apply this in your social media marketing campaigns.

Understanding Cognitive Short-Cuts

Rooted in social psychology, Cialdini’s theories of influence stem from the fact that we humans like to take cognitive short-cuts.

Also known as autonomous responses, these uncontrollable responses—a.k.a “click, whirr” or fixed-action patterns—stem from our need to quickly make sense of complex situations.

Examples of these acts of “complex automaticity” include…

  • Being more successful in asking for a favour when a reason is given
  • Equating a more expensive items with better quality
  • Feeling that good lookers are more intelligent, honest, and caring than plain Jims or Janes

Also called judgmental or mental heuristics, these mental shortcuts helps us to simplify life. However, they could also be used by marketers for both good (and not so good) reasons.

Cialdini’s Six Weapons of Influence

By analysing these automatic responses, Cialdini proposes that there are 6 weapons of influence which “compliance specialists” apply:

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Commitment and Consistency
  3. Social Proof (Consensus)
  4. Liking (Similarity)
  5. Authority
  6. Scarcity

Likening these weapons of automatic influence to “jujitsu “moves that you can use against your targets, Cialdini surmises that these principles of influence can help you gain an unfair advantage in any sales or marketing activity.

1) Reciprocity

One of the most widespread and universal norms in human behaviour is our need for reciprocation.

The rule states that we will always try to repay, either in kind or in cash, what another person has provided. By obligating the recipient to an act of repayment in future, this phenomenon helps to ensure the long-term goodwill of communities.

There are several tactics that you can use here for your social media marketing efforts.

By giving something before asking for a favour, you can benefit from the power of this rule even for uninvited first favours. For example, you can give your Instagram followers a free sample of your lipstick before asking them to consider purchasing your newly launched make-up kit.

It can also spur unequal exchanges: to be rid of the uncomfortable feeling of indebtedness, your recipient may agree to a substantially larger favour than the one he or she received.

A variation of this is the rejection-then-retreat technique. Also known as the door-in-the-face technique, you start with an extreme request likely to be rejected (eg asking your customer to spend $1,000 on a spa package), and then retreat to a smaller request (eg sign up for a 6-month $300 programme).

2) Commitment and Consistency

Heard of the term cognitive dissonance? That is the uncomfortable feeling you get when you’re doing something inconsistent with who you are.

In view of this, the rule of commitment and consistency comes in the following sequence:

  1. First, you should secure an initial commitment from your prospect. Where possible, try to make this stand or position publicly visible.
  2. In the world of social media marketing, this initial commitment could be a micro-commitment, like commenting “Yes, I’d like to improve my digital marketing results!” or clicking on a button or filling up a survey.
  3. Once a commitment decision is made, it will probably “grow its own legs.” Your prospect may come up with new reasons and justifications for making that initial commitment.
  4. Thereafter, you get your prospect to take an action that is consistent with his initial commitment.

This two-step process can be applied in a digital marketing context where you gradually increase the commitment levels of your prospect.

For instance, you can first get your prospect to sign up for a free email newsletter. In the series of emails, you may invite her to come up for a free 1-hour Yoga class by a leading expert. When she comes for the class, you could then suggest that you come for another 3 paid classes (at a special price), and slowly nudge her towards becoming a full paying member.

3) Social Proof (aka Consensus)

Ahhh… Social proof! This is one of my favourite weapon of influence!

Also known as the monkey-see-monkey-do phenomenon, social proof is the reason why we laugh when we watch a sit-com even if we do not catch the punchline. (The reason? Canned laughter in the background.)

Social proof is often most influential under two conditions:

  1. Uncertainty: We tend to look out for the actions of bystanders in ambiguous or strange situations.
  2. Similarity: You are more inclined to follow the lead of somebody who is similar to you.

In the context of social media marketing, you’re probably aware of how social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest make use of social proof.

By displaying the number of reactions/likes, comments, shares, and views of others, you’re more likely to be “like” a post if many others also “like” it (or share it if many others share it).

Examples of how this principle can be exploited include the following:

  • The Werther Effect: Highly publicised suicide stories often ignite “copycat” suicides in a city (hence the importance of not giving undue publicity to such actions)
  • Race horse betting: Often, bookies in a racetrack may intentionally make initial bets on bad horses to inflate their odds. This results in the public then betting on the inferior horse, improving the odds for the bookies.
  • Customers like you: In a more benign fashion, you can let your potential customers know how many people like them you’ve served before. For example, I always let my trainees know that I’ve trained close to 2,900 individuals in over 150 workshops—many of whom are professionals, managers and executives just like them.

To incorporate social proof in your social media marketing, do also consider the following new tactics:

  • Use testimonials of customers that you’d like to showcase
  • Tell people what your bestselling product/ service is, for example “Most of our clients take up the monthly retainer package for Facebook and Instagram marketing.”
  • Include your reviews and the no of stars within (interestingly, the best ones are between 4.2 to 4.7 upon 5 stars!)

HOT TIP: If you’re new and do not have immense social proof, use trends (preferably a 3-point scale) to illustrate how you’re growing. For instance, 5 years ago, Walter trained 500 trainees; 3 years ago, it grew to 1,600 trainees; as of today, I’ve trained over 5,100 individuals!

Social proof may sometimes also end up with the bystander effect—in a street full of other people, there is a lower chance of you intervening in an emergency versus one that has far fewer people around. This can be a negative and should be guarded against.

4) Liking (aka Similarity)

By now, you’ll probably realise that physical attractiveness can be a huge advantage when you try to convince somebody to buy from you. Good looking people tend to enjoy a halo effect—the phenomenon whereby one positive trait dominates the way that person is viewed by others.

Beyond looks, being similar to the other person also helps. This could be in your lifestyle, opinions, cultural background, personality, or other even the way you dress.

Complimenting the other person also works, provided it is perceived to be sincere. Ditto for repeated contact with the other person—provided this is done in a positive context.

Finally, you can attain liking by association. Marketers often do this by connecting themselves or their products with positive things, celebrities, sports stars, politicians, or experts.

In the world of social media marketing, you can cultivate liking by doing the following:

  • Choosing attractive models or personalities that are similar to your target audiences
  • Posting sufficiently frequently so as to inculcate familiarity with your communities
  • Associating your product or service with individuals or organisations that are well-liked

5) Authority

Who would you listen to? A policeman wearing his blue uniform or one donned in his civvies?

As Asians, we’re often prone to defer to the requests of somebody in authority. This doesn’t have to be a dictator—doctors or dentists wearing their stethoscopes or lab coats are often perceived to be more authoritative. Thus, makers of toothpaste brands like Colgate or Sensodyne often cite that more dentists use their brand than any others.

When reacting to authority, there are three symbols that prove to be highly effective:

  • Titles: Senior people in leadership positions tend to be more convincing
  • Clothing: Yes, clothes apparently does maketh the man
  • Trappings: These are the external symbols of success like cars, yachts, expensive holidays, luxury watches, and designer suits

To tap on the power of authority, consider working with thought leaders and influencers for your brand. Or you can also seek to grow your own influence. (This article as well as this will help!)

6) Scarcity

Also known as The Rule of the Few, the law of scarcity states that “less is best and loss is worst.”

Powerfully grounded in the psychological principle of loss aversion, the rule of scarcity states that we assign greater value to things that are in limited supply. This applies equally to both physical products and information.

There are several ways to enact this law:

  1. Limited Numbers: This is commonly used in most marketing organisations, with phrases like “Hurry, limited stocks!” “Only 200 places available!” or “Limited edition collector’s item.”
  2. Limited Time: The use of a deadline can be very effective in getting people to scramble. For instance, you can craft words like “Season ending soon!” or “Exclusive, limited time sale!” or include a countdown clock.
  3. Censorship: Sometimes, the more we state that something is “banned” or “uncensored”, the more we’ll attract attention. Limiting access can help to drive up value.
  4. Competitors: By stating that somebody else is looking at the item that your prospect is looking to buy, you can help to trigger that sense of urgency to put down his money before its too late!
  5. Emphasise What They’ll Miss Out: Let people know what they may lose (taste what you’ve missed out all these years).

Also known as psychological reactance, the preference for scarcity is linked to our preference to keep as much freedoms for ourselves as possible. We are neurologically programmed to resist attempts at control and to want things that are harder to get. Hence, the phenomenon whereby forbidden fruit tends to taste sweeter.

NEW: 7) Unity — Establish Shared Identity

Thanks to a recent episode of the Social Media Marketing podcast, I learned of a new psychological trigger called Unity.

This is the tendency for your customers to say yes to people that they share a social identity with.

There are several ways to ignite this in your prospects:

  • Belonging to Same Place: Highlight your common country of origin (eg “Like you, we’re also Singaporeans and understand how locals feel.”)
  • Shared Interests: Are you a Democrat or Republican? Or perhaps an interest, eg “We’re geeks and nerds who love reading too!”
  • Segment Your Market: Target them based on what you have in common — thus, if you’re selling to 50 year-olds, identify what 50 year-olds may appreciate
  • Co-Create: Seek the inputs of your prospect so that they’re your partner. Don’t ask for their opinions, seek their advice!

Conclusion—Use Them Ethically

The 7 weapons of influence are powerful ways of boosting the receptivity of your social media marketing messages. However, they can also be abused.

Here, Cialdini suggests that we should find ways to defend ourselves against this automatic behaviours, and apply these weapons of influence—reciprocation, commitment, social proof, liking, authority, scarcity, and unity—only for honest use.

How would you apply these weapons of influence in your social media marketing strategy? Which do you find most relevant to your business and why?

By Walter
Founder of Cooler Insights, I am a geek marketer with almost 24 years of senior management experience in marketing, public relations and strategic planning. Since becoming an entrepreneur 5 years ago, my team and I have helped 58 companies and over 2,200 trainees in digital marketing, focusing on content, social media and brand storytelling.


  1. Really great and Impressive Post on Social Media Strategy: Cialdini’s 6 Weapons of Influence and Resources with Skip Tracing and your style of writing is also Good… Thank You So Much for Sharing this In formations.

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