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The science of persuasion: five tips for selecting Instagram Influencers

By Alan Gray, Senior Research Psychologist, Tailify

Advertisers have long understood the value of psychological insight in driving campaign success, but with influencer marketing, the human element has never been more salient. And with businesses set to invest unprecedented sums in influencer marketing in 2022, influencer selection is critical. 

Success relies on the strength of the relationship between the follower and the influencer. So how are Instagram influencers able to achieve this connection with a handful of selfies and a few well-chosen words? Well, behavioural science provides insight into how these relationships are developed and maintained, allowing marketers to apply this in their influencer selection. If you’re looking to drive trust to achieve high performance on Instagram, these five tips will help you.   

  1. Look them in the eye

There’s a lot to be said for eye contact in everyday interactions, and research suggests that selfies may be no different. Selfies in which influencers look the viewer in the eye, rather than off to the side, above or below, achieve greater follower engagement – and increase followers’ intention to buy the advertised product.

Why might we favour such direct gaze in our selfie-takers? Well, it’s still an open question, but research on eye contact suggests it has something to do with heightened arousal. Direct gaze makes us detect the face quicker, identify whose face it is faster, and be less distracted from the face by peripheral stimuli. All these elements are associated with more focused attention, greater recognition and recall, and an increased receptivity to your message.

  1. Left cheek, more emotion

Interestingly, when asked to display emotion in a photo, we’re more likely to offer the photographer the left over the right cheek – the opposite is true when asked to conceal emotion or appear emotionless. What’s also strange is that people judge the left side of the face to be more emotive than the right. Models who presented their left cheek to an audience were rated as more emotionally expressive and open than their right-sided counterparts. Instagram selfies showing the left cheek gained up to 10% more likes than those showing the right. Certainly something to consider when deciding which images to post for ‘emotional’ and ‘unemotional’ campaigns.

3. Be open and honest

One of our most successful influencers at Tailify, Alana Arbucci, a wellness influencer, talks openly about her life and struggles. She holds nothing back, and encourages her followers to do the same, sharing intimacies across her videos and joining in on the comments. This relatable persona is one she readily shares with brands, giving them a personableness they would otherwise struggle to achieve, and helping them connect with her audience on a much deeper level.

It’s this feeling of connection that ultimately drives the desire to imitate the influencer and purchase the products they advertise. In a marketplace ripe with endorsements, consumers require more than attractiveness and expertise to make their purchasing decisions. They need to feel like they have a relationship with the endorser, to see them as a friend and like-minded other.

  1. Show and tell is seen as more trustworthy

“The first windmills were built in Spain”. True or false? How about now:

Pairing a claim with a relevant picture dramatically increases its uptake as true. In fact, the first windmills were built in Persia, and if you look at the picture, the windmill is modern and located in Derbyshire! 

The point here is that pictures serve as pseudo-proof (something referred to as the truthiness effect). And they do so beyond our awareness, even increasing our desire to share claims with others well into the future.

While not advocating dressing up lies with deep fakes, we must recognise that accepting an influencer’s message – especially if it’s novel – will depend upon the visual congruence between the picture and the point. 

It’s all a case of show and tell. So, look for influencers who don’t just talk about a product, but show it in action.

  1. Keep it simple

We’re silly folk, us humans. We tend to believe that if we can readily understand something, it’s probably true. So, messages using simple, ‘high fluency’ language are more persuasive. Don’t say it in a thousand words, say it with a few. And instead of ‘sesquipedalian,’ try ‘long-winded,’ ‘drawn-out’, or just ‘long’. 

As you plan your next influencer marketing strategy, be aware influence isn’t just about popularity – it’s about trust. On Instagram, that trust can be achieved in something as subtle as eye contact, or the intimacies contained in an influencer’s captions. Selecting influencers with behavioural science in mind is a sure-fire way to rocket your performance.

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