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The commonly agreed up definition of an influencer is simply someone who has many followers on social media. But if that person cannot motivate those followers to take an action, they’re just influencers. They’re not influential.

The Rosetta Stone of influencer marketing – that is the key to deciphering whether or not an influencer is, in fact, influential – has long eluded many of us. The brands that seem to find true influence in their creator partners often seem to do so by happenstance.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, the secret decoder ring to identifying truly influential influencers has been under our nose all along…

The Principles of Persuasion

Dr. Robert Cialdini wrote perhaps one of the most impactful books about influence marketing in 1984. Yes, you read that right. Influencer marketing has been around for a long, long time. We just didn’t call it that, and social media is just a more modern channel through which it happens.

His seminal book on persuasion published then was, not ironically, called Influence. It has sold well over 5 million copies worldwide. It’s newest edition, out last year, currently ranks as the No. 2 best-selling marketing book on Amazon.

In it, Dr. Cialdini revealed the Six Principles of Persuasion (which the latest edition amends to seven). The principles are:

  • Reciprocity
  • Scarcity
  • Authority
  • Consistency
  • Liking
  • Consensus (now called Social Proof)
  • Unity (the new one)

And there is your Rosetta Stone.

How The Principles of Persuasion Can Decipher True Influence

Applying Cialdini’s principles as an influence marketer, one can quickly judge a given online influencer’s ability to persuade their audience to take action. In my book, Winfluence – Reframing Influencer Marketing to Ignite Your Brand, I tell the story of Arii. She was a 17-year-old fashion influencer with over 2 million followers in 2017. She decided to play her entrepreneurial card and launch a clothing and apparel line. Arii then famously posted a lamentation to her fans that no one bought her stuff.

Using Cialdini’s Principles of Persuasion, I reviewed her content and behavior leading up to the launch and explained why she was an influencer, but not influential.

And you can do the same with influencers you’re selecting for your influencer marketing efforts.

Here’s a look at each principle and how you can suss out whether your influencer candidates have true influence or not:


Simply put, does the influencer give to get? Are they providing value to their audience with their content? Are they responding to feedback and input from their fans? Do they lift up others in their content? Those that are singularly devoted to themselves in obvious ways are likely to be less influential, regardless of how many people follow them.


When the influencer promotes a product or service, do they leverage the principle of scarcity to create a sense of urgency among followers to respond? Or, do they reward only a certain number of fans with exclusive content or interaction as a reward for being the most active? If they do, they understand how to manipulate their audience to respond.


Is the influencer seen as an authority, not just by their followers, but by others in their vertical? Do they speak at events? Appear on podcasts? Are they interviewed or quoted by traditional media? Those that call themselves experts are typically not people referred to as such by others. You want to deal with the latter of those.


Does the influencer have a pattern of behavior in moving their audience to take action? Do they routinely ask their followers to go to websites, download content, or purchase products? What’s the engagement like on those posts? If it’s good and they do it with some level of consistency, their audience is conditioned to respond.


Research shows that audiences who know more about the person making the ask are more likely to respond to that request positively. Does the influencer reveal themselves in genuine ways to their audience? The more the audience knows about the person beyond the content, the more likeable they are, thus the more persuasive they can be.

Social Proof

Consensus, or social proof, is perhaps best judged in two ways: How many people engage with the influencer’s content (engagement rate), and do other influential people think of them as influential. Like Authority, you’re looking for evidence that other people think this influencer is da bomb.


The newest of Cialdini’s Principles, Unity refers to whether or not the audience has a sense of belonging to or with the influencer. Does the influencer illustrate his or her audience is their “tribe?” Do they often explain their fans mean more to them than other people? Is there a greater unifier at play, like this influencer is a proud BLM supporter, LGBTQ ally, or even Lakers fan? Those that have a bond with their audience through some larger principle are more likely to be able to move them to action.

Applying The Principles of Persuasion To Your Influencers

Now that you know what to look for, you have to do the work. (There isn’t an Easy Button.) Take the time to review the content and comments sections of your influencer’s feeds. Look for the queues of each principle.

If more than two or three of them emerge as obviously present, you’ve probably got an influence partner worth pursuing. The more, or the more pronounced the principles are, the more confidence you can have in choosing them to partner with your brand.

Jason Falls is a content partner and guest contributor to Tagger. He is also the author of Winfluence – Reframing Influencer Marketing to Ignite Your Brand and the host of Winfluence – The Influence Marketing Podcast.