The pressure of social influence

I just finished writing a book on digital influence so I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading on the subject. This past week, a new book came to my attention: Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces That Shape Behavior, by Jonah Berger (who also wrote the best-seller, Contagious).  In his new book, the Wharton professor discusses the conscious and unconscious ways we are influenced by others’ behavior.

One of the more interesting aspects of Berger’s work is the fact that we can often see how others are influenced but we don’t recognize it in ourselves. As Berger says:

when it comes to our own behavior, sometimes we feel like our own behavior is somehow privileged, or different. “I am a rugged individual. I’m independent. No one else has any effect on what I do.” Actually, we’re kind of wrong. What I thought would be interesting to talk about in this book is all the science about how others shape our behavior, often without us knowing it, and what we can do about it and how we can use it to live happier and healthier lives.

Do you recognize yourself in this at all? I certainly do. For example, I can see why my brother wants to drive a Tesla, given where he lives and his work/life on the road. But I don’t recognize it in myself when it comes to the clothes that I buy or the stores and websites where I like to shop.

Jonah touches on this subject, recognizing how we, ourselves, are influenced by others even if it’s to be different from everyone else: “When we’re uncertain about what to do, we often look to others. That leads us, often, to the same thing. Yet at the same time, we want to see ourselves as different. Particularly in American culture, we like to see ourselves as special snowflakes…”

It’s interesting how he notes how Americans are different in their social influence from other cultures. While in America we like to think of ourselves as ‘rugged individualists,’ other cultures prefer not to stand out or be different. The best example is in the expressions we use that are so different. In the U.S., we talk about ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease,’ whereas the expression in Eastern Asia is “the nail that stands out gets hammered down.”

The concept of influence is in the air and gaining widespread acceptance so I’m excited that my book will be coming out in the early fall.  I’m writing about digital influence, in particular. Who do you consider to be an influential person, for you, online?

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