What Is Social Influence?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Social influence is a well-studied concept often applied to leadership roles and in the marketing and advertising industry. Explore social influence and its professional uses to see how you can use this concept to your advantage.

[Featured Image] Social influence at work: An influencer videos content on a smartphone, holding up a handbag and matching belt for the camera.

Social influence refers to how you might change your opinions and behaviors based on the people around you. The concept explores how people conform to others, obey societal rules, and interact with those in a position of power based on what others are doing. 

When your teenager learns a dance from a friend on TikTok or buys brand-name clothes to impress friends, it's social influence at work. As you might suspect, social influence has an inherent power of persuasion, which has implications beyond TikTok dance challenges. Advertisers and marketers can tap into this concept as well. Read further to discover the impact of social influence within leadership roles and how it shapes the marketing and advertising industry.

Types of social influence

Social influence takes many forms, such as conformity or obedience, and depends on your situation and the group of people surrounding you. You might change your personal beliefs to gain the acceptance of a group, or you might do so for fear of retribution. Let’s examine popular types of social influence to gain a deeper understanding of the concept.


If you change your opinion to gain the acceptance of others, you are conforming. The goal is to gain the admiration of the group. You may do so publicly, even while disagreeing with the group privately.


When a person changes their behavior based on a direct request, it's compliance. With compliance, the request is from a friend or peer, and a person usually complies simply because of the request. Compliance can also stem from indirect requests, like those observed in commercials and marketing messages.


Obedience is another type of social influence, which occurs when you witness a request coming from a person of power, such as a boss asking an employee to complete a task. People tend to be obedient because of pending punishment for failing to obey. A manager, for example, could demote or fire an employee for not completing the assigned work.


If you see someone making a choice based on information provided by someone else, that is informational social influence. People tend to agree with the information presented to make the right choice and gain favor with others.

Who uses social influence?

Social influence is at work all around you, but a handful of people use it in a more organized fashion. Influencers, advertisers, and leaders, including politicians and team supervisors, all use social influence in some capacity.


Today's world is full of influencers on social media who share their passion with others. As they post content and interact with their followers, they can influence you or others to take action. Followers will buy a product, for example, not because they like the brand but because the recommendation comes from someone they trust.


Advertisers can use social influence to persuade consumers to buy products. Ads can use customer testimonials to convince prospective consumers to make a purchase, which is an example of using informational social influence. Some social media platforms, such as Facebook, have implemented advertising strategies that show ads to people who have endorsed a particular person or brand on the platform, hoping the result is a purchase or conforming to the perceived social norms.


Anyone in a position of power leverages social influence. Some use it to purposefully sway the decisions of a group, like a military leader giving direct orders to soldiers, while others make subtle requests. If you’re a school board member asking people for their support or a team leader encouraging employees to meet a goal, you subtly influence others. Leaders rely on social influence to meet a goal they believe is in the group's best interest.

Pros and cons of social influence

From breaking bad habits to losing individuality, social influence has positive and negative impacts on people. Several pros and cons are:

Pro: Break bad habits

When you're in a group setting, you may identify and fix bad habits to meet the approval of a group. For instance, if you show up late to meetings and make an effort to be on time to avoid your coworkers' scowls, it's a bad habit broken by social influence.

Pro: Kids learn to weigh decisions 

Kids often conform to the thoughts of their parents, but once outside the house, they experience different situations with their friends, which can improve their decision-making. By learning what their peers like and dislike, the child gains a new perspective that can help them reflect on their own preferences, which, because of more information and self-awareness, assists them in making better decisions.

Pro: Follow the rules

When you're asked to follow the rules and see others doing the same, you're less apt to question them. As a result, social influence means people follow the rules, be it within a company, social group, or society. Adhering to the rules permits you and others to achieve success in your life and your career.

Con: Less personal advancement

As a result of trying to please your social group, you may make poor choices. At work, drawing inspiration from a group of lackluster employees could hurt your chances of growth, for example. 

Con: Loss of individuality

Conforming can create a herd mentality, where you blindly follow the crowd's choices out of wanting to belong. You might find yourself making poor choices and, ultimately, choices that mimic others. By doing so, you may start to lose your individuality in favor of pleasing peers.

How to use social influence

You can leverage the power of social influence in various ways, including becoming a more effective and supportive business leader and developing effective marketing and advertising strategies. In the instance of the former setting, it's helpful to understand that many people want to fit in. Subtly mimicking others' behavior patterns can enhance trust, for example, and create a sense of conformity. Additionally, it's equally important to recognize employees' desire for individuality and leverage people's innate competitiveness to drive performance.

In marketing, you aren't making direct requests or giving consumers orders to purchase goods; instead, you encourage others to conform based on the suggestions or recommendations of others. Examples of social influence in marketing are: 

Collaborating with influencers

You can ask influencers to endorse your product. They can share their experiences with it or host a question-and-answer session on your brand's social channels to field customer questions. The influencer's followers positively perceive your brand because someone they trust is endorsing it, which is an example of social influence helping to drive sales.

Sharing awards 

When your company wins an award and shares it on social media, that’s a type of social influence. The award positively portrays your company because it shows that you have gained the approval of experts in your field. In turn, customers may be more likely to view your company favorably.

Growing your social media audience

Customers will often explore the social media platforms of brands they enjoy to understand the company and its products better. A channel with a strong following and high engagement shows your expertise in the field and encourages customers to reach out. Since you have many followers, your popularity can influence other consumers to purchase your product or service. 

Interviewing your clients

Social influence can sway opinions, which is why testimonials and reviews from your customers are helpful marketing tools. Consider asking your loyal customers to leave a review on your site or share a video documenting their experience with your product or service. 

Social influence jobs and leadership roles

Social influence will become a vital part of your everyday responsibilities if you’re pursuing a career that places you in a leadership position. As a leader, you will use social influence to drive excellence and performance objectives for the business's ultimate success. These jobs can be exciting while also paying you a high salary. 

Getting started with Coursera

If you're interested in a career in social media marketing, where social influence is often applied, consider taking an online class to enhance your skills. On Coursera, for example, the Meta Social Media Marketing Professional Certificate provides job-ready skills and best practices to help launch a career as a social media marketer. 

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