Getting Nudged

Jim Wasserman

INFLUENCERS ARE people who use their popularity and social media presence to nudge our decision-making, especially our spending choices. They’re a powerful force in today’s marketing world, particularly with younger consumers looking for cues as to what’s hot.

In one survey, 60% of those ages 16 to 24 credited influencers with purchases they’d made in the past six months, more than any other age group. Combined with the bandwagon effect and FOMO, or fear of missing out, an influencer’s nudge can create a stampede for a product or service, one that’s based less on rational decision-making and more on blindly following the hot lead or leader.

But before we start clucking our tongues at the folly of youth, we should ask ourselves: Do we ever outgrow our susceptibility to being influenced by a cult of personality or a fear of missing out? We oldsters may be more wary and more sophisticated in our decision-making, but we remain open to being nudged.

I hear many people say they almost always listen to advice from Suze Orman, Jim Cramer or the Motley Fools. The followers will tell you about these influencers’ successful track record or previous examples of good advice. But they’ll also tell you they like the personalities or the delivery—to the point where they often accept pronouncements without further consideration or research. It may or may not be good advice. But it was sold based on a smile, a personality and name recognition.

Of course, some influencers do know their stuff and their opinions should be considered. Others, however, have a stake in the game. Many influencers focused on the teenager market get paid to push certain products or simply to use them. In the grownup consumer world, thanks to social media, pump-and-dump  stock schemes are growing faster than the SEC can shut them down (though some have been held to account). Pump-and-dump is also spreading through the cryptocurrency world.

Do your research. Don’t just buy the hype from the guru. Read “this is fantastic” messages in the comments section with a wary eye. Remember, friends smile, but so do crocodiles.

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