Think that purchase behavior is solely based on the existence of a need, the price of a product, or the quality of what’s being sold? Think again.

Sure, you can’t just sell people any old rubbish and expect them to hand over their hard-earned cash, but at the end of the day – there’s a lot more involved in purchasing behavior than a quick evaluation of what something is worth.

Human beings are inherently emotional creatures. If we weren’t – then we’d never hand money over to charity or donate anything – because it wouldn’t do anything for us. Think about it this way, if you were going out for a coffee, would you be more likely to visit the local café where that girl you like is always drawing smiley faces on your cup – or some random no-name brand?

The smiley faces on your cups aren’t going to make your coffee taste better – or even cost less – but they do something far more important – they engage your emotions. You go back to that girl because you like her – not because she makes the best cappuccinos in town.


This psychological phenomenon is known as the “Trust economy.” It’s the theory that trust, likability, and an inherent idea that popular people are generally better – prompt us to change our mind about where we buy stuff.

And despite what your mom told you in school, popularity really does count.

Let’s Look at the Science

Before we start evaluating whether you can actually force someone to like you or not, let’s get some scientific evidence to back up the claim that popularity matters.

A study created by Pew in 2011 found that users on Facebook were naturally more likely to be trusting. Using regression analysis, they examined the average “Facebook-er,” and discovered that someone who uses the site a few times per day is generally 43% more likely than other users on the internet to feel as though people are more-or-less trustworthy. For the more cynical among you – this means that Facebook users are more likely to assume you’re reliable – even if you haven’t totally proven it to them.

So, how can marketers take advantage of this? Well, the answer is in understanding the trust economy. One of the best ways to do this is to look at it from the perspective of Robert Cialdini – a social psychologist and psychology professor who theorized six crucial aspects of social influence, which included:

Reciprocation: We’re more likely to do something for someone who does something for us. Why? Because we feel like we owe the people who give us stuff something in return

Consistency: We like working with or buying from people who allow us to remain consistent with our values and commitments.

Scarcity: The more someone tells us we can’t have something – or that it’s “rare,” the more we want it. Think of it in Pokémon terms – everyone always wants the legendary or “shiny” one.

Likability: The more we like someone, the more we want to say “yes” to them.

Social proof: We need other people to tell us if someone’s worth our trust. (This is where the whole “popularity” angle comes in)

Authority: We trust people who seem to know more about something than we do.

Creating More Likeability

People say “yes” to those they like.

The problem is that developing likeability as a business isn’t easy. You need to find a unique way of connecting with your audience that helps to show who you are as a business or organization.

As a startup or business looking to expand, when you’re trying to make yourself more likable to your prospective customers – it isn’t much different than presenting yourself in a good light to a new friend or colleague. A UCLA study revealed that when subjects rated 500 adjectives based on how they related to likeability, the most associated words were “sincerity, transparency, and understanding.” If you want to be more likable as a business, then you should follow the same rules on how to be more likable as a person. In other words, display your company as an honest, straight-forward, and sincere entity.


Here are a few ways you can start showing your prospective customers a more honest and sincere side:

1. Get Involved with Customers

Your leads like to know that you care about them. Ask them questions, get involved with what they’re doing, and help them to feel more involved in your business. You’ll quickly find that your potential customers start to take notice.

2. Don’t be an Attention Hog

Nobody likes the guy that’s desperate for attention all of the time. If someone feels like they’ve engaged with your brand because of their own choices, chances are they will have a far more positive opinion of you. On the other hand, if they feel like you’ve bullied them into being your friend, you’re not going to get much loyalty.

3. Act like a Real Human Being

Finally, your customers don’t want you to be a big all-knowing corporation – they want you to be their friend. A solution to their problems and someone that can offer fantastic deals to them when they need it most. Act like a human being, be dependable, transparent, and interesting, and you’ll generate a much bigger social following.


Dropbox likes to add this human element in its messaging. You can see these elements in the graphic above. Simple additions like friendly, engaging images and relaxed language work well for this brand to make them more likeable.

Creating Popularity

Cultivating popularity will make you more likeable but there is a little more involved here. You could have been the most authentic, well-liked and lovely person at your high school, but that didn’t mean you were popular enough to hang out with the cool crowd. But, popularity is what will allow you to create a tribe of people who become loyal followers. And to become popular in business, you will need to get some people talking about you.

People follow other people’s leads. It’s a fact of human nature. We turn to other people to give us an idea of how we should behave. You might have heard of the experiment that ran in 1969 – called “Man looking skyward“. As the name suggests, the experiment involved a single man stopping still on the streets of New York City and looking up towards the sky as though he could see something in the clouds.The actions of the man prompted other people to stop and explore the skies too, even though there was nothing there. The objective of the study was to prove that social proof has a role in the way that people react to things.

The “Man looking skyward” study just goes to show that the behavior of other people influences the way we act. If we see someone doing something, we’re far more likely to do the same thing ourselves. As a business, this means that you need to find out how you can push other people into recommending you and placing you in a positive light so other people can see it. If your prospective customers know that people like your brand and trust your business – then they’re far more likely to do so themselves. It’s really that simple.

So how do you make yourself look popular?

With testimonials, of course!

With customer reviews and testimonials you can prove not only that you’ve had customers in the past (that’s a big selling point), but also that those customers were happy with the service or product they got from you. Customer testimonials feature relatable and real people – which helps to showcase your personality. What’s more, good testimonials should:

  • Feature people who are relatable to your target audience
  • Showcase specific value points for your service or product
  • Be specific – showing metrics that look similar to case studies for that extra touch of authority

For instance, check out this Codeacademy page for testimonials:

On this page, you can read the stories of people who have accomplished incredible things with Codecademy, all packed up with relevant details about those people, and pictures that make them more human, and relatable.

Using Influence

Besides testimonials, another way to provide social proof and become more popular is to back yourself up with someone your customer recognizes. You can do this by working with social influencers. Influencers are key experts within a chosen niche or industry who have already taken the time to build a rapport with your audience. In simple terms, they’re the social celebrities your customers trust most, and working with them can give you instant authority.

When using influencers:

  • Choose influencers that are naturally linked to your target audience, have similar interests and who would be interested in your brand. Find people who your customers respond to easily. If you don’t know how to connect with relevant influencers, this article from should help.
  • Don’t underestimate “micro” influencers. Sometimes people with a few thousand followers can still have a positive impact when it comes to building social proof.
  • Build strong relationships with these influencers and get them connected to your brand. Consult this influencer guide to learn how to connect and contact influencers that will help expose your brand to people who can potentially become loyal customers.

Popularity and likeability can take time – particularly if it’s authentic. But without the right traffic and popularity, you’ll never be able to establish yourself as a trustworthy business.

And in a world of skeptical consumers – it’s the trustworthy bird that gets the worm. If you can build trust and a positive relationship with your customers, your loyal following will grow right along with your profits.