This is the second in a six-part series on social commerce heuristics – a term I refer to as “rule of thumb” – that provides practical examples of social shopping psychology. Part one has to do with the social proof (following the crowd). Today’s installment deals with following authority figures.

When you think of fashion, which designer comes to mind? How about cooking, or technology, or any of a 1,000 topics that may be of interest?

I have a lexicon of people who influence my thinking around certain topics. For example, when it comes to marketing, author Seth Godin is the name that tops my list. As it relates to social media technology, Robert Scoble is the first person I think of.

I’m sure the same could be said of you, as well. Whether its a celebrity figure or personal friend, we have a natural tendency to rely on the opinions and advice of those we consider to be knowledgeable and trustworthy.

In other words, part of our social intelligence is a “follow the authority” rule of thumb – taking the cue from people who know what they’re talking about.  It sounds simple, but it’s a social rule of thumb that makes us smarter than we actually are.

Marketers can take advantage of this behavior and have throughout the years. For example, how many times have you seen a television commercial for toothpaste where the phrase “four out of five dentists recommend” is used? (I always wonder about the odd man out.)

Social commerce provides yet another avenue through which marketers can leverage the influence of authorities. Customer ratings and reviews found on ecommerce websites are one classic example, where we defer to the authority of experience, but social shopping has introduced an entirely new genre of influencer marketing. Let me cite the following examples as proof-positive.

Martha Stewart and OpenSky

When it comes to tastemakers, especially as it applies to cooking and entertaining, there is no better example than Martha Stewart. Last week, I discussed her recent alliance with social commerce startup OpenSky where Stewart curates a list of product recommendation for followers. To date, Stewart has recommended 10 products, most of which are offered at discount prices.

Jessica Simpson and Beachmint

Social commerce company Beachmint draws on the influence of a number of celebrites – actresses Jessica Simpson and Kate Bosworth, stylist Cher Coulter, and TV stars Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen – to market products through its three shopping channels: JewelMint, BeautyMint, StyleMint. (A fourth, called ShoeMint, is scheduled to launch soon and will be headlined by actress Rachel Bilson.)

Kim Kardashian and ShoeDazzle

Fashion retailer ShoeDazzle takes advantage of the popularity spawned by its co-founder, the controversial Kim Kardashian, who uses her unique fashion sense to promote products from designers such as Lanvin and Alexander McQueen.

Zane Lamprey and OpenSky

Products curated by celebrities are mostly those that appeal to women. However, men are beginning to get in on the act, as well. TV host and author Zane Lamprey, known as the World Drinking Ambassador, is an OpenSky curator. His product recommendations, which include such items as a beer pong portable tailgate table, hangover cure coffee and a set of “upside down” beer glasses, certainly have masculine appeal.

Friends as Authorities

Even though brands can leverage the influence of well-known celebrities, perhaps even more influential are recommendations that come from social network friends. A number of social shopping sites have emerged that take advantage of that aspect, such as:

  • Buyosphere allows users to ask questions about product recommendations and receive answers from the community.
  • Givvy is a social shopping Facebook app that relies on user-submitted products and human curators to supply its inventory.
  • ShopSocially, a site at the forefront of this new genre, gives users the opportunity to ask friends a shopping question or share purchase information with them.

Other sites in this genre include: Svpply.com, Pinterest and online mall StoreEnvy.

Teen Fashion Haulers

Teenage girls are exerting influence by using videos to talk about their latest fashion purchases. Called “haulers,” these tech-savvy young women are posting homemade videos to show off products and not for nothing. Popular 16 year-old teen hauler Bethany Mota has garnered an audience of over 370,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel and her videos have been seen a whopping 11 million times. So popular has Bethany become that she is now offering advertising opportunities for brands.

Thanks to Bethany and others, retailers have taken notice of this trend. JC Penney has even created a blog just for the group. Called “Haul Nation,” it is an “integrated social media marketing program” that provides teens with the opportunity to share their fashion style with the world.

Conclusion

Following tastemakers, trendsetters and authority figures holds particular appeal to shoppers. From media mogul Martha Stewart to budding fashionista Bethany Mota, the advent of social shopping has given just about anyone an opportunity to serve that role.