The Elements of Influential PR: Likability

Welcome to the fifth in a series of 6 pieces on the topic of influence and how public relations allows you to generate influence among your customers, your colleagues, and the world at large. The series is based off the work done by ASU Professor Emeritus of Psychology Robert Cialdini, whose book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, is required reading for many marketers. In his book, Cialdini posits that there are 6 methods or principles on which influence is based:

  1. Scarcity
  2. Authority
  3. Consistency
  4. Social Proof
  5. Liking
  6. Reciprocity

Today, we’ll look at liking. This has nothing to do with Facebook at all. Liking is about creating a sense of friendliness, about community, about buying from people who we consider friends or at the very least, likable people. The textbook example of likability as a means of influence is the Tupperware party and network marketing methods like that. If you’ve never been, the host invites their friends for a meal at their house and presents the attendees with a dazzling array of products. The aim is to transfer the relationship, the friendship, the likability of the host onto the product, a sort of halo effect that increases sales beyond what a stranger could do with the same audience.


Think now to all of the different public relations disasters you’ve seen in recent times, where someone is portrayed as unlikable, cold, distant, or out of touch, from Hollywood stars to corporate executives. In many of these cases, the person or company being disliked has done something to themselves to earn their audience’s contempt, but in some cases, it’s mostly undeserved. Public relations can help to repair that sense of being liked by effectively managing the relationships between a company or person and their community. There are basic, obvious tactics like doing good works such as charitable work, but there are also far more subtle and powerful techniques, such as community management and relationship management with a community’s influencers.

Public relations is also supremely good at managing accessibility. This is a large component of likability – people who are accessible to their audiences tend to be more liked than people who are not accessible or who actively seek to avoid their audiences. Ask any CEO who has been at the center of a corporate scandal how liked they are if they stand front and center and admit wrongdoing versus running and hiding. A savvy public relations professional or firm can help you navigate those waters to minimize the overall damage to your brand.

Of course, it almost goes without saying that if you are not, at your core, a likable brand or person, then your public relations team will not have much to work with. If that’s the honest case, you’re better off focusing on one of the other influence-generating ideas.

Finally, like the Tupperware example, an outstanding public relations professional or firm can help you tactfully and carefully leverage your community for business gains. As sales trainer Jeffrey Gitomer says, “all things being equal, we buy from our friends. All things not being equal, we still buy from our friends”. If you can cultivate an active community that likes you, driving business results from it will be substantially easier than approaching a cold audience every time.

Keep in Touch

Want fresh perspective on communications trends & strategy? Sign up for the SHIFT/ahead newsletter.

Ready to shift ahead?

Let's talk