Before we begin, I want to make it clear that I don’t approve of use of the informational social influence concept in business, especially when it comes to relationships with customers or prospects. It’s subversive and questionable at best.
But, some companies do use this, and they may call for you to use it when asked to. Well, it is possible to use informational social influence in an ethical way. But, it’s very, very easy for this to drop into shady territory.
So, if you’re in a situation where you must use this, then let’s talk about how to use it ethically.
First, for anyone not familiar with the concept, basically, it’s a position of assumed authority (by association with the position itself). People confused or in an unfamiliar situation will instinctively turn to people who convey a sense of experience and authority in the given situation.
For example, since soldiers and police encounter situations often, where they have to make important decisions in the face of chaos and danger. When found in a situation like this, average people turn to those police and soldiers as sources of examples for how to handle themselves, and as leaders.
A lot of businesses use this tactic to confuse customers so that they automatically turn to you to direct them to your own means and goals. This is used by marketing, sales and it’s also applied in PR and in change management as well.
I don’t think deliberate confusion to gain authority in a situation is really ethical, and most who really think about it often come to agree with this sentiment.
But, when it comes to product management, you often wind up in this kind of influencing role even if it’s not intentionally induced, because it is a natural social imperative for people to behave this way.
When a problem happens with a product in some way, be it ecommerce breakdowns, the product not meeting demographic needs, or any number of things, the company will often turn to two sets of people for influence.
They will be the marketing people, and the product management people. So, you must understand above all that what you say is going to direct the actions of many in these situations. There will be consequences for how you speak, how you conduct yourself and what actions you take to address your specific field’s concerns in the face of a situation.
Using this sort of thing deliberately is a low tactic, and really, as a product manager, your ambitions wouldn’t lend to that tactic either way, in any practical sense. But, you may face a situation where this is a thing. In fact, you almost definitely will.
So, understand the nature of informational social influence, and have a plan for how you will conduct yourself and your work in the face of that. Conduct yourself always as if it is the case, because you don’t always know when it is. You could lead everyone down the path to perdition unintentionally, if you’re not ready for this phenomenon to happen in your organization, if you do marketing or product management.