What Makes a Peer Influencer: A Social Study

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Peeking Behind the Scenes

I admit it. I was curious.

After a couple of years in a college community, I wondered what made certain members stand out as influencers. What made other students and alumni look to them as people who held sway? Who were those peer influencers and what did they do that made them who they were in relation to their peers?

Basically, whose opinions held sway, why, and how could that be applied to influencing people in general?

Bring on the most wonderful of tools for gathering info, legitimate stalking, and fun times: the survey. Decide to make it into an article and — voila! — a reason to go around asking people who they thought were influencers and why.

Some statistics:

  • 30 responses were submitted
  • 33 individuals were named
  • 11 individuals were mentioned more than once
  • Three of the top mentioned were interviewed to get their thoughts for the purpose of making this all the more awesome and helpful

Speaking of helpful, this will help you. While you may not find the question of what makes an effective peer influencer to be a burning one of the day, knowing the answer means you could become a peer influencer too. The value of that is manifold. (And I don’t mean for increasing your Instagram following.) For one, just by being around people you’ll likely be influencing them somehow, and that can be positive or negative. Knowing how to effectively influence people in a positive way benefits not only you, but your entire friend group and community. As a peer influencer, you can help foster change, build cohesiveness, and spread positive vibes. You’d be culture shaper and a leader!

Sounds good? Read on.

Getting Sort of Scientific

In my survey I asked respondents to name someone they viewed as a peer influencer within the community and to explain why. As the survey responses poured in (okay, trickled in), I marked down all the names and kept a tally of the number of times they were mentioned. I then messaged a few of those most frequently named to get their thoughts. Through a series of calls, texts, and voice messages, they shared their ideas about what a peer influencer is, what makes them stand out, why they think they’re considered influencers, and if they see value in it.

Comparing my notes to the survey responses, it became clear that, while there are many ways to be an influencer, there are certain major characteristics peer influencers share, which was a relief considering it meant content for a post and a purpose to all my curiosity.


Compiling Ideas Into A Loose Guide

You want to know how you can enhance your influence and become an effective peer influencer.

I — and around thirty other millennials and zoomers— have got you covered. Consider this:

How to be a Peer Influencer: Sorta-Scientific Edition.

According to one top influencer, there are four main ways someone might stand out as influential.

Character or ideals: People respect them because they have strong values and act on them in their day-to-day lives.

Natural charisma or personality: People are drawn to them either because they’re sociable, or they’re welcoming and reach out on a regular basis, or because of some other aspect of their personality.

Tendency to take charge in a constructive manner: People follow those who take on responsibility or who have a mentality of empowerment.

Being different or “bucking the system”: This isn’t as common, according to my helpful source, but still plausible.

Now try to assess yourself objectively. Do you fit into one of those categories? Even if you don’t see yourself fitting into any right now, you can cultivate the skills, habits, and mentalities of the top influencers. With some practice, investment, and time, you might become the next top influencer.

Ready to learn? Lovely.

Photo by Calum MacAulay on Unsplash

Here are the top ten ways to expand your influence.

1. Show up

Apparently nothing bespeaks influence like actually being around. Both survey respondents and influencers mentioned the importance of being visible, available, and active. You can’t influence people you never interact with. The top influencers make themselves available to others in the community, invest a lot of time in different aspects of it, and try to be helpful where they can. The influencers I spoke with consider it a labour of love and while they say it can be hard at times, it’s still massively rewarding.

2. Be encouraging

Just look at Sesame Street. Oscar the Grouch is hardly the most influential character. The people who are constantly encouraging others — whether academically, emotionally, spiritually, or whatever — are viewed as influential, according to multiple survey responses. People are drawn to those who encourage those around them and thus, by default, those people are considered peer influencers.

3. Laugh

Or more specifically, be joyful and let that spill into your interactions. Be willing to laugh, joke, and help others find reasons to smile. Influencers have their fair share of bad days (more on that later), but they try to spread joy if and when they can. A number of survey respondents said they consider specific people to be influencers just for that reason alone. The top five influencers from the survey definitely make it a mission to spread positivity, even if it’s partially subconscious.

4. Communicate effectively and intentionally

Top influencers are solid communicators. They can get their message across and they do it well. While a slight majority of the top influencers were communications majors, you don’t have to study the subject to learn their secrets. For starters, learn to listen. Communicating is a two-way exercise so listening and adjusting your message based on feedback is vital. Second, aim for quality instead of quantity. People who talk a lot are not necessarily influential; it’s the people who speak with intentionality who are. Their messages are meant to build people up and make a difference, not to simply fill the air. Think before you speak and aim for meaningful, encouraging, building messages. And as one influencer said, people who influence are storytellers; there’s a purpose to their communication.

5. Be real

Something both respondents and influencers said is integral to being an influencer is authenticity and vulnerability. Respondents looked up to people who were willing to be real, instead of carefully cultivating a cheerful, somewhat-fake persona. Positive peer influencers are willing to show themselves as real people with real struggles. They’re willing to admit they don’t have all the answers, and they’re also willing to ask and learn. As one top influencer said,

“Leaders aren’t perfect and those who try often end up falling and falling hard.”

Sharing the messier things about yourself reminds everyone that it’s okay to take off the social mask sometimes, and people appreciate the sincerity and relatability because — news flash — everyone struggles with something, if not many somethings.

6. Be respectable

I’ll let one respondent do most of the talking with this one:

“[P]eer influencers know how to manage their own life, and do it well (or at least have very respectable personal lives). Showing they can take care of themselves earns respect, and, in turn, trust, a key part of influencing. Having other’s respect is huge when it comes to influence.”

To be respected as an influencer, you need to deserve that respect by living well. Also realise that to be respected you first need to respect both yourself and others.

7. Span divides

Interestingly, several respondents mentioned people they saw as adept at spanning divides within the community and being a friend to all. While this is pertinent to the specific community in question, the principle can apply anywhere. Peer influencers don’t let themselves get bogged down in divisiveness. They try to stay out of arguments and instead attempt to bring people together. They work to maintain peace in disparity and if they can’t, they try to minimise the damage while staying friendly with all sides. A job in the UN might be calling…

8. Debate well

Respect others opinions, but also your own. One of the top influencers was considered influential for how he was willing to conduct debates in a respectful but productive manner. Other people were mentioned as influencers for facilitating deep discussions. While it may seem hypocritical to talk about debating after the previous point about spanning divides, the difference lies in the content and purpose of the debate. Is it an intelligent discussion detached from the people discussing it? In such situations, peer influencers often weigh in, but they try to keep it civil, respectful, and encouraging. You’ll often note that they’re the ones guiding the discussion, especially if it gets rowdy or derailed.

9. Know a lot

No, reading the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica isn’t necessary. (Actually, it has sadly gone out of print.) That said, according to the survey, top influencers are usually highly knowledgeable about the workings of the college and student community. Knowledge apparently does equal power and the more you know, the more people will want to seek you out for answers and guidance, widening your sphere of influence. So it pays to know your stuff, whatever your stuff happens to be.

10. Love freely and care deeply

As one top influencer said,

“Titles end up being cheap; genuinely loving people is what people remember.”

Top influencers both mentioned and were mentioned as loving people and actually showing it. It’s their love of and care for the people around them that drives them to be active, encourage others, laugh, communicate well, know a lot, and all the rest. It’s what makes them willing to pour themselves into others and invest their time, emotional energy, and skills. It’s what makes them willing to share themselves and hope that others share in return. Often they don’t mean to be an influence at all, nor do they consciously think about all the above points.

They simply love.

Yup, this just got emotional. Pass the tissues.

Photo by Courtney Cook on Unsplash

Wrapping Up

Working on this project was encouraging and overwhelming. To be a real-life influencer of real-life people whose names you know and whose lives you are in is a huge responsibility and comes with a huge investment, both in time and emotions.

It isn’t something that should be taken lightly.

But that’s why it’s important to be wise and realise the impact you may be having.

You can be a powerful force for good…if you so desire.



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