How To Leverage the Science of Relationships to Gain True Influence

Image of Vintage Laboratory Equipment

If you define influence by the size of your Klout score, you can stop reading this right now.

If you believe influence is driven by the creation of a relationship between two parties, where one sees the other as truly knowledgeable about a particular product or service, then let’s talk about the science behind that influence.

Establishing influence is a multi-step process that moves the influenced through four key stages.

They move from awareness of the influencer, to knowing the influencer, to liking the influencer and finally finishing with preference for the influencer’s advice and counsel.

And, as an influencer, you’re going to earn your long-term living in that last stage of the relationship.

But you’re not going to get there by simply writing or talking about a particular subject matter. Instead, you need a strategic plan anchored in real science.

The law of propinquity

The law of propinquity states that the greater the physical (or psychological) proximity between people, the greater the chance that they will form friendships or romantic relationships.

The theory was first crafted by psychologists Leon Festinger, Stanley Schachter, and Kurt Back in what came to be called the Westgate studies conducted at MIT.

In the study, the strongest friendships developed between students who lived next to each other on the same floor, or between students who lived on different floors, if one of those students lived near the stairways.

In non-scientific terms, the Westgate Studies found that the frequency of contact between students was a strong indicator of future friendship formation.

The propinquity effect

There are two dimensions to propinquity, and they play different roles in marketing strategy.

There is physical propinquity and psychological propinquity. For the purposes of this article, let’s focus on psychological propinquity, as it most directly relates to creating influence through content creation.

Propinquity theory tells us that the more often people see your content, the better they get to know you. This makes sense. Each time someone is exposed to your content, they are interacting with you, your thoughts and beliefs. This leads to a feeling of knowing you, because it mirrors how we get to know people in the real world.

Repeated exposure to your content moves them from simply knowing you to actually liking you. Again, this mirrors the making friends context we’re all familiar with in the offline world.

The more we interact with people we know, the more we tend to like them — which has been repeatedly proven in numerous studies of romantic relationship formation.

Because they like you, they consume more of your content. As they do, a portion of the audience will find a common ground with your beliefs. This intersection of your beliefs, interests, or personality and your audience’s creates Psychological Propinquity. And that is what leads to preference and influence.

Know. Like. Trust.

An important note: studies also showed that being a jerk invalidates the propinquity effect. If research subjects didn’t like an initial interaction with a person, subsequent interactions didn’t lead the subjects to change their mind and begin liking the person.

Creating propinquity

Because of the power of propinquity to create influence, it’s not something you want to leave to chance.

Instead, strategically map out a propinquity platform and then fill that platform with high-quality content. The process of creating a propinquity platform is a bit too complex for a single post, but here are four steps that you can use to begin the process today.

  1. Catalog all the places your desired audience turns to for information — specifically information associated with the product or service you sell. If you’re paying attention to your audience’s world, this should be a fairly easy exercise and produce a list of obvious online and offline media, conference, and trade-show options.
  2. Begin finding those platforms that you’re not familiar with yet. Use a keyword generator tool to find the terms your audience uses to seek out relevant information. Then conduct searches on Google using those terms. Visit the sites you find on the first couple of pages and look for signs of active communities of readers.
  3. Listen to your desired audience on social media channels — Twitter makes this especially easy. Specifically, you’re looking for posts where they share a link. Create a list of sites they share, and look for correlations.
  4. Find relevant Twitter chats and participate in them. When the chat is over, scroll back through the chat and create a Twitter list of all the participants. Then follow that list for a few weeks — and again, look for tweets that contain links.

These last two are especially useful when you’re trying to create influence in a new industry where you don’t have extensive direct experience. Provided your target audience uses Twitter, these last two steps can help you quickly understand the key websites favored by your audience.

Your goal is to find online sites that your desired audience turns to for helpful information. Then determine if any of these sites will allow you to guest post or create content for their use.

By doing so, you will create multiple propinquity touches against your prospects. You’ll be the person “they see everywhere” and come to associate with category or product expertise.

The benefits of propinquity marketing

By mapping (then managing) your prospects’ progression through the various “Propinquity Points,” you can exponentially increase the frequency of your content impressions against a specific audience over a shorter time period.

This higher frequency of impressions — combined with the halo effect of your content appearing within already-trusted content channels — will more quickly move the audience through the propinquity process.

Do you have other ideas for creating a trusted propinquity platform? Let me know in the comments below …

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Reader Comments (40)

  1. says

    Superbly put, Tom, and thanks for giving us all a laugh about Klout scores at the beginning.

    However, there is one thing I cannot get over.

    I’m amazed that anyone even bothered to conduct a study to show that the strongest friendships developed between students was amongst those who lived next to each other on the same floor.

    I would’ve thought this was patently obvious.

    Just wondered whether you also thought the same when you came across it.

    • says


      I wasn’t but here is why — the Westgate buildings were not huge towers but small, two story buildings. I think the total apt count in each was maybe 16 or 20? Thus, one would think that all of those students would “be friends” given a year of living in such close proximity.

      I reference the study because it’s the cleanest example of Propinquity — but there are many others over the years that examine incidence of marriage amongst people who grew up within 5 miles of one another, etc.

      The whole idea of propinquity and it’s role in marketing is a big interest of mine.

      thanks for commenting.

      • says

        Thanks for replying Tom.

        And, of course, the study is direct proof rather than just something we know from everyday experience. Obvious or not, it still gives more weight to the great points in your article.

    • says

      I feel this is an obvious observation too, but I’m glad to know someone gave it a name and catalogued it.

      Till now, I thought it was just one of the myriad observations I make in my daily life–basic observations that I don’t feel everyone cares to spend time on, but these fundamentals are fascinating–and useful, as this post shows. Having these fundamentals accounted for by scientists makes life feel less tenuous to me, more controlled and tangible, and I like that.

      Anyway, I’m clearly not a scientist. Just a freelance editor. Haha.

      I loved the article. Thanks for sharing.

  2. says

    Frequency is essential. It’s easier with multiple contributors, because with a single person focusing on content creation, quality can suffer as frequency increases.

    I’m working with a client who has drifted to low frequency on the blog and email newsletter, and it’s really hampered our ability to create that regular visibility.

    The issue: regular content with a higher frequency (and small staff) has lower quality, which the client doesn’t want on their blog.

    So here’s a question: is it more effective to have frequent content if it’s not regularly dense? I’ve seen some places like pull this off, but generally, most high-frequency bloggers I’ve seen offer lots of small-scale posts just to be seen.

    I’d be interested to see some stats on if / how this has affected their conversions.

    • says


      Haven’t seen anyone test that idea… but agree, there is a lot of noise trying to pass itself of as valuable content marketing.

      However, one important point in a propinquity marketing strategy — you don’t necessarily want all of the touches to occur on your owned platforms. It’s important to find embassies and outposts (like this blog for instance) where prospects can find your content as well.

      So to your client’s challenge — maybe the goal should be to repurpose that content on other platforms vs just amping up more lower quality content on their owned platforms.


  3. Archan Mehta says

    I really enjoyed reading your post: thanks for your contribution here.

    It is important to participate in the conversation and to add value. You can do that by commenting on blogs, but now there are also forums in which you can participate.

    I know this from personal experience, because I am always being asked to join such places/locations where enriching conversations occur.

    In the past, such places did not exist, but now more and more people are taking advantage of such new oppnortunities, which is not always such a good thing. There is scope for the trivial and de facto conversations can be marginalized or glossed over in favour of quick fixes and the need for instant gratification.

    By all means, let the good times roll, but there is also something to be said about “patience is a virtue” and developing the skill of delayed gratification.

    Have a good one.

    • says

      Couldn’t agree more Archan… my buddy Mack Collier speaks often of the power of commenting to grow influence. Check him out… I think you’ll like his writing.

  4. says

    Definitely agree with your approach of mapping out a propinquity platform.

    Today there seems to be too many hit and miss approaches to finding the right audience.

    Through the mapping process you are able to determine where your audience is in their buying cycle. This will allow you to provide better focused and more valuable messaging to them.

    • says

      Thanks Patricia … so far it’s worked for us… will be interesting to see how it works for the rest of the world once the new book publishes and the masses get an inside look at the process.

  5. says

    Good thoughts about building around propinquity, or a “propinquity platform” as you call it.

    I mean the law of propinquity seems quite obvious. The people physically closest to you become the people you spend the most time with, and become your best friends.

    The question of ‘how does this work online’? is an interesting.. ‘how does it work within marketing content’ to readers?

    I think the easiest starting point is: your real-life friends become your first readers and first email subscribers…. but, then you have to build and scale from there, and that’s where things can get more difficult.

    • says

      Thanks William… certainly multiple exposures to prospective readers in platforms they already value (like here on Copyblogger) effects the reader’s willingness to subscribe to your content in your own channel vs just reading it on the third party platforms IMO.

  6. says

    I really appreciate how you’ve practically taken us through these four key steps. Makes a lot of sense. Keeping in mind that influence and relationship results from an exchange, not a constant monologue, is evidenced by the power of guest blogging and commenting on blogs. And replying to comments further builds the relationship. I guess like in offline or “real life/time” relationships, good online relationships require the personal investment of time and effort.
    Thanks…great post!

    • says

      Thanks Elise,

      Yes, there is a reason long-distance relationships tend to fail… that lack of interaction causes a weakening of ties IMO.

  7. says

    What? Your Klout score doesn’t mean anything. Oh no!

    Seriously though. This is a fantastic article on the science of relationships to gain true influence.

    I started participating in a Friday Twitter chat from Dan Zarrella at Hub Spot. Not only do I learn more about the science behind social media, but I get to engage with others on the chat. I never thought about “creating a Twitter list of all the participants.” Thanks for the tip.

    I have two tips for creating a trusted propinquity platform: 1) be yourself and 2) be helpful.

  8. says


    Thanks for your great article. It’s interesting how some things – like if you live closer to someone, you’re more likely to become better friends with them – are so “obvious” in our daily lives that we forget to apply them to our businesses.

    I love it when someone does a scientific study that forces me to reexamine a concept in a different way… and also gives me a cool new word to use to describe it, of course!

    Your recommended steps are excellent, and I’m going to see how I can implement them to grow my business.



  9. says

    It’s a really great post! I had to “Google” a few terms but hey that’s always good right? What I find interesting are these concepts that you speak of, happen everyday and happen naturally. I like how you’re suggesting not to leave it to chance and to set our selves up for success when it comes to forming the level of relationship it requires to achieve an influence with the readers. This was a great post thanks for sharing the concepts.

    • says


      Sorry about that… I probably should have placed anchor links to blogs with a bit more depth and description — making a note to do that for future posts.

      Glad you liked the post… hope the technique works as well for you as it has for me.

  10. says


    This is one of the best posts I’ve read here on copyblogger.

    Marketing is all about common sense. I see a lot of people complicating online marketing just because the marketing channels are different from the real world.

    But in reality, the principles remain almost the same.

    Great post.

    • says


      I may frame your comment my friend. Given the quality of authors that frequent this blog that is one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever received.

      Thanks for that…glad you liked the post. I’m all about simplification… usually where the biggest ideas are found.

  11. says

    Good to see something about quality not quantity re Social Media. Time to outlaw the follower collectors – they are the equivalent of email junk and just obscure or pollute the quality that IS to be found out there!?!

  12. says

    Tom, great post! I love how you “intellectualized” this process and compared it to a scientific law. This is a concept I explain to clients all the time, and I appreciate very much that you’ve given me a much simpler way to boil this down. Great stuff, look forward to more from you!

  13. says

    Hello Tom
    this post is amazing.
    people are so fascinating, ideas, tools that brings us closer to what they need are good
    I am going to put the steps into action
    Many thanks

  14. says

    Hi Tom,
    That was really one of its kind information. By the way I also feel that while creating content either it be video or just an article if we use “You” to address reader can also help build psychological propinquity.

  15. says

    Very interesting article. I found it very eye opening, especially the four steps that will help build the propinquity platform. I also agree that leaving it to chance may never play out. I look forward to reading more about this.

  16. says

    Great post!! Very useful and something I’ve been looking into for a while now. It’s a bit difficult for me because I don’t have a very restricted, straightforward target niche but I’m working on narrowing it down to shared values and beliefs (and not a certain demographic or one particular interest), which is very doable I think.

    Also, I have come to make my stuff slowly but surely more personal and not so matter of fact or theorectical, because even if it’s well written, people have a hard time identifying with the content. Seems they crave to hear about my personal experiences and views and little anecdotes from my life, which I was uncomfortable about at first because it takes some guts to just throw yourself out there into the open sea of both sharks and dolphins – metaphor over – but it’s what they seem to respond to most. 😉

    Similar to what Dan Kennedy talks about in his course on influential writing, which I can really recommend for anyone trying to build influence, by the way (and I say that without being in any way affiliated to his stuff). He also mentiones turning yourself into a fictional character – without lying of course – but telling stories that they can follow, so they will create a relationship with you in their heads.

    The only problem is: it all has to be somewhat planned. And I tend to do better just going with the flow and not overthinking it. It makes me a bit too self-conscious and scared that a wrong move could wreck it all and then I get stuck in analysis-paralysis…

  17. says

    What an excellent interpretation of propinquity in marketing, excellent resource. Thank you so much, keep up the good work.

  18. says

    This is an awesome article Tom. The science behind it makes sense, but I am especially appreciative of the game plan. We often think people will flock to our blogs because our content is good, when in reality it is the Know. Like. Trust. combination that is the true generator of faithful subscribers. Thanks for posting!

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