• Barb Mayfield

What does it take to influence or persuade?


woman on her phone and speech bubbles showing comments, likes and follows
Aristotle suggested a persuasive message requires logos, pathos, and ethos.

The term “influencer” refers to someone, generally via social media, with a large following and able to successfully exert influence over their followers’ beliefs, decisions, and purchases. The biggest social media influencers have millions of followers, garnering fame and fortune as a result. It's no wonder that kids today aspire to be a “YouTuber” or blogger rather than a firefighter or a sports hero.


If the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, lived today, he would likely use influencers to illustrate his model of persuasion as in the illustration above. His model suggests a persuasive message needs three qualities: ethos, pathos, and logos. Individually, they exert partial influence. Together, they are highly persuasive. Let’s dig deeper to see what each one contributes to creating a persuasive message.


Ethos communicates credibility. To exert influence, a communicator must be perceived as an authority whose word is believable. How does one achieve ethos? Certainly, titles and educational degrees provide a foundation of credibility. Prestigious awards and testimonials further build a positive reputation. Most importantly, a communicator with ethos develops an audience’s trust with credible messages. Messages with ethos are backed up with reputable evidence from credible sources. Ethos is a primary driver for building a following. People follow someone they can trust and believe in.


Pathos communicates emotion or feeling. When messages connect with audiences at an emotional level they exert more influence than through authority alone. Ethos opens the door to getting a message heard. Pathos opens the heart, touching receivers at a deeper level, creating a desire to believe and take action. Communicators need to truly know their audiences in order to create pathos. Getting to know an audience allows communicators to determine the emotional “hot buttons” that will resonate and lead to action. Pathos is a primary driver for getting followers to respond to messages with “likes” and other emoticons.


Logos communicates knowledge and logic. Logos supports the “heart” of the message by providing “head” knowledge, leading to total buy-in. When facts are combined with feelings a message has more power to persuade than messages based on either one alone. The more we know, the stronger we will feel. Logos is a primary driver for followers to enter into a conversation about a message, exchanging ideas and feedback in the comments.


What does it take to influence or persuade? An effective communicator influences or persuades by combining ethos, pathos, and logos. They do not rely solely on their credibility, or on their emotional appeal, or on their evidence-based argument. They know that each one strengthens the other two and together ethos, pathos, and logos create a persuasive message.

The whole is more than the sum of its parts. ~ Aristotle, Greek Philosopher


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