Professional services firms: Don’t underestimate the power of the familiarity principle

by Kirsten Hodgson

The familiarity principle, or mere-exposure effect, “is a psychological phenomenon by which people tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them.” (Wikipedia)

A few weeks ago I recommended a professional I’d never met to a contact because I was confident that person could help. Thinking about it afterwards, I realised that a couple of my ‘real world’ contacts could probably also have helped. This led me to question why I’d recommended the person I didn’t actually know.

I realised it was because I feel like I know them. This is a person I’m connected to on LinkedIn, I follow them on Twitter and they share some good content. I’ve built a rapport with them. As  a result, I have confidence in them and they were top of mind when my contact asked for a referral.

This is the familiarity principle at work.

It’s easy to see why someone travelling through Africa would choose “Coke” over the local equivalent they’ve never heard of. It’s a safe option and you know what you’re getting but…

…how can those in professional services take advantage of this principle?

It’s largely about being visible. If someone’s regularly writing articles or a blog on a topic, or is regularly quoted in the media, people will get to know their name and can make a judgement call about whether they know what they’re talking about. Over time, the person becomes more familiar and people will be more likely to contact that person over his or her competitors.

Being present on social networks, and actively engaging with those you wish to, also enables professionals to benefit from the Familiarity Principle.


The more you see someone’s name, photo, content they share and comments (provided these resonate with you), the more you feel like you know them.

If you are active (in a targeted way) on social networks then you’re likely to notice that more people want to connect with you. If you then seek to build relationships one at a time, and help others out, they’ll start to trust you.

It’s at this point that the other person is usually happy to use you or to recommend your services.

Actively using social media is a great way to make the familiarity principle work for you. It’s one way to find opportunities and turn them into instructions.

7 steps to ensure you benefit from the familiarity principle on social networks

1. Ensure your profile is complete and that it clearly positions you. Be focused in terms of your profile and the content you share. Stand for something. You can’t be all things to all people so be really clear about who you help and what you help them with.

2. Every time someone invites you to connect and you accept, go back to them thanking them for connecting and ask them a question about their business.

3. Every time you invite someone to connect with you, send them a tailored invite.

4. Share at least one piece of content each week (on LinkedIn, Google+ and/or Facebook) and one per day on Twitter, that will be of interest and use to those you wish to engage. Often this will be content one of your contacts has generated. Sharing other people’s content is a great way to get on their radar and to initiate a conversation with them.

5. Comment on discussions on LinkedIn and Google+ and on relevant posts on Facebook. Aim to comment on one discussion/post per week.

6. Use the reply or direct message functionality on Twitter and the email option on LinkedIn to have conversations with others. Aim to do this at least once a week.

7. Always focus on helping others out by pointing them to information to help address a question they have or by introducing them to someone in your network they’d benefit from meeting. In terms of frequency, I aim to introduce two people in my network each month.

What else would you add? 

How’s the familiarity principle worked for you in social media? 

Image courtesy Andy Newson/

Specialising in professional services and law firm marketing. I help firms to retain and grow existing clients and attract more of their ideal clients. My core services include social media for lead generation, voice of the client programmes and tender strategy and development. Outside of work I love to run. I’m a bit like Forest Gump in that I’m not that quick but can keep going for ages. I also enjoy coming up with new inventions. Unfortunately, most of them have already been invented! | * Professional services marketing consultant | * Legal marketing consultant | * Law firm marketing consultant
  • Andrew

    Good post. I agree fully. I think, however, that familiarity can also breed contempt, as the saying goes. I do, however, think that some social-media mavens can over do it by flooding their followers with post, which seems to be, every couple of hours. I’m told they are very successful, but I tend to get turned off. What do you think?

    • Kirsten Hodgson

      I agree that can happen (and there are definitely some people whose content I take less notice of for that very reason).

      With LinkedIn and Google+ I believe in spacing updates out (although if you come across a few good articles/posts contacts have shared you may want to like them – which will show up in your contacts streams so it’s important to be mindful of this).

      With Twitter I think Tweeting every couple of hours is fine. Again, I’d space them out rather than having everything go through at the same time (Hootsuite is great for enabling you to do this). The nature of it is fast paced and people tend to dip in and out so are likely to miss a few of your Tweets. Hence quite a few people send the same link a couple of times. As always it depends on the medium. What do others think?

  • Peter Bowman

    Good article about professional advisers being confident in being more visible in their communities with some practical tips.

    Recently read something from a product marketing perspective that supports this idea. 80% of consumers are more likely to buy a brand they are familiar with. Additional ideas – Chapter 3, Service 7 – Don’t be afraid to tell them who you are or what you can for them. See

    • Kirsten Hodgson

      Thanks Peter. Wow, 80% is high (now I get what new products are up against!) – do you remember where that stat was? Would love to read the article. I’ll have to buy your book too – sounds interesting.

  • Promod Sharma | promoting insurance literacy

    Great points (as usual), Kirsten.

    Familiarity breeds business. Social media is an effective way to create that familiarity. A “stranger” can get to know you quickly by looking at what you’ve done.

    Consistency is essential. Automation tools like Hootsuite and GrabInbox help establish a baseline of activity in advance.