The vast trove of information available online is changing the way people make decisions, both large and small. Today, nearly nine out of 10 Americans say they find claims more persuasive if they are supported by data than if they are not, according to “The Transformation of Influence,” a survey of more than 4,000 people conducted by Research Data + Insights and commissioned by AIG, Hill+Knowlton Strategies, and SJR.

This shift is a natural reaction to the changing way we communicate and learn. At a time when the Internet and social media has leveled the playing field for everyone with something to say, data has, in its own way, emerged as a form of influence. Oddly, this bias towards data-supported information exists even among the 64 percent of the population who aren’t as comfortable using data, indicating that people are willing to trust things they don’t fully understand.

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However, while information and data are more available and accessible than ever before, data alone can’t fully influence people’s decisions – it’s simply a big part of the mix. For marketers, that means it’s imperative to find a balance between compelling storytelling, influencer marketing and the power of credible, accurate data. How does one go about that?

The answer: Turn to the 6 percent of the population who qualify as data influencers. These individuals make decisions based on a combination of data and personal insight, but are also vocal and active participants in their communities, both online and offline. Data influencers tend to be younger, more affluent, better educated, and more active on social media than the majority of Americans.

With a larger portion of the public using data to learn new things (91 percent) and confirm their own beliefs (85 percent), data influencers are often viewed as competent and trustworthy sources of information.

“I’m something of a cynic. So much of what I read and see online is treated to a heavy dose of salt,” said Sarah Gourlay, Global Technology Practice Director at Hill+Knowlton Strategies. “This also relates to the way we work. The days of putting a campaign together based on a gut feeling and a brainstorm are happily over. Everything we do now as marketing professionals has to be based on solid, reliable, robust data.”

Marketers who appeal successfully to this increasingly influential group of consumers can build up a group of strong advocates whose support has an outsized influence online. Given that so many Americans are still uncomfortable with data, data influencers can act as a crucial bridge in communicating data-based knowledge and insight in a compelling and memorable way, a twist on traditional means of word-of-mouth advertising — and the perfect way to balance a growing reverence for data with the human need for personal testimony from people we trust.

This research is based on an in-depth national survey, with more than 4,400 interviews with the U.S. public in 2016. The full report can be accessed at www.transformationofinfluence.com.