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Study Shows ‘Social Influence’ Is Really Only ‘Social Selection’

The whole concept of the social sharing in marketing is based on the idea that people respond better to suggestions from their friends, than suggestions from a stranger.

I like a TV show, I “check-in” on Get Glue, that sends a message to my Facebook friends telling them I like this show. My friends then decide they should watch this show because if I like it, they’ll like it. They have been influenced by my suggestion.

Maybe not.

Kevin Lewis, a Harvard sociology graduate student, co-authored a study about peer influence on social media networks. Speaking to Wired, Lewis stated that the results showed that “the extent to which friends’ preferences actually rub off on each other is minimal.”

The study followed 1,600 college students on Facebook, but eventually drew on the activities of 200 for the results. What they found was that many of the online friends shared an interest in the same books, movies or music. But their shared interests weren’t the result of peer influence, it was the reason people became friends in the first place.

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I’m a big fan of the show Supernatural. Many of my social media friends are fans, too. Why? Not because I brought them to the show, but because we came together on this common ground.

Does that mean peer influence doesn’t exist? In my case, I have one friend who came to be a fan of the show because I suggested it to her. That’s 1 in 50. Not great odds if you’re putting money into a social media sharing campaign, but it’s something.

Facebook recently got in trouble for those adds that show which of your friends “like” a brand, making it appear as if that person is actually endorsing the product. They obviously believe in the power of social influence and they’re going to court to defend it.

If the Harvard Study is right and “peer influence is virtually nonexistent,” that doesn’t mean it’s time to throw in the social media towel. All it means is that you may need to adjust your thinking. Instead of pushing to bring new lambs into the fold, sell to the ones you already have corralled.

  • Mark K

    Interesting perspective!

    Are friends the catalyst for new interests?
    Or are interests the catalyst for new friends?

    Probably a mix, but birds of a feather flock together.

  • http://www.brandignity.com Ivy Solis

    I think it depends on the person and their expectations of what is good enough to recommend or purchase. The days of people being influenced by others are done. The days of having your own say in what you purchase, share and recommend based on quality is here! That’s why it’s up companies to step it up! Create brands, products and services that are consistently high quality with an ethical standard and your business will forge through these difficult times. It’s an “old school” theory but it works.

  • http://DavidALee.com David Lee

    The problem with trying to measure influence in social media is not knowing the result. I see things in my Twitter stream all the time and that doesn’t cause me to run out and buy them. No matter who the person is. HOWEVER, when I was thinking about buying a Droid phone when they were first coming out on the market I searched Twitter for #Droid to get real time feedback from those who had purchased one. I did this on and off over a couple of days and then made the purchase. There was no one person who “influenced” me but it was from several people most if not all I didn’t even follow. Social media provided me a source to get product feedback that was not available anywhere else.