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Social Influence of Social Media

Monday, April 19th, 2010

In response to Joel’s social media blog entitled Is Anyone Out There?, I just have to put in my two cents. If the available social and psychological research is correct, it is possible to change behavior by purposefully doing – just about anything! Not just one time, but first trying something, and then trying again, and then again, and before you are aware, that thing you are doing is something that you DO! The next step we take from this new habit is to influence others and we do this unwittingly most of the time.

I recall in the late 1980’s, yes, I am that old, when my husband got his first cell phone (size – 8″x2″x3″). I mean the thing was HUGE! This was the offspring of the car phone that stayed in the car but didn’t have to be connected to a cord – ingenious. Of course I looked at it as a leash, so refused my own for several years. I finally accepted the inevitable leash when my friends started getting them and were so excited about the benefits. I am sure my husband said the same things, but coming from him was I going to listen?? Today, I can’t even imagine my life without my phone, and I email people to let them know that I don’t have it if for some reason I leave it plugged in at home when I leave for work…far cry from the leash I was afraid of 20 years ago.

This isn’t just the stuff of social media, this influence ability is prevalent on every level of our communication with others, and it passes from people we know to people we don’t know through our life stream. Something like – Susie talks to Francine about her friend who just started taking yoga at a local center. Francine has been thinking about taking yoga for a long time, and this information about Susie’s friend in this conversation triggers that desire in Francine who convinces her husband and they both finally start taking yoga classes. Then Francine’s husband, over the water cooler, talks about how great the yoga class was and how much harder it was then he thought it would be. His colleague takes this information home, and a few weeks later, that couple decides to try this out as something they can do together where they are both getting the benefit of exercise along with spending some much needed time together. On the surface from any other point of view, Francine has been thinking about this for a long time, and the actual taking of classes was inevitable, but actually the tie to Susie’s friend, the social influence, was the impetus to take the desire from a thought to an action. And the link to the colleague and spouse/partner behavior could also be traced to Susie’s friend. From an article in Science News Magazine, Rachel Zelkowitz reviews the research of Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler. They propose “it is possible that … even strangers may impact how you live, love and, yes, gain weight.”

So, if these assertions can be translated to the use of social media, as we use blogs, tweets, Facebook connections as informational and educational and conversational platforms, some number of our connections will do the same. In turn, their connections will do the same, and the seemingly small network will grow appendages beyond our current comprehension. Just think of it now, with my two offspring grown to college age individuals, I communicate with them through the year almost entirely by text and email, and most recently, they have both allowed me to be friends on Facebook. I follow blogs and download podcasts of my favorite NPR programs, I listen to MPR on my iPhone when I take my dogs for walks, I contact people on LinkedIn or Facebook regularly, and I am a member of UrbanSpoon, among other social based programs that offer information that may help others when traveling, etc. In short, I just can’t imagine my life without my social media, and my expectation of others, either through work or private life, is that they feel the same. If they don’t, you can bet I will talk it up and hook them in!

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