ITL #277 Social media: how it influences decision-making2 years ago
Research shows that social media influences decision-making across industries and age groups. By Marcia DiStaso and Tina McCorkindale.
Author: Marcia W. DiStaso, Ph.D., APR Author: Tina McCorkindale, Ph.D., APR
While the science of influencers and what makes people influential has been studied in the social media literature, less research exists looking at how social media influences decision making. Organizations invest money and time attempting to identify influencers and ways to communicate with them. A recent survey by Influencer Marketing Hub found that 81% of brands increased content output in the past two years and that brand sponsored influencer posts doubled from 2017 to 2018.
However, looking at influencers is just one piece of the puzzle. How much do we know about what truly does influence attitudes and behaviors on social media? To answer this question, the Digital Media Research Center of the Institute for Public Relations conducted a survey of 1,783 internet users to determine how influential social media was in decision-making in four industries: healthcare, financial, travel (personal not business), and retail.
Our research found social media was indeed influential in decision-making and advice-seeking in the four industries. The results were segmented by four generations: Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation. Consistent with previous studies, the influence of social media plays a role in the actions and recommendations of consumers, and that influence continues to rise.
The industry that social media had the greatest impact on decision-making was travel, according to 40% of respondents across generational categories. For other industries, social media was still influential, but to a lesser degree: 25% of respondents in financial services, 22% in retail, and 21% in healthcare. Below are some other key learnings:
Age makes a difference
Across all categories, age played a role in how respondents reported the influence of social media—younger respondents were more likely to say that social media, including sources and channels, were influential.
Third-person effect plays a role
The third-person effect looks at perceptions of others and how they differ from perceptions of self. When looking at influence, we found that individuals believe others were more influenced by social media than they themselves are, indicating a strong third-person effect. In the retail industry, 33 percent of respondents said “others” were influenced by social media compared to the 22 percent of survey respondents who said social media was influential in their own retail decisions.
Close friends and family are the most influential source
The most influential source, across all generations, was social media posts from close friends and family. The degree of influence, though, depended on the industry. Close friends and family were a critical source in the travel industry for all generations: Millennials (62%), Generation X (61%), Baby Boomers (48%), and the Silent Generation (48%). Close/friends and family were also an influential source for Millennials (51%) in the financial services industry and the retail industry (49%).
Close friends and family were also an important source for the Silent Generation (42%) in the healthcare industry.
Word-of-mouth is the most influential channel
Across most industries and generations, word-of-mouth reigned supreme as the most influential channel, followed by promotions, forums, websites of companies, and online reviews. In the retail industry, promotions and online reviews were more important than word-of-mouth. Advertisements and commercials, both traditional and social, were typically the least influential channels.
Overall, there is more research that needs to be conducted in terms of the influence of social media. While this was a self-report survey, more sophisticated techniques, such as an fMRI, may be able to identify the true level of influence as some may say they are not influenced on a survey while in reality they are. Brain scans can give a more definitive determination.
Regardless, this research recommends companies should invest in social media communications (in an ethical and transparent manner) as there is no doubt that across generations, it plays a role in decision-making.
For a full copy of the study with the survey results recommendations for companies, please visit https://instituteforpr.org/science-influence-social-media-affects-decision-making-healthcare-travel-retail-financial-industries/
Tina McCorkindale, Ph.D., APR, is the President and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations. She taught as a professor for 15 years and has more than 10 years’ experience working in corporate communication and analytics. Author of more than 150 presentations and publications in books and journals with a research focus in digital and behavior. She lives in Seattle, WA. Follow her on Twitter at @tmccorkindale
Marcia W. DiStaso, Ph.D., APR, is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Public Relations Department at the University of Florida. She is also the Director for the Institute for Public Relations Digital Media Research Center and the 2016 PRSA Outstanding Educator. Her research focuses on exploring and informing the practice of digital media. Follow her on Twitter at @mdistaso.
Tina McCorkindale, Ph.D., APR, is the President and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations. She taught as a professor for 15 years and has more than 10 years’ experience working in corporate communication and analytics. Author of more than 150 presentations and publications in books and journals with a research focus in digital and behavior. She lives in Seattle, WA. Follow her on Twitter at @tmccorkindale Marcia W. DiStaso, Ph.D., APR, is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Public Relations Department at the University of Florida. She is also the Director for the Institute for Public Relations Digital Media Research Center and the 2016 PRSA Outstanding Educator. Her research focuses on exploring and informing the practice of digital media. Follow her on Twitter at @mdistaso.mail the author
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