Daily Archives: June 6, 2011

Online peer influence and its effect on engagement

Image credit: Flickr

imageMarketers try to work out how social interaction and its effect on uses and consumers behaviour and spend lots of time trying to thrash through their social analytics and metrics to try to find the cause of this behaviour.

How does one peer influence another?  How do we capitalise on peer influence and use it to our advantage?  how do we make a campaign go viral?

If you think about all of the digital traces, we’re leaving every day. Think of the amount of data we’re leaving as our digital fingerprint.  Digital traces all waiting to be analysed.  we’re signalling our behaviour on a world wide scale.  Every status we like on Facebook, Every link we share on Twitter leaves a trace of our desires, wants, needs and moods.  Its an amazing digital map of how we behave online. 

Imagine if there was a program that was able to mine all of this data. and understand who influences us in our lives.  To understand how peer influence works.  An influencer to one person might not necessarily be an influencer to another person.  how do we capture this data and more importantly, how do we use this to our advantage

Identifying the cause of the peer effect is difficult.  What influences me at the moment might not necessarily influence me in a few months time.  The latest fad now, might be old hat in a few months. How do I grow and more importantly maintain my list of influencers?  how do I get them to influence their friends?  Influencing the influencers doesn’t necessarily cause them to influence others.  How do I get my message to spread effectively?

Identifying what causes peer influence is difficult.

European Starlings in the evenings flock together and cause amazing patterns in the sky, giving weight to the adage that birds of a feather flock together.  This could also be said of the theory that having fat friends is more likely to make you fat.   We tend to identify more strongly with people like us.  We love those who are like ourselves.  We identify with them.

Is social commerce more engaging that commerce alone?  Consumers shop for, and are persuaded what to buy by the influence of their friends.  How does this work?

    • Friends buy something (depending on the type of consumer they are)
    • They talk to their friends and influence them to purchase
    • Their friends talk to their friends and they buy. 

This last point is an example of 3rd tier influence.  And this 3rd tier has the potential to become viral depending on how influential you are, the product itself, its topicality, its usefulness, or its unexpectedness.  Your initial purchase has got the potential to go viral.  Think about Crocs shoes.  Think about those key rings that chirped when you whistled.  The unexpected can go viral. 

So how do you get your message out so that it does take advantage of the peer influence effect?  Should you use a passive broadcast or an active broadcast.

    • Active broadcasts are more personalised:  They resonate with the strong ties in your network.  The fact that the message resonates is similar to the birds flocking together analogy. We like this because we are similar to you. 
    • Active broadcasts encourage reciprocity: I have personally recommended this to you. You are more likely to recommend this to someone else because you trust me
    • Personalised broadcasts are more persuasive:  I trust this information because its from one of my trusted advisors.
    • Active broadcasts creates sustained engagement: this is because you have personally recommended this to a friend
    • Passive broadcasts are less persuasive: But passive broadcasts can potentially reach more people due to their less targeted approach

 

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Image credit:  Aral, Sinan and Walker, Dylan, Creating Social Contagion Through Viral Product Design: A Randomized Trial of Peer Influence in Networks (November 30, 2010). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1564856

Facebook is an amazing place to study peer influence and the knowledge it has about users likes, loves, shares and behaviour is something that Google can never hope to achieve even with its +1 button.  You can analyse peer influence in your own Facebook social graph.  Share a link and note the people who forward different types of links to their networks.  You’ll notice that there are different types of people who are influenced.

According to Sinan Aral at MIT peoples relationship status also determines their susceptibility to being influenced:

    • Single people are 20% more likely to be influenced
    • People ‘in a relationship’ are 50% more likely to be influenced
    • People who are ‘Engaged’ are 60% more susceptible to influence
    • People who are ‘Married’ are 13% more susceptible to influence
    • People who state their relationship is ‘it’s complicated’ are 90% more susceptible

You’ve also got to think of the cost of spamming people and weighing this up against the effects on long term engagement when you consider influence.  If you want your campaign to go viral, there are more things to think about than just a cool video or interesting graphics.  Adding a feature to make it go viral, may just be the additional feature you need.  O2 in the UK managed this with their singing squirrel which appeared in other O2 videos but achieved far more hits virally without any mention of the brand.

Perhaps its just luck after all… Smile

 

 

Eileen is a social media consultant and author of Working The Crowd: Social Media Marketing for Business.

Contact her to find out how she can help your business extend its reach.