According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research called “Social Defaults: Observed Choices Become Choice Defaults,” social network users are greatly swayed by the individuals they follow online, often developing opinions and judgments influenced—if not directly borrowed—from the perspectives they encounter. As a result, social media influence often pushes users to base their opinions on “social defaults” rather than to explore the issue more by asking questions and further engaging with the topic.
“Social Defaults” focused primarily on how consumers function in a social setting. According to the study, forms of social influence are pervasive in daily life, ultimately affecting body language, emotions, behavior, and other forms of communication.
“We suggest that when someone is deciding between options for which their preferences are not well formed, observing the choice of another consumer makes the option chosen by the other person the default option,” write the authors of the study.
Social media can play a significant role in how consumers are influenced. Experiments like the Facebook mood manipulation study have demonstrated how easily a consumer’s mood and behavior can be influenced by the social content he or she views in a day. And a survey from earlier this year revealed that even consumers are aware of this social media influence: six in 10 said their friends’ social activity has influenced their behavior in the past, according to the IBM Institute for Business Value.
An article in Forbes notes that there are ways to combat the social defaulting that many consumers gravitate toward. Just being aware of this tendency can lead to more thoughtful decision making, and a greater effort to make decisions for yourself can ultimately inspire more informed choices.
“The study shows that we’re more likely to copy other people when we lack social acceptance. In an attempt to fit in with the crowd, we go along with the consensus,” writes Amy Morin for Forbes.
Even if an individual is open to this idea, some social influence appears to be inevitable.
Marketers are wise to remember these tendencies as they weigh the value of their social marketing and overall content strategy. Consumers are heavily influenced by the social content they see, which means social marketing can be extremely impactful and drive tangible results for brands. When social users are engaging with content and sharing it among their own audiences, that content is doing important work as it wields influence over those individuals.
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