Social Media: How Social Impact Theory Can Inform Your Strategy
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17 April 2012Alexander Camargo
During my last post, I posited a question that many wealth managers are considering when it comes to social media: How do we measure influence? What happens when a peer (John Doe) on a social networking forum says something that contradicts your advisor’s opinion? If John Doe has 1,000 followers, will that make his opinion more trustworthy than if he had 200 followers? Is there a tipping point where if John Doe says something enough times or has enough followers your advisor will find his “expert” opinion mattering less than John Doe’s? Social psychology has been addressing the concept of trust of social impact for decades. One particularly relevant theory is Bibb Latané’s “Social Impact Theory”. While some may dismiss a look at social psychology theories as “merely academic,” previous research and results have been borne out of practical considerations that are directly applicable to social media strategies. One such practical application is the consideration to allow advisors to participate on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or to keep advisors “above the fray”. A brief introduction to social impact theory: it uses mathematical equations to predict the level of impact created by social situations, and it is composed of three basic rules:
- Social impact is influenced by the strength (S), immediacy (I), and number (N) of its sources. Thus social impact = f(SIN). Strength is a measure of how much influence or power the individual perceives the source to be. Immediacy is how recent the event occurred or whether there were intervening events. Number is essentially the number of sources. Thus social impact is higher when the source has higher status, when the statement is more immediate, and when there are a higher number of people saying it.
- The most significant difference in social impact occurs in the transition from 0 to 1 sources. As the number of sources increases, the incremental impact lessens.
- The more targets of impact that exist, the less impact each individual target feels. That is to say, a person will feel more of an individual impact if the source is directing a comment to 3 people versus if it is directed at 50.