We humans are a species who just love communication and conversation. We seek to engage with each other in a variety of mediums, and in a single day, you might use ten different forms to send a message to someone. Snapchat, Instagram, a call, an email; and every type of communication has slightly different rules and ways of operating.

Since the advent of the internet, humanity has had a new way to communicate. And with the rise of social media, we now have a way to connect with people from around the world in niche areas of interest. We are connected at every possible avenue – from sharing what we eat to how we exercise to how we work. And yet, we have to wonder – what impact is social media having on our human behaviour? Certainly there is an impact – whether it’s a change in the way that we plan a holiday through to a shift in what we do when choosing a restaurant, to the larger process of sourcing information.

It’s clear that more people are choosing social media and their peer network as a trusted source of information (as opposed to the ‘traditional’ model whereby marketers provided information about their products to a user, and the user took this information on). To this end, businesses need to be savvy about how they are using social as part of their marketing mix, and being sure to include social media as an element of making a shift in a behaviour.

In this article we’ll talk about the rise and impact of social media, the way in which social media is used for everyday life, the potential power of social media for behaviour change and potential pros and cons of social media in our society. 

The rise and impact of social media

In case you’re old enough to remember the days of ICQ, you’d know it was released in 1996. Yahoo! Messenger came out in 1999, as did MSN messenger and we all marvelled at this new way of communicating with our peers. MySpace launched in 2003 (and so did Skype), and the behemoth that is Facebook started up way back in 2005. Tumblr hit us in 2007, Instagram popped on the scene in 2010 and Snapchat blessed us in 2011. We all know certain apps which are the most powerful, and we have all seen how the influencer as a business tool has grown to shape the way companies market. There is huge potential for a business who is seeking behaviour change can use a well-positioned influencer to deliver a powerful message. Indeed, many companies who are looking to deliver a message will partner with an influencer on the right type of social media channel for their audience to give their marketing communication an additional boost.

The way in which social media is used for everyday life (and the reason why it’s so powerful)

Social media is addictive. As a society, we are wired into these little kernels of feel-good interaction and it’s highly powerful as a medium for businesses to be able to capitalise on this. When you’re looking for a way to implement a behavioural shift, it’s vital that you tap into the user psychology behind a change. It’s not enough to simply present a compelling idea to your users and to get the push of an influencer; you need to make people want to engage with your message. Obviously, this will depend widely on what exactly you are promoting and the appropriate channel and audience for your message but the facts remain the same: social media is an addictive and engaging tool that is ever-present in the lives of our users.

The potential power of social media for behaviour change

In addition to the power that social media has over our lives, it can also play a powerful role in shifting behaviour. Whether it’s a desire to fit in with your peers or to make a shift so that you’re adhering to your values (and that of your social group) social media can be used to great effect by companies who are looking to make a positive and powerful societal change. As seen in a recent study by Opower, the power of providing information about what other users in a social group are doing can have a huge impact on user behaviour. You can communicate with users via social media in a targeted and compelling way, ensuring that you use behavioural change theory to sculpt your message to prime your audience.

Pros and cons of social media in our society

There are many overall pros and cons of social media, from ease of communication to alienation. While social media is generally used for lighthearted fun, shopping and staying in touch with friends, there is a serious and more impactful side which you can explore. Shifting behaviour requires a multifaceted approach, and integrating social media into this approach is just one more way of moving towards a successful behaviour change campaign. 

The ultimate message here is that when social media is used in an intelligent way that adds value to the user, it can be a powerful tool which plays a large role in shaping the behaviour of your users. It’s helpful to remember that there is a lot of information out there, so be sure to make your message cut through the noise.