How Does Social Media Influence Public Opinion? The Answer May Surprise You.

How Does Social Media Influence Public Opinion? The Answer May Surprise You.

The central part that social media plays in people’s lives worldwide has become a subject of scrutiny in the last few years. Many perceive that social media plays too great a role in polarizing individuals and should be used with caution.

The truth about how social media influences public opinion may come as a surprise to many people. Academic research confirms that social media can potentially influence individuals who are undecided about certain subjects and will polarize those who have already made up their minds.

Why would this come as a surprise? Research suggests that most people see social media as having a negative effect on public opinion. This is not surprising, but what may come as a surprise is that, for the most part, social media does little to change established opinions. 

What does this mean? Individuals are likely to say social media has a larger influence on society than it actually does. The surprise is that social media does very little to change public opinion.

How Does Social Media Change the Way People Think?

Social media can prove a powerful influence if individuals are open to a different point of view; the thing is, the most polarizing social media users often have established opinions and are not likely to change. If you want to use social media to influence public opinion, beginning with a topic without controversy and little hype would be best. 

In a study conducted by Texas A&M University, researchers ran an experiment with the cooperation of a global financial company. In this experiment, a new policy regarding a change in how the company issued pay raises. 

The conclusion of the experiment discovered that individuals who had made up their minds on a subject were unaffected by their peers’ opinions. Only those who were “externally minded,” that is to say, they cared greatly about the views of others, had a change of opinion from social media.

Social media had little to no measurable effect on those who were more set on their own opinions. Within the academic community, however, the consensus is that those who experience uncivil online debates will become more polarized in their opinions, attributing greater skepticism to out-group members and less to in-group ones.

In simpler terms, social media accentuates the rift between those with different opinions. 

The conclusion is that social media doesn’t necessarily change minds unless someone is open to change; if one is not open to change, they will only use social media to confirm their beliefs

If you want to change opinions, start by framing the issue in line with things your audience already believes. 

How Does Social Media Change the Way People Act?

But what does social media have to do with the actions people take? Does social media inspire people to take more stringent action regarding a cause they believe in or oppose?

The answer is more about human nature than about social media’s direct effects. 

The study by Texas A&M revealed that people were more likely to take a more aggressive action when they strongly disagreed with something. Even if someone strongly agreed with something, they weren’t as likely to act as their counterparts who strongly disagreed.  

History has shown that people will act when they are called to action by like-minded individuals. Calling someone to act doesn’t guarantee they will accept the invitation to act. Your success in calling others to action depends on how strongly they believe in what you are calling them to do.

For instance, getting people to sign a petition is easy if they are mildly interested in acting, but getting someone to donate money, make a purchase, or come to an event becomes more difficult. 

People feel more inspired to act if they believe they are avoiding something negative than achieving positive. That is why fear-based advertising works so well. People are willing to act if they think they are avoiding failure, believe they are losing money, or are scared they are wasting too much time. 

However, as more people are willing to act on something they strongly believe in, you can use this fact to inspire your ideal customers to commit to action. 

By reaffirming someone’s beliefs and framing an argument so that it is in line with their values, you can inspire someone to act without the use of fear. This is all the more powerful because they will truly believe in what they are doing and may bring some of their peers along with them. 

How Can Businesses Use Social Media to Their Advantage?

If you own a business and wonder how you can be more effective with your online presence, you can use the principles here to your advantage. 

To get the most out of social media for your business, you should:

  1. Understand your audience.
  2. Understand your offer.
  3. Provide Credibility.
  4. Reaffirm their beliefs.
  5. Call to Action.

Here is How Each of Those Steps Looks in Action. 

1. Understand Your Audience

You need to be able to describe your audience accurately. For the most effective marketing, become familiar with their needs, desires, ambitions, fears, and circumstances. 

The more generic your understanding of your audience, the more likely you are to fail to sell to them.

2. Understand Your Offer

Yes, you want people to buy from you, follow your social media, and support your business, but have you ever thought about what you have to offer?

Getting people to act requires a carrot and a stick. You can’t lead a group or inspire someone to action unless you can convince them they will be better for it or have another incentive. Know how your product or service is going to make someone better, and then craft your message with the end goal of helping your target audience.

Also, starting by positioning yourself in a way that aligns with your audience’s beliefs is a powerful way to win them over. 

3. Provide Credibility

Do you have the right answers? Do you have the best solution? Who says? You?

If you are your only source of credibility, you may find it more difficult for people to buy into your company. Get outside sources to review your company and display what they say. If you have credentials, have received awards, or are certified through a government agency, show your audience to build trust. 

4. Reaffirm Their Beliefs

As mentioned earlier, people tend to act more the more they believe in what you call them to do. If you are trying to get someone to buy into a workout program, reaffirm to them that they like feeling healthy. Confirm things they already believe and help them to see their importance. 

5. Call to Action

People often don’t think to act unless they are asked. Be sure to provide a clear and simple call to action in all your interactions online.

How Revity Can Help Your Social Media Presence

When you learn how to use social media, it can be an excellent tool for your business. Here at Revity, we innovate our approach to media creation to help keep businesses just like yours relevant and profitable. 

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you create video and audio content to increase your business’s relevance and expand your online presence.

Jarrett Webster

Jarrett Webster