The Science of Influence: How Social Media Affects Decision Making in the Healthcare, Travel, Retail and Financial Industries
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Executive Summary

In a survey of 1,783 internet users, this study explored the level of influence social media has in four industries: healthcare, financial, travel (personal not business), and retail. The results were segmented by four generations: Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation. Consistent with previous studies, the influence of social media continues to play a role in the actions and recommendations of consumers, and that influence continues to rise. This report dives into the results of the survey and gives recommendations for companies.

Key Findings

Social Media is Influential in Decision Making
While differences in the level of influence were found across industries, social media was deemed influential in making decisions and seeking advice. Social media was identified as being influential by 40% of respondents across generational categories in their decision-making related to travel. For other industries, social media was still influential, but to a lesser degree, with 25% of respondents indicating it was influential in financial services, 22% in retail, and 21% in healthcare.

People Seek Advice on Social Media
More than one-third of respondents (38%) said they were likely to seek travel advice on social media. Nearly one-quarter of respondents (21%) said they were likely to seek advice in decision-making related to financial services, healthcare (25%) and retail purchases (18%).

Age Makes a Difference
Across all categories, age played a role in how influential social media was for survey respondents—the younger the respondents, the more likely they were to say that social media, including the sources and channels, were influential.

Third-Person Effect Plays a Role
The third-person effect occurs when individuals believe others are more influenced by social media than they themselves are. This effect was just studied in the retail industry, but 33 percent of “others” were believed to be influenced by social media compared to the 22 percent of survey respondents who indicated that social media was influential in their own retail decisions.

Close Friends and Family are the Most Influential Source
Across all generations, social media posts from close friends and family were the most influential source, but the degree of influence depended on the industry. Close friends and family were a critical source in the travel industry for all generations: Millennials (62%), Generation X (61%), Baby Boomers (48%), and the Silent Generation (48%). Close/friends and family were also an influential source for Millennials (51%) in the financial services industry and the retail industry (49%). Close friends and family were also an important source for the Silent Generation (42%) in the healthcare industry.

Word-of-Mouth Reigns as the Most Influential Channel
Consistently across most industries and across generations, word-of-mouth was the most influential channel. Promotions, forums, websites of companies, and online reviews were also deemed to be influential. In the retail industry, promotions and online reviews were more important than word-of-mouth. Advertisements and commercials, both traditional and social, were typically the least influential channels.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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