Online Pressure Works: Dealing with Keyboard Warriors and Social Influencers
If you were to ask me, I would say, without mincing words, that the scariest animal on the planet at this material moment is not walking the plains of Africa neither is it swimming the depths of the Pacific. You actually might be playing with it right now. I am referring to no other than that animal called Social Media.
Social media scares the living daylight out of me. Inside the belly of this scary beast are those pejoratively but aptly referred to as “Keyboard Warriors”. Nothing scares me more than those millions of unknown faces hiding behind their artificially-manufactured personas to wreak havoc on anyone they choose to.
It seems the anonymity that people feel on social media emboldens them in their activities. Things that people cannot say to someone in the face would easily be written out on social media without breaking a sweat. With a few taps on their keyboard your life, as you have known, would be over in a matter of a few minutes.
If the cases of multiple teens committing suicide due to cyberbullying does not send shivers down your spine, then you must really be one tough character. One young man posted on his Facebook page ten minutes before he committed suicide that he was actually going to jump off a specific bridge—and he hid. Lives are being lost on the regular. The Keyboard Warriors keep chopping down their victims.
In a research published in the November 2012 edition of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, the power of social media was really brought to the fore. It was found in that study of more than 3,400 individuals from ages 18 to 24 across the United States that peer pressure was as powerful online as it was in person.
Titled “Permissive Norms and Young Adults’ Alcohol and Marijuana Use: The Role of Online Communities,” the study involved researchers from the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, School of Public Health from the University of Michigan. It was interesting to note that individuals who felt their parents and peers would not be comfortable with they viewing images of alcohol and drug use online were less likely to drink themselves. In May 2014, another study was conducted by researchers from University of Southern California and University of Texas titled “Peer Influences: The Impact of Online and Offline Friendship Networks on Adolescent Smoking and Alcohol Use” and the results were published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. That study also found that the more individuals are exposed to risky content online by their friends, the riskier their behaviour.
A related study was published in the June 2017 edition of the Journal of Adolescent Health titled “Friends’ Alcohol-Related Social Networking Site Activity Predicts Escalations in Adolescent Drinking: Mediation by Peer Norms.” This study involved more than 650 high school students and revealed that peers posting alcohol-related content has an effect on the initiation into drinking by the youth. In other words, social media was playing a serious role in getting young people to start drinking.
With all that said about the power of social media to drive people to an early grave or influence individuals to drink or use drugs, it is no surprise that the power of this unique medium even extends over customer decisions. In an April 2013 study commissioned by California-based customer service software provider, Zendesk and carried out by Dimensional Research, it was revealed that social media had a very profound effect on customer decision. The study involved more than one thousand customers of a particular company and was meant to quantify the long term impact of customer service on business results.
One interesting observation was that less people shared their experiences and reviews on social media than those that read such reviews. In other words, more customers actually go online just to go and read what other customers are saying about a particular product or company. While only 30% of the customers surveyed shared positive reviews on social media, more than double that number (69%) read positive reviews online. When it comes to negative reviews, as expected, more people went online to share (45%) than they would if the review was a positive one (30%). According to the study, 63% of consumers claimed they read negative reviews on social media.
It must however be emphasised that the biggest finding of this study by Zendesk was the fact that as high as 88% of the customers surveyed asserted that they are “influenced by online customer service reviews when making buying decisions.” 88% means that only two out of ten customers would be making their purchasing decisions devoid of any social media influence. This particular finding should be worrying for businesses all over the world.
The Zendesk study is not alone in its assertions. In November 2014 and January 2015, a survey was commissioned by global giant Deloitte and conducted online by an independent research company. Titled, “Navigating the New Digital Divide”, the study polled more than 3,000 customers of different gender, age, income, and ethnicity. Two interesting findings from this report are:
- Fifty-six percent (56%) of consumers shopping for baby and toddler products consult social media at some point during their shopping journey.
- Forty percent (40%) of consumers shopping for furniture, home furnishings, and home improvement products use social media to gather inspiration or shop.
The two findings above do not bring out the powerful influence social media has over customers as the next three findings:
- Shoppers are 29 percent more likely to make a purchase the same day when they use social media to help shop either before or during their trip (90 percent vs. 70 percent conversion).
- Consumers who use social media during their shopping process are approximately 4x more likely than non-users to spend more or significantly more on purchases as a result of a digital shopping experience.
- Respondents who consider themselves somewhat or very influenced by social media are 6x more likely to spend significantly more than non-users (42 percent vs. 7 percent) due to their digital shopping experiences.
In other words, not only is Social Media influencing customers as to what to buy but it is influencing customers as to how much to spend. This should be welcome news for businesses.
However, what the influence of social media on customer behaviour also means is that these so-called Keyboard Warriors could be determining the fortunes of a company. A Keyboard Warrior with a personal vendetta can go all out to cause trouble for the business. People might be patronising a particular business simply because their peers are customers of the same place. In the same vein, customers might be shunning a particular business simply because someone on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram said it was not a great place to be.
The name given to the individuals with large followings on social media are Social Influencer. These individuals are so powerful that they are even used by businesses to market their products. Because of their large following, the reviews of social influencers are taken so seriously by their followers that a business that gets into the bad books of one such influencer can spell doom for that organisation.
If these reviews, be they from Keyboard Warriors or Social Influencers, are based on truth, then there is really no problem. However, this becomes a big issue if the reviews are based on fabricated lies and half-truths.
One thing that such a finding calls for is for businesses to have a presence on social media—at least, every serious business does. Smart businesses know better than to leave the conversation to those Keyboard Warriors. These organisations, as much as possible, initiate every discourse related to the business and on the rare occasion when issues catch them unawares, they ensure that they proactively manage any potential damage.
If customers are going to talk about you on social media and make decisions about what you are offering, it makes a lot of sense for you to be there so that, in the very least, you can speak for yourself. As more and more consumers look outside the company on to social media to get advice, businesses must put structures and systems to ensure that whatever is being said about them moves the customer closer to a purchase.
It is an undeniable truth that social media is a force for good but unfortunately, it is also a source of much evil. The Internet and for that matter social media is here to stay and unfortunately, like a sweet taboo, we just cannot live without accessing social media, at least, many of us just cannot. The best advice therefore when it comes to Social Media is for one to always tread cautiously. The landmines are just too many for comfort. However, for those businesses that are able to navigate the mines or even clear them totally, the rewards are immense—and the stats are there to back this statement.