The Benefits of Peer Pressure in Social Networks

Originally posted at Edelman Digital

The collection of people who we follow, friend and like on social networks is likely an interesting cross-section between personalities, professional contacts and friends. Depending on the networks, of course, there may even be more personal ties (say, like on Facebook), and each different channel works a little differently.

One lesson that has come out recently is that the personal ties on some of these networks can also work as a little bit of a peer pressure to those who chose to air their vices publicly as a way to use the power of the hive as motivation.

As you think about programs with a public health tinge, or even ways to help reach a personal goal, think about these five ways social networks and peer pressure have helped people improve their own lifestyles.

The Twitter Diet

Late in August, New York Times media reporter Brian Stelter shared the results of his personal diet test. His goal, starting last March, was to shed 25 pounds in the 25 weeks leading up to his 25th birthday. He wasn’t going to use a professional diet or weight management program, instead, he decided to lean on Twitter. As he recounted in his column last month, the network was more than “diet and tell,” and his followers really did become a support group that forced him to keep honest. The result speaks for itself: Stelter got rid of 75 pounds by the time his birthday came around last week.


Just like with losing weight, others have relied on social stigma to help them quit smoking cigarettes. While one example wasfeatured in TechCrunch last month, this capability of the Twitter network has actually been tapped well before then. A neat case study in the public health engagement space involves a group called TobaccoFreeFlorida. The organization launched Qwitter in 2008 as a way to use Twitter help count – and kick – the habit.

Handling Chronic Conditions

Earlier this summer, we documented a great event from Digital Capital Week on the impact digital communication can have on public health. During the event, Susannah Fox brought up lots of interesting data points. While we do spend a lot of time trying to quantify the number of people with chronic conditions who are online, we may be overlooking the fact that once they get connected, they get incredibly engaged with others as a network of support. Within that network, the relationships become tight enough that influence is a real possibility.

Watering Your Plants

Maybe the only reason you remember to water your plants every morning is the fear that a neighbor may disapprove of dead shrubbery on your porch. What if that neighbor was actually the public Facebook or Twitter universe, and your plant didn’t just show signs of thirst, but actively told everyone you knew? Last year, researchers from NYU found a way to hook up a plant to automate its state of care, and one of the creators shared a story of how her Tweeting plant (followed by more than 3,200 people) can cause her guilt since so many know how well she’s taking care of it.

Is the Influence Real?

feature in Monday’s LA Times took a look at some of the more academic literature associated with this phenomenon of online social desirability. The author documents a few of the older studies that often look at just one demographic or condition, thus are not completely conclusively. However, compare that with a study at MIT released earlier this month: the power of social network influence has less to do with size and more to do with the cluster of connections, i.e., reinforcement from people you know, offline or on, often leads to the result of personal health change. The moral of the story may be best summed up by a quote from Thomas Valente in the LAT piece: “You can’t divorce the content of the program from the people delivering it. The message is really the messenger.”

2 Comments on “The Benefits of Peer Pressure in Social Networks”

  1. […] to show off an accomplishment or strive for moral support to hit a fitness goal. I’ve argued the social/peer pressure argument a lot in this context, and it certainly fits. They are also both solid apps (although I’ll admit I skew toward […]

  2. Ibrahim Ali says:

    What a nice article

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