New research reveals the influence of social media continues to play a role in the actions and recommendations of consumers—and that influence continues to rise along a range of industries.

The Institute for Public Relations has released a new study on social media, The Science of Influence: How Social Media Affects Decision Making in the Healthcare, Travel, and Financial Industries.

As social media has become a critical channel for information, investigating the level of various components, including source and channel, of social media is important. The report investigates the level of influence social media has in four industries: healthcare, financial, travel (personal), and retail.

Additionally, results were segmented by four generations: Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers, and the Silent Generation.
The science of influence: Social media’s impact on four industries

Key findings from the research:

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 percent 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 percent of respondents indicating it was influential in financial services, 22 percent in retail, and 21 percent in healthcare.

People seek advice on social media

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

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 sources

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 percent), Generation X (61 percent), Baby Boomers (48 percent), and the Silent Generation (48 percent). Close/friends and family were also an influential source for Millennials (51%) in the financial services industry and the retail industry (49 percent). Close friends and family were also an important source for the Silent Generation (42 percent) 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.

Download the full report here.

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.

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Richard Carufel

Richard Carufel

Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders.


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