Is social media shifting social norms to more extreme levels?

Traditional media have long been thought to change the perception of social norms. A widespread example is the use of mannequins in advertising. Research has shown that this impacts perceptions of what is “perceived” as acceptable or normal when it comes to body weight.

“Critics say extremes in the media can negatively affect consumer well-being because it can lead consumers to have unrealistic expectations and self-comparison,” said James Leonhardt, assistant professor of marketing at the University. of Nevada, Reno’s College of Business. “The media’s tendency to shift social norms to more extreme levels has prompted an assessment of the role of media and marketing.”

While an end bias in mainstream media has been observed, Leonhardt and undergraduate student Ian Bigley, an anthropology student at the University, wanted to research whether the same could be true for generated content. by users in social media.

“Unlike traditional media, social media is decentralized, Leonhardt said. “Social media lacks a centralized source or strategy for creating and distributing content. We wanted to understand if, in a context that is largely consumer-to-consumer with millions of users weighing in, we would see a similar trend towards the end.

In their research,Tail bias in the creation and consumption of user-generated content in social media“, recently published in the “Journal of Interactive Advertising”, Leonhardt and Bigley tested an end bias in social media by assessing the consumption and creation of makeup-related content on social media and consumers’ perceptions of their own use of make-up and that of others.

Leonhardt and Bigley chose to focus their research using makeup tutorials on Instagram because makeup is easily editable, achievable, and controllable. In fact, on Instagram alone, the “#makeup” hashtag has over 214 million posts to date.

Recentralization of content

“Social media has created a new breed of ‘influencers’ – social media users with established credibility in a specific industry,” Bigley said. “These influencers usually have a larger audience and often persuade others through their content.”

It is through these influencer profiles that a recentralisation of corporate influence has been discovered. Companies invest in influencers to generate content that can change social norms.

“These influencers get disproportionate exposure,” Bigley said. “And what they perceive as normal influences social media content.”

Social profile and content rating

Three studies were conducted to collect data on how users consume and react to user-generated content on social media.

  • The first study surveyed makeup users and found that those who perceived their own makeup style to be more extreme were more likely to post their makeup-related content online. Conversely, those who perceived a less extreme makeup style themselves were more likely to consume and share other people’s makeup-related content online, rather than posting their own content. This finding suggests that makeup-related content on social media is likely to come from people with more extreme makeup styles.
  • The second study assessed whether makeup styles found online are more extreme than those seen in offline contexts. The survey conducted clearly indicated that users viewed makeup images online as more extreme.
  • The third study then extended previous research on the influence of centralized media on social norms by testing whether exposure to makeup styles in social media alters consumers’ perceptions of makeup style extremity. The results of this final study suggest that, as with traditional media, exposure to social media content can alter consumer perceptions about extremities and arguably social norms.

“Research suggests that social norms will evolve at a faster rate based on the rate of social media consumption,” Leonhardt said. “Styles can scale and evolve faster this way, with user-generated content getting people more and more niches.”

Marketing implications

As a marketing researcher, the way users differ in how they interact with social media, with most consuming content rather than creating it, was of particular interest to Leonhardt.

“Marketing is often seen as the culprit, as the entity pushing strategic ‘ideals’ to consumers,” Leonhardt said. “An end bias in social media suggests that even decentralized user-generated content has the potential to alter users’ perceptions of normalcy. Such insight would allow brands to increase their exposure in the competitive media landscape. social – brands can gain visibility online through posting more extreme content.

Ambitious academic research

While academic research is typically reserved for students pursuing graduate studies, Leonhardt saw a tremendous opportunity for undergraduate research inclusion when a conversation organically started with his student.

“The idea for this evolved from a conversation about social media changing your perceptions,” Bigley said. “I was especially grateful for this opportunity. For me, as an undergraduate student, I learned all of these research ‘ideals’. But having had the opportunity to go through the process, with the support of the faculty I learned the hardships and challenges I learned how difficult it is to stay true to one’s original purpose Going through the process with the help of Dr. Leonhardt gave me the knowledge and the strength needed to continue researching on my own.

Leonhardt praised Bigley for his dedication to the project.

“It was impressive to see an undergraduate take on such an ambitious project,” Leonhardt said. “While I think it helped to get some insight born out of his genuine interest in the subject, there has been a ton of work and time that Ian has put into this study and I am delighted to see what he will accomplish in the future.”

About Marjorie C. Hudson

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