- Tue, September 13 2011
- Filed under: Marketing essentials
I recently listened to Pultizer-Prize winning Tina Rosenberg of the New York Times speak about her new book, Join the Club. In a conversation with Andy Goodman, she talked about what she has dubbed “the social cure”—using peer pressure to effect social change.
There is much science behind why we are so driven to seek the approval of the group. While peer identification may lead to mindless conformity, it can also be a positive force for good, says Rosenberg.
She cites many examples: AA, Weight Watchers, LoveLife (a campaign in South Africa that made AIDS awareness take hold with an aspirational lifestyle message for teens), and the underground student movement that bloomed and overthrew Slobodan Milosevic.
If we’re promoting a cause, we absolutely, positively must remember the power of peers.
“The more important and deeply rooted the behavior, the less impact information has and the more people close their minds to messages that scare them,” says Rosenberg. “What matters most is that people identify with the information source. The more that source is someone like us, the more credible it is.”
One of my favorite stories was about a graduate student in the 1970s in California, who noticed that different ethnic groups got very different grades in math. He took a camera, went into dorms, and watched what happened. The Chinese students, who were doing well, studied in groups, while African American students, who studied alone, were doing poorly. He set up special peer discussion sessions among African Americans and found their grades soared above whites and Asians who were not in sections. What happened? In big classes of 400 students, it was frightening if not impossible to ask questions and talk through solutions, while in small peer groups, especially among minorities, it was easier to learn together. “There are upsides to peer pressure,” she notes.
Here are some of the upsides of peer pressure:
1.) Access to information through personal networks
2.) The sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves and the meaning that can bring to our lives
3.) Conforming to a new behavior that might be a good one
4. ) Encouraging positive action as a reaction to someone else taking a positive action (reciprocity)
5.) Facilitation of collective action - it’s easier to act as a group!
It’s not all about jumping off bridges and licking frozen pipes… How can you turn peer pressure into a force for your cause?