‘Social Information’ and the implications for PR

posted by Brendan Hodgson

So… the brainy types at Wharton recently published an article around the role of “Social Information” in charitable giving. Essentially, the article examines how social information influences contribution behaviour. I found it a very interesting article… and have been pondering the implications of this for our own profession.

In the article, information management professor Rachel Croson notes that “social information affects behavior in a variety of economic situations, such as labor markets (when you are trying to decide what a reasonable wage is, you look at what other people earn) and investing (when making decisions about how to allocate your portfolio, you look at what other people with similar assets have done). Her research adds to this area, she says, by “providing evidence that social influence [in this case, data about what another person has donated to the radio station] has an impact on charitable contributions as well.”

An interesting aside was the determination that there were thresholds of influence based on the appropriateness of what others had contributed, or the relationship of one contributor to another. The caveat here, as I see it, is that individuals are seen to be more likely influenced by social information “when the information received is seen as ‘relevant or appropriate’.”

Does this mean that PR practitioners are ahead of the curve in this area — given our use of third-party endorsers, word-of-mouth advertising, polls and other market research — or could this open up new doors of opportunity for influencing perception and purchasing habits?

You tell me…

1 Comment


Dave Hill

An interesting question but the aspect missing from the study is the socio-economic banding of the contributors. I would say the key issue is what does the amount money given mean in real terms to the ‘giver’?

We all like an indication of what to give as we generally want to feel it is going to be helpful ie the reason to give. This is however influenced strongly by the level of our disposable income linked to our strength of feeling for the charitable cause cited.

An example would be the reactuion to the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean on Boxing Day thresholds of giving were very very high from individual people – Xmas event, personal vulnerability at a sensitive time, the extent of devastation, the economic capacity of the people and their governments, likage to the area through holidays all influenced the reaction – probably much more.

This is an interesting area but I doubt there is a hugh benefit to influence other ’spends’ as I believe charitable donation is a very personal and imotive area from which to draw general conclusions.

Take care,


Add a comment