Third-Person Effect in Social Media Marketing
Third-Person Effect (TPE) is a sociological term coined by Philip Davison in 1983. It hypothesizes that media consumers in general tend to believe that the media has more influence on other people than on themselves.
This concept supposedly came about during the time of World War II when an all-African American unit that was stationed at Iwo Jimma at the time received Japanese propaganda that emphasized that the latter had no personal quarrel with the black soldiers. These letters apparently wasn’t convincing enough to make the African American soldiers consider abandoning their posts, on the premise that they were fighting a war that wasn’t theirs to fight in the first place. This led their white commanding officers to shuffle the assignments of the militia for fear that the African American soldiers would indeed abandon their posts, resulting in what was later called a mixed-race army.
The fact that the white commanders were exaggerating the potential effects of these messages on the soldiers, while the African American soldiers denied being influenced at all, gave Davison the idea for this theory. After learning of the situation in Iwo Jimma, Davision began to look for other similar instances throughout the course of history. His theory finally gained prominence during communication courses in the 80`s, and since then, many investigators have delved into the application of TPE in advertising, journalism and computer-mediated communication.
Among these researchers, Jie Zhang et. al. conducted a study in 2009 which investigated the third-person effect on word-of-mouth communication via the increasingly popular social networking websites. They concluded that the TPE was not as pronounced in social media networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. According to her, most individuals still believed that user-generated content on the networking sites affects only their peers but not themselves.
What are the implications of the third-effect on the subsequent marketing strategies that we use?
In addition to conventional marketing and advertising methods aimed at target consumer populations, a more comprehensive strategy should involve their peers and online friends as well. For example, one of the most popular marketing features in Facebook is the Sponsored section, where the advertisements that are shown intuitively depend on the preferences or ‘Likes’ of the individual’s friends. This leads the Facebook user to believe that the product or service featured is worthwhile since it has already been endorsed by his friend/s with whom he shares common values and interests with. This may subsequently entice him to click on the link and even ‘Like’ it. Nobody ever wants to be the first to arrive at the party, but if you are accompanied by a friend or two, it will be significantly less embarrassing.
Davison, W. P. (1983). The third person effect in communication. Public Opinion Quarterly, 47, 1-15.
Zhang, J. and T. Daugherty, “Third-Person Effect and Social Networking: Implications for Online Marketing and Word-of-Mouth Communication,” American Journal of Business, Vol. 24, No. 2, 53-63, 2009.