Social diffusion refers to how we follow signals from our trusted peers. Think of the last new restaurant you tried, or movie you went to see. Likely you went by recommendation of a friend who’s taste you trust. This is social diffusion, how we influence each other one-on-one. Since moving to DC I have learned how often I rely on social diffusion, simply to navigate my life.
I’ve mentioned about social diffusion when it comes to its use in community-based social marketing. It’s an important illustration of how we as individuals act in a social context, influenced by our peers, and rely on more than our math and knowledge to make decisions. Since moving out here, here’s a short list of things I find I rely on a peer network for:
- Finding a doctor
- Finding a dentist
- Good restaurants to go to
- Establishing a bike route
- Finding a good coffee shop
- Finding good beer
- Deciding which hiking trails to try
The first ingredient to social diffusion is having peers. Now initially when I moved out here, I had a few friends that I knew, but we rely on multiple peer groups to help us make decisions. For example, I need friends who do a lot of biking to help me learn about bike trails. I need someone who also lives around Arlington to help me identify a good restaurant for different occasions. Over the last few months, I have now found my go-to people for biking, local restaurants, coffee houses, weather forecasts, beer, and biking trails.
The next ingredient is trust. Trust plays an important part in social diffusion. A couple of colleagues of mine and I were talking about restaurants one day and one suggested a French restaurant in her neighborhood, and he recommended a German restaurant in another neighborhood. I’m sure that they wouldn’t lie to me about the food and dining experience, but it occurred to me that I don’t know them well enough to just take their word. (I also happen to not get that excited about German or French food, except for the French fries.)
I noted that the bikers that I trust are both commuters and even more serious than I, I trust the coffee house recommendations from a woman who has lived in Arlington for decades, and found a good beer from a friend with whom I have similar tastes (hops, please). It’s about trusting someone’s taste and also trusting that they know your taste well enough too.
That’s why it’s one thing if your friends are raving about a new book or movie, but another when they say – “Hey, you like science fiction and time-travel types of books/movies. I think you would really like ______.”
And that’s precisely how this can be used to advance energy-efficient and sustainable behaviors. So, if you know something about positive sustainable actions, let your friends and colleagues know that you’re happy to answer questions or recommend easy first steps. Be the go-to person when it comes to your favorite sustainable action (I like to help people pick out the right light bulbs)! And if you’re interested in taking action, but don’t know where to start, ask one of your peers what they might be doing and see if that could make sense for you.