The use of peer influencers has been very popular in recent years. Even the government deploys influencers in the fight against Covid-19. But to what extent does your (online) social environment really influence your behaviour? And perhaps most importantly, how do you motivate peer influencers to promote the desired behaviour? For her PhD project as a communication scientist, Crystal Smit, part of Movez Lab, investigated how you can help young people make healthier choices with the help of their social environment. She looked specifically at how influential young people, so called “peer influencers”, can influence their environment. The social network intervention Share H2O, which she designed, is an effective way to get children to drink more water instead of sugary drinks. Crystal Smit's research into this intervention is groundbreaking because, for the first time, it has been examined how you can intrinsically motivate peer influencers to promote certain behaviour. Good intrinsic motivation is essential for the successful promotion of the desired behaviour.
Smit's research into social network interventions started five years ago at the Radboud University with the MyMovez project: a lifestyle project investigating how to promote healthy behaviours among young people. With her Share H2O intervention, Smit researched how you can effectively deploy peer influencers to promote a type of behaviour, such as drinking more water. The research distinguishes itself from many other studies in this field. Smit explains: "A lot of research has already been done on how to select peer influencers. What I wanted to find out specifically with my research was how you could effectively motivate these peer influencers to perform and promote the desired behaviour.
Importance of intrinsic motivation
Smit's research revolves around the intrinsic motivation of young people to promote water drinking. Smit: 'Previous studies have shown that people are most motivated when they are intrinsically motivated. To develop intrinsic motivation in participants, I applied the self-determination theory. This theory explains that peer influencers should have a feeling of autonomy, competence, and connectedness.’ Smit taped into these three factors by having a one-hour conversation with the peer influencers. During this group discussion, fun facts were shared, and the peer influencers themselves could think about why drinking water is important and how they can promote this behaviour among their peers. ‘Surprising answers came from this discussion, such as that drinking tap water is good for your concentration at school and that by drinking tap water you can generate less plastic waste, which is better for animals and the nature. Afterwards we provided them with a few examples on how they could encourage drinking water, the peer influencers came up with some great ideas themselves. For example, placing a pitcher with water on the table during dinner or offering friends to fill up their empty water bottles. Some even made a challenge of it,' says Smit enthusiastically.
Use the creativity of influencers
Creating intrinsic motivation by involving peer influencers in the process makes social network interventions successful and should not be forgotten in the process. Earlier this year, Smit's supervisor, Professor Dr. Moniek Buijzen said that the government campaign with influencers would have been more effective if their own creativity had been used and resources were deployed to support this. Smit, too, can confirm this: 'For a campaign with influencers to be effective, it is important to talk to them beforehand and to find out why they feel it is important to abide by the rules or how you can encourage the desired behaviour. My research shows that tapping into the creativity and input of influencers increases their intrinsic motivation and can contribute to successfully influencing the behaviour in their social environment. I hope that influencers' intrinsic motivation and creativity will play an important role in this type of behavioural interventions in the future.
Read the complete study and the results of this research.