(NaturalNews) The power of online networking groups in impacting mothers' life decisions and purchasing habits is more substantial than virtually all other avenues of influence, suggests a new study out of Australia. And based on what we already know about how corporations and government agencies infiltrate online chat forums and comment sections in order to push their agendas, some are warning that more caution needs to be taken in assessing what is true versus what is false when it comes to virtual advice.
Before the days of the internet, mothers would bounce ideas off one another almost exclusively in moms' and babies' playgroups, which have long been a place of bonding and information sharing for stay-at-home moms. Personal experiences with baby food brands or play toys, for instance, are often shared within these groups, allowing mothers to make informed and conscious choices about how to best raise their children.
Online 'mom groups' have almost as much influence as real-life ones
More and more mothers today, however, are expanding this conversation online. Facebook groups for breastfeeding moms, forums about vaccination, and various other media of digital communication are supplanting what the traditional mom groups used to provide. This is making it easier for anonymous unknowns to quietly enter the conversation and inject new ideas, including those that may not be in the best interests of mothers.
According to Dr. Rebecca English from the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, online mom groups have rapidly become a trusted source of advice for many mothers, which means that they now represent an untapped market for businesses to push their products or services. Right up their with word-of-mouth recommendations, online conversations about various relevant topics are now almost as influential when it comes to mothers' purchasing habits.
Published in the International Journal of Web Based Communities, Dr. English's study on the subject found that women seeking information related to their babies' health and wellness view online mom groups with almost the same level of esteem as real-life mom groups. This is especially true when mothers connect with other mothers who have the same number of children in the same age ranges.
"Our study found that mothers trust mothers and that mothers tend to trust the opinions of other mothers when they recommend a product," stated Dr. English. "It is not surprising that social media makes a contribution towards the buying behaviour of its users, but what is surprising is the strength of these non-face-to-face opinions in online mothers' groups and communities."
Corporations, government now have backdoor to influence trusting mothers
According to Dr. English, mothers' repeated exposure to the same folks within an online community builds trust just as it would in real life, with the exception that the identities of various users' aren't always known. Because of this, influential players like Monsanto, for instance, which has already been caught taking advantage of online trust in order to push genetically modified organisms (GMOs), are gaining an online foothold that they otherwise couldn't achieve in real-life mom groups.
"Organic promotion, for example using free product trials by well-connected or influential [moms], is one way to tap into this market," said Dr. English. "Recommendations from other mothers are more powerful than any other structured promotion."