The researchers made two versions of a news item about the investment in traffic infrastructure: one with vox pops pro highways, the other with people expressing themselves as pro bicycle highways. The versions were shown to 2.175 respondents in a web-based survey.
The results showed clearly that people’s personal opinions were strongly influenced by the opinions stated by others on the news. If participants see pro-bike statements, their personal opinions were significantly more pro-bike. The same goes for the pro-car viewpoints.
Power of other people’s opinion
In line with previous research, these effects exist regardless of the introduction and format of those vox pop statements. However, the content of the vox pops has impact: vox pops stating explicit opinions are more influential than vox pops giving personal testimonies.
The power of the personal opinion of others is so strong that even when the journalist explicitly emphasizes that vox pops are not a fully fledged representation of the population, it does not moderate the influence of vox pop statements. The effect of vox pops does not become smaller when information about the non-representativeness is given.
Harness the arguments
In conclusion, vox pops are powerful influencers. They are far more than a an innocent, enlivening feature. The researchers recommend that journalists should be aware that the presented viewpoints influence audiences to a great degree. The research can be downloaded on the website of the University of Antwerp.
For marketeers, it is clear that this also applies for brands: real life arguments of people about a brand have a big impact. As Jonathan Franzen put it in ‘Freedom’: “There are few things harder to imagine than other people’s conversations about yourself”. So it’s very important to discover the authentic arguments about your brand, and to understand which ones are changing opinions and which ones aren’t.