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The Notion of a Community and “Social Proof” Influences Our Consumption – How to Build Community in Social Media?

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I’m looking at community specifically through social media, as they are important places for young people to connect and meet people around a common interest.

Many young people spend a lot of time on social media, and social media therefore also influences their consumption habits. Social media are used for many different reasons, but one important reason is to seek inspiration. In particular, inspiration is sought on the photo service Instagram, which has over 500 million users every day. Inspiring and aesthetically beautiful images on social media channels tell consumers what is trendy and popular at the moment, as well as what clothes and things others are wearing around the world.

This brings trends and hot products even closer to us, and easier to find via social media. Instagram is also often reminiscent of a magazine in terms of content, as the fashion and lifestyle content of magazines has largely moved to social media. For example, Instagram has user accounts that focus on street fashion images, accounts with short DIY tip videos and users who travel around to different fashion weeks showcasing the latest branded products.

Social Media and Consumption

When talking about social media and consumption, it’s worth taking a closer look at the impact of social media on the popularity of different products. Indeed, the popularity of a particular product or brand has a natural impact on our purchasing decisions. This has been described, for example, in relation to the clothing chain Zara’s polka dot dress, which has become a big favourite in the UK.

In an article in Stylist, a fashion psychologist explained the key concept of social proof. The idea of social proof is that when we see many people around us doing or wanting something, it must be good, because so many people are interested in it. Social media has given us a whole new way of keeping tabs on others, which is why I think social proof is now even more common than it used to be.

With just a few clicks, we can see how others react to a particular item of clothing, for example, that we have seen in the shop.

For example, we might see a picture of a nice jacket on Instagram. The picture has been liked thousands of times and underneath it there are also lots of comments about how great the jacket is. We inevitably start thinking that the jacket is trendy and popular, because so many people seem to like it. So through the likes and comments, the jacket has already received social approval from others before you bought it. Social media algorithms also have a significant impact on our preferences.

If we click on the like button for a picture where the jacket is visible (and perhaps even tagged in the picture and by a hashtag in the caption), the algorithm ensures that we get suggestions for more similar pictures, where the jacket is likely to appear again and again. We then assume that this particular jacket is now seen everywhere, because due to the algorithms, our social media suggestions are filled with content similar to what we once liked.

A community builds around the products

Community can thus be seen as the approval of others, but also as an imagined community around some product or user. Since social media, as the name suggests, is a social environment, it is natural that different communities emerge. In social media, communities can emerge around music as well as around a particular user account (e.g. an influencer).

Instagram and social media are excellent places for companies to create a community around their brands, as it also encourages people to buy their products in the future. The term brand tribalism is used to describe the communities that are created around companies and products. Thus, through consumption, one can connect to a community that is not necessarily even physically present in one’s everyday life (unlike, for example, schoolmates).

For example, the sports brand Adidas has set up the Adidas women account on Instagram. This account is aimed at women and posts inspiring photos of women playing sports with Adidas products. The user account also has its own hashtag (#), which the company uses in its photos. The Adidas women account currently has almost 3 million followers. The account takes a stand through its content, and for example different kinds of women’s bodies are well represented.

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