Can believing in Karma drive positive talk in social media?

How people who believe in karmic rewards use word-of-mouth in social media (and what brands can learn from it)

This article is based on research by Ana Valenzuela

Twitter handles an average of 500 million tweets per day and Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp average 60 billion messages a day between them. Word-of-mouth in social media hugely influences consumer behaviour – it affects all kinds of decisions, including what people say, what shows they watch, what places they visit and for whom they vote.

How do people who believe in karma behave in social media? Are they driven by the belief that they will be rewarded if they behave in a karmic way? Consumer behaviour expert Ana Valenzuela has done several experiments to understand how users who believe in karma use word-of-mouth in social media.

Do Better: What goes around, comes around?

Ana Valenzuela: The world of social media makes us worry about our social status. Social channels are constantly reminding us of our friends' success and, as a consequence, our own achievements often feel like less.

Selfie woman traveling
Photo: Artem Beliaikin/Unsplash

Research has already shown that when someone feels socially threatened in social media, it is common for people to self-enhance by talking negatively about others and positively about themselves. This is a coping mechanism to deal with what we see as threats to our well-being. We wanted to find out whether this tendency to talk negatively about others when feeling threatened was also true for people who believe in karma.

What did you discover?

In one of our studies, we recruited participants from India and participants from the United States. We observed that Americans, who held weaker beliefs in karma, tended to transmit more negative word-of-mouth in social media when they felt socially threatened as a way to boost their self-esteem.

This pattern did not hold for Indian respondents, who held stronger beliefs in karma. In fact, in their case, the pattern of talking negatively about others was reversed.

How so?

Even though individuals may feel equally threatened, people who believe in karma do not react to the threat by being negative but rather tend to pass on more positive messages. People who strongly believe in karma act as if talking negatively about others would inject negative energy into the universe and make it more difficult to get the karmic rewards that would make them feel better about themselves.

Instead of trying to fix their experience of social threat through negativity, they transmit positive information about others believing that by showing goodness they will reap goodness.

Social channels are constantly reminding us of our friends' success and our own achievements often feel like less

What about talking positively about themselves?

When people who believe in karma feel socially threatened, instead of talking more positively about themselves – which is what most people do – they tend to be more self-effacing, since boasting is also non-karmic. As a consequence, they would generate less positive information about their own experiences to share in social media.

Why?

They avoid being boastful as this could disrupt the harmony required to acquire good karma. According to the karmic doctrine, boasting disrupts balance in a negative way and thus is not conducive to regain one's positive self by calling for positive future outcomes.

Do users who believe in karma always talk positively about brands?

When consumers who strongly believe in karma feel socially threatened, they react, as discussed, by transmitting positive information about the good experiences of others with brands hoping to get karmic rewards. Yet this rule does not apply to all brands.

In one of our studies, we found that consumers who believe in karma act differently when brands are considered bad "citizens". Consumers do not see those brands as karma-worthy. As a result, consumers do not transmit positive information on "bad" brands because it would mean that they were creating good karma out of bad karma.

These consumers believe that talking positively about brands that are bad "citizens" does nothing to generate good energy and thus confers no benefit on oneself or others.

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