Our insights: how do you motivate influential youth to promote desirable behaviour to their peers?

Using peer influencers (influential youth) 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 actually influence your behaviour? And perhaps most importantly, how do you motivate peer influencers to promote desirable behaviour? Crystal Smit, researcher at the Movez Lab, investigated how to help young people make healthier choices. Specifically, she studied how to motivate peer influencers to promote desired behaviour among their peers and how much influence they actually exert. For her research, Crystral used her self-designed social networking intervention Share H2O to find out how the influence of peer influencers can be used effectively to promote a type of behaviour, for example drinking more water instead of sugary drinks.

Intrinsic motivation

"From previous studies, we know that people become most motivated from intrinsic motivation. To develop intrinsic motivation in participants, I applied the self-determination theory. This theory explains that peer influencers need to feel a sense of autonomy, competence and connectedness." according to Crystal. She reflected these three factors by engaging in an hour-long conversation with the children, the peer influencers. During this group discussion, fun facts were shared and the peer influencers were asked to think for themselves why drinking water is important and how they can encourage that behaviour in peers. This conversation was a success, the peer influencers enjoyed it and gave Crystal many insights.


When asked why drinking water is important, the peer influencers had surprising answers such as "drinking water is good for your concentration at school" and "drinking tap water reduces plastic waste, which in turn is better for animals and nature". The youth also had tips on how to encourage each other to drink more water "put a jug of water on the table at dinner" and "suggest to friends to fill their empty bottle".

The intervention resulted in that the peer influencers were more intrinsically motivated to drink water and actually drank more water, and in doing so, they also indirectly encouraged their peers to drink more water. "Some have even turned it into a challenge!" says Crystal enthusiastically.

The key to success

Creating intrinsic motivation by involving peer influencers is what makes social networking interventions truly successful and is what should not be forgotten in the process. "For a campaign with influencers to be effective, it is important to engage with them beforehand and find out why they find it important to comply to the rules or how they think you can encourage desired behaviour. My research shows that engaging influencers' creativity and input increases their intrinsic motivation and can contribute to successfully influencing behaviour in their social environment. I hope that influencers' intrinsic motivation and creativity will play an important role in this kind of behavioural intervention in the future," said Crystal.