Where a person lives determines the people and brands he or she interacts with.

It may seem obvious that the closer a person lives to another person, the more likely the two people will become friends, but the value of this data transcends this expected fact. A new study by researchers within the Social Cognitive Network Academic Research Center (SCNARC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute drew on data from Gowalla, a location-based social network provider, and found that people move in groups of friends, and that two randomly chosen people at a specific event – like a concert – are unlikely to be friends.

Social Media studyThe findings may seem like common-sense, but they show that humans are relatively confined by geographic boundaries and, even with the internet at their fingertips, social influences continue to come from people living just around the corner. For brands, providing superior in-house customer service coupled with stellar social media marketing campaigns can build and strengthen rapport with local shoppers.

“The ramifications are extremely important because if we assume that people are moving randomly, we are wrong, and therefore we will not be prepared for what people actually do,” said Boleslaw Szymanski, director of SCNARC and the Claire and Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor of Computer Science at Rensselaer.

Szymanski goes on to say that where people live matters, saying, “most of your friends are concentrated in the place where you live, and as the distance increases, this concentration rapidly drops.” The research indicates that, even with digital media providing people with new opportunities to connect and keep in touch with friends, humans still form relationships based on continuous personal interactions. In fact, 80 percent of an individual’s friends live within 600 miles of his or her home.

How does this affect brands?

The study highlights the fact that people still prefer human interaction over social media engagement. Small businesses that serve surrounding communities have more opportunities to convert local residents to shoppers than brands miles down the road. But social media plays an important role – networks extend brand engagement into American homes and, with well-written social media content at consumers’ fingertips, regular and consistent interaction becomes easier to create.

Brands that want to build loyal customer bases must focus on their in-person services and complement those efforts with social media and content marketing. If the end experience does not match the digital front, success may be hard to find. Therefore, marketers should create a transparent user experience on the web that mirrors stellar in-house customer service – this strategy drives curious shoppers into brick-and-mortar stores and compels them to connect online.

Ted Karczewski is an Executive Communications Associate at Brafton. He works to develop his own voice and apply his passions to the evolving world of SEO and content marketing, but he doesn't shy away from writing for fun. After graduating from Suffolk University, Ted used his Communications degree to test out Sports Journalism before Marketing at Brafton.