The Impact of Social Trends in Socialization DISCOVERING what 'Fitting in' looks like

Scroll down to watch my lightening talk summarizing my field of research, objectives and aims

Research Goals & Objectives

The importance of my research project and initial objective was to dissect the patterns and trends I saw as a university student at Ryerson. I found that social trends dictated and brought to life the idea of 'status symbols'.

By conformity to certain social trends it shapes social environments, acceptance and who in general who you interact what. As a result, through conforming to these patterns influence and transform one's university experience and opportunities

Initially when conducting my research, the idea of conspicuous consumption is inspired me to observe the impact of social trends. This term was coined by the sociologist Thorstein Veblen as it is used to explain when individuals purchase luxurious goods to publicly display and validate their economic power. As a sociology minor, I thought this term was a lived reality amongst students and within society in general. Social trends and patterns empower and dictate how corporations act to further capitalizes on the idea of societal trends, this can be seen within social media, fashion, marketing strategies, and innovation in a larger scope. Current examples that are at play can be seen through the uprise and mainstream use of TikTok, the rise of the podcast industry and lash extension business, as well as utilizing social media to kick start new and local businesses.

Research Method: Grounded Theory

Data Collection & Research Participants

My research project took on a qualitative approach when conducting and collecting primary research and data. As the objective of my project was understanding student habits and behaviours, a qualitative method allowed me to observe the impact and outcomes of social trends. Further, by uncovering patterns with participant's belief and conformity to social trends required a meaning-making process to occur in order to observe these impacts. Qualitative research was the most beneficial route to take when uncovering the effects of social trends as my factors of social inclusion, campus life, and commodities apply a sociological meaning and application of data. Rather than explaining or using mathematical equations and statistics, the data I collected observed the relationship and links to common patterns and beliefs on student experiences of socialization as well as observing their value and likelihood to conform to societal trends.

Therefore, for this research project I used a grounded theory method as it allowed me to create inductive reasoning behind my research questions. Following the procedures in a grounded theory methodology, I conducted in person interviews with students who are currently enrolled in a post secondary institution. Thus, I reached out and interviewed four students who attended a university and or college along the GTA. All participants involved within the interviewing process had diverse opinions and thoughts on their understanding and importance of social trends. Each participant discussed a variety of aspects and factors that influenced their values and conformity to social trends as they saw it unfold and at play within their campus and peer groups.

Interview Recordings

The Process of In-Person Interviews

Each interview was around 15-30 minutes long and took a deep analysis on a student's perception on the active role of social trends. Throughout the interview, participants were encouraged to elaborate on their own self reflections, experiences and reasoning of conforming or not conforming to certain patterns and identified social trends present within their campus and personal life.

Using open ended questions, the students interviewed answered questions that dissected their opinions on their own personality types, opinions on their campus life and their daily routine as it related to their behaviours and habits. In addition, I began to ask them questions that related to their opinions on corporate branding, purchasing habits and the impacts brand culture.

Questions like the following were asked to students throughout the process of data collection.

" How do you think social media influences your purchasing decisions?"
"What is the first thing you notice about someone when meeting them?"

Project Limitations

The limitations I experienced through data collection was because of the limited time I had to conduct more research. The last step in grounded theory was discriminant sampling, this is where researcher recruit new participants and test their created theory based on the data from their initial interviews. However, due to time constraints I was unable to accomplish this final step.

Next Step: Coding & Transcribing

After my conducting my primary research, I started to follow the next steps that are required within grounded theory which was to conduct an opening coding process. When completing this step, I was able to identify similar patterns and start memoing within my transcriptions to abstract themes, relationships and meaning. Next, I conducted a different method of dissecting my raw data, which was axial coding. Axial coding is used to categorize the findings of opening coding based on casual conditions, consequences, intervening conditions and a variety of strategies. As a result, axial coding will create a coding paradigm that highlights and visually displays the connections and links between codes. After completing my axial coding, it was easy to place my data into themes and categories. The four themes that I sorted my data by are as follows

  1. Student Habits
  2. Brand Value
  3. Tools of Influence
  4. Identified social trends

Data Analysis

All the participants involved within the data collection stage contributed and spoke on their value and use of social trends as it was evident in their past and present experiences or relationships within families and peers. Many of the participants discussed their conformity to social trends throughout high school as the dynamic and influences of cliques and specific friend groups stressed on the importance of conforming to social trends. Participants outlined factors such as confidence levels, sources of persuasion which was evident from friends, celebrities and online media platforms. When observing participants' responses to personality traits and behaviours, common responses was that despite being outgoing and eager to meet new people they saw that students from their own campuses judge others based on similarities to themselves or their existing friend groups. In addition, students stated that they believe companies corportize student trends by further promoting and gearing products as a ‘must have’ for students. Social trends that were identified were the mainstream marketing of Apple products, Patagonia clothing, Blundstones, Hydroflasks, and trendy backpacks such as Fjällraven and Herschel. The common perception that students recognize are the underlying meaning that labels and brands meant to others in retrospect as labels are symbolic to represent and establish status.

Quotes from Interview Participants

Further, participants were questioned about the concepts of brand loyalty and affordability as it was another factor and influence when observing social trends. These factors observed personal values and preferences in regard to these factors. Participants continued to link and discuss how brands influenced their purchasing habits through a variety of strategies. Accordingly, social media, youtubers and celebrities were identified to be a major component in student purchasing habits as they saw sponsored ads and celebrities brand deals to be influential and persuasive. Social media was seen to be the most influential platform to students interviewed as its use and reliability to it can be used as a channel of persuasion and effective marketing. Further, all participants claimed that brand loyalty and value to them individually came from the corporate image, advertising tools, and quality of products.

Specifically analyzing differing opinions and perceptions, the female participants for this project were students from York and Ryerson who both shared similar opinions to social trends as a necessity and factor on campus and student life. This was interesting as it questioned if location of schools have an influence on how fast social trends change and impact student life and the process of socialization. If so, this means that with the ever changing trends that are current and popular can further classify students to be keeping up with the trend or late to it. On the other hand, the males involved in this research study spoke on their understanding of social trends to be linked and created mostly by the influence of athletes and celebrities rather than their peers.

Theory Created

Based on the data and through the process of coding, I created my own theory that summarized the observation of participants' response and knowledge of social trends. Consequently, the impact of social trends is seen as a cause and effect of social inclusion. This theory accurately embodies and answers the research project objective and questions outlined at the beginning of the study.

In conclusion, the impacts of social trends to social inclusion allowed others to embody and act on the idea of ‘looking the part’ or appearing as if they look ‘trendy’. By following the current but ever changing standards of society and social trends perceives others to be at a high status, where alternatively social trends have the power to further categorize others to be left out. Therefore, the Causation of Social Trends and Brand Value Theory explains that the commodification of goods create an emphasis on how labels and brands are used to judge others. Thus, the underlying messages and representation of brands have the ability to place others into different social classes. As a result, the impact of social trends are used to reiterate and establish social status amongst others.

Nicole Aquias

Nicole Aquias is a fourth year Professional Communications major at Ryerson University. Nicole decided to do a double minor in Public Relations and Sociology as she is interested in both subjects through its theories and application. Through the concentration in communications and sociology, Nicole's research study on the Impacts of Social Trends was inspired from her knowledge and interests of societal impacts and experiences. As media continues to be a dominant influence on society seen through a multitude of industries such as fashion and business, it restates existing structures of power. Nonetheless, the essence of this research study looks to encompass the underlying implications and effects of media.

Created By
Nicole Aquias


Created with images by Toa Heftiba - "The invisible attendant" • Jordan Encarnacao - "Took this shot while I was walking through the IVEY building for a coffee. I thought this lighting and angle was super cool!" • Kaitlyn Baker - "untitled image"