Social media outlets have become platforms for misinformation campaigns and violent rhetoric, which has put them in the crosshairs of elected officials and regulators worldwide. However, an experiment by Chicago Booth’s Pradeep K. Chintagunta, Cass Business School’s Wanqing Zhang, and Purdue’s Manohar Kalwani involving rice farmers in China offers a reminder that social media influencers can play a significant role in addressing global challenges, such as dangerous pesticide use.
Many farmers and manufacturers have long maintained that they need to use pesticides to protect crops and increase yields. However, pesticides can be deadly, particularly when used improperly. The US Environmental Protection Agency classifies 68 pesticides as potential carcinogens, and in a 2017 report, the United Nations estimated that 200,000 people die each year from pesticide poisoning.
Less toxic, more eco-friendly pesticides exist, but some farmers have been slow to adopt them. In emerging markets especially, many have uncertainties about new products—doubting a product’s legitimacy or the credibility of the supplier, questioning its value, or feeling unsure about how to best use it.
In this sense, these farmers are like many other types of consumers who go through several stages before adopting a product, Chintagunta says. “First, they need to become aware of it. Next, they must consider it. Then they need to make a decision to purchase it, then actually purchase it, and finally repurchase it.”
In preliminary interviews with 533 rice farmers in China, Chintagunta, Zhang, and Kalwani learned that 74 percent of them didn’t know