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  • Gerrit Eicker 11:02 on 21. December 2011 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Peer Groups, , , , Shared Tastes, , , , , , , , , , Social Ties, , , , , , , , ,   

    Peer Influence 

    Study: When it comes to taste, peer influence in social networks is virtually nonexistent; http://eicker.at/PeerInfluence

    • Gerrit Eicker 11:02 on 21. December 2011 Permalink | Reply

      PNAS, Lewis, Gonzalez, Kaufman: “Social selection and peer influence in an online social network – Disentangling the effects of selection and influence is one of social science’s greatest unsolved puzzles: Do people befriend others who are similar to them, or do they become more similar to their friends over time? Recent advances in stochastic actor-based modeling, combined with self-reported data on a popular online social network site, allow us to address this question with a greater degree of precision than has heretofore been possible. Using data on the Facebook activity of a cohort of college students over 4 years, we find that students who share certain tastes in music and in movies, but not in books, are significantly likely to befriend one another. Meanwhile, we find little evidence for the diffusion of tastes among Facebook friends – except for tastes in classical/jazz music. These findings shed light on the mechanisms responsible for observed network homogeneity; provide a statistically rigorous assessment of the coevolution of cultural tastes and social relationships; and suggest important qualifications to our understanding of both homophily and contagion as generic social processes.”

      Wired: “Are We Immune To Viral Marketing? – When it comes to taste, ‘peer influence is virtually nonexistent,’ said Kevin Lewis, a Harvard sociology graduate student who co-authored the study. Lewis cautioned that the experiences of college students on Facebook may not apply to everyone in all circumstances, but the results offer a sobering counterpoint to the conventional wisdom on the ubiquity of taste diffusion. ‘The extent to which friends’ preferences actually rub off on each other is minimal,’ he said. … If we don’t influence each other, does that means viral marketing is a bogus concept? And what does it say about the business value of social media? … The study’s findings suggest that it would be much more worthwhile to invest in understanding how and when friendships are a conduit for preferences, rather than assuming that they are and planning marketing strategies accordingly. ‘They clearly are under some circumstances, but we still don’t know whether those circumstances are common or important enough to warrant the time and money of business strategies,’ said Lewis. … One of the most valuable aspects of social media is who you know. It’s easy to glean information about members of social networks. This focuses sales, marketing and product development efforts. Knowing something about one person gives you insights into the people that person knows. … The Harvard study affirmed that, as in other aspects of life, people’s social media relationships tend to be with people who are like them. … Who you know is arguably a more valuable aspect of social media than who you might be influenced by.

      AT: “Studying the factors that bring people together creates a serious challenge for researchers. Do friendships form because of shared interests, or do those interests develop due to the friendship? A research team has now tracked a set of college students across all four years, using Facebook to identify social ties. The study reveals that people are fundamentally a bit lazy, as proximity provided the strongest predictor of social ties. Once that was accounted for, however, shared tastes in music and film did promote friendships, while books had a minimal effect. … The authors recognize that a Facebook friend probably doesn’t represent the strong social bond that we typically view as a friendship, but it is probably similar to the sort of fluid links that many of us form at work and elsewhere. There’s also a risk that at least some of the choices revealed on Facebook are the product of social posing, rather than deep-seated preferences. Despite these limitations, the study is a rare look at how social dynamics and personal tastes influence each other over the course of some very formative years. It’ll be pretty difficult to arrange a study that provides a clearer picture.

      TC: “Here’s a bit of science that’s contrary to what a heavy utilizer of social networks might expect. Researchers at Harvard tracked the Facebook activity of hundreds of college students for four years, and came away with the rather unexpected result that the interests of friends don’t, in fact, tend to influence one another. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen at all, of course, but it’s clear that propagation and virality are subtler and more complex than some people (marketers and, I suspect, researchers) tend to think they are. … The central source of data for the study, in fact, doesn’t strike me as solid. Tracking the interests of college kids is a sketchy endeavor in and of itself, but tracking it via their Facebook favorites (i.e. what shows on your profile, not what you post about or share) seems unreliable. – After all, not only does everyone use the network in their own way, but the network itself has changed. … The study does establish something that I think we perhaps understand is true already: you befriend people because of your overlaps in taste, but it’s rare that your existing friends change the tastes you already have. This is as much true out in the ‘real’ world as it is online. … The Harvard study does indicate another thing, which is that social networks are, for now, ‘light’ social interaction. … That’s changing, but Facebook doesn’t appear to be in a hurry to make the change to ‘serious’ social interaction: the kind of trusted exchanges you have with friends in conversation or in repeated encounters over years…”

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