Identifying Influential and Susceptible Members of Social Networks June 21, 2012
A representative sample of 1.3 million Facebook users showed that:
- younger users are more susceptible than older users,
- men are more influential than women,
- women influence men more than they influence other women, and
- married individuals are the least susceptible to influence in the decision to adopt the product we studied.
- influential individuals are less susceptible to influence than non-influential individuals and that they cluster in the network, which suggests that influential people with influential friends help spread this product.
- homophily (the tendency for individuals to choose friends with similar tastes and preferences and thus for preferences to be correlated amongst friends),
- confounding effects (the tendency for connected individuals to be exposed to the same external stimuli)
- simultaneity (the tendency for connected individuals to co-influence each other and to behave similarly at approximately the same time)
Influencers – Not Really So
One particularly controversial argument in the peer effects literature is the “influentials” hypothesis—the idea that influential individuals catalyze the diffusion of opinions, behaviors, innovations and products in society.
Despite the popular appeal of this argument, a variety of theoretical models suggest that susceptibility, not influence, is the key trait that drives social contagions. Little empirical evidence exists to adjudicate these claims. Understanding whether influence, susceptibility to influence, or a combination of the two drives social contagions, and accurately identifying influential and susceptible individuals in networks, could enable new behavioral interventions to affect obesity, smoking, exercise, fraud and the adoption of new products and services.
- Men are 49% more influential than women
- but women are 12% less susceptible to influence than men
- Single and married individuals are the most influential.
- Single individuals are significantly more influential than those who are in a relationship and those who report their relationship status as ‘It’s complicated’
- Married individuals are 140% more influential than those in a relationship and 158% more influential than those who report that ‘It’s complicated’.
- Susceptibility increases with increasing relationship commitment until the point of marriage.
- The engaged are 53% more susceptible to influence than single people
- while married individuals are the least susceptible to influence
- The engaged and those who report that “It’s complicated” are the most susceptible to influence
- People exert the most influence on peers of the same age
- They also seem to exert more influence on younger peers than on older peers though this difference is not significant.
- In non-dyadic susceptibility models, we found that women were less susceptible to influence than menwomen exert 46% more influence over men than over other women
- Finally, individuals in equally (and more) committed relationships than their peers (e.g., those who are married compared to those who are engaged, in a relationship or single) are significantly more influential
Potential Roles that Different Individuals Play in the Diffusion of a Behavior
For example, in the case of the movie product we studied, both single and married individuals adopt spontaneously more often than baseline users …This suggests that influence exerted by single and married individuals positively contributes to this product’s diffusion without any need to target them.
On the other hand,
- women are poor candidates for targeted advertising because they are likely to adopt spontaneously and are 22% less influential on their peers
- Those who claim their relationship status is complicated are easily influenced by their peers to adopt but are not influential enough to spread the product further.
These results have implications for policies designed to promote or inhibit diffusion and illustrate the general utility of our method for informing intervention strategies, targeted advertising and policy making.
Both influence and susceptibility play a role in the peer-to-Peer diffusion of the product.
Our results indicated that highly influential individuals tend not to be susceptible, highly susceptible individuals tend not to be influential and almost no one is both highly influential and highly susceptible to influence.
This implies that:
- influential individuals are less likely to adopt the product as a consequence of natural influence processes (i.e.,in the absence of targeting), making targeting influentials with low propensities to adopt spontaneously a potentially viable promotion strategy.
- Second, the influentials and susceptibles hypotheses are orthogonal claims. Both influential individuals and non-influential individuals have approximately the same distribution of susceptibility to influence among their peers, meaning that being influential is not simply a consequence of having susceptible peers
- Third, there are more people with high influence scores than high susceptibility scores which suggests that targeting should focus on the attributes of current adopters (e.g., giving individuals incentives to influence their peers) rather than attributes of their peers (e.g., giving individuals with susceptible peers incentives to adopt).
- Fourth, influentials cluster in the network. Panel III reveals the existence of influential individuals connected to other influential peers who are approximately twice as influential as baseline users. In contrast, we find a tendency for less susceptible users to cluster together and no clusters of highly susceptible users (Panel IV).
- The clustering of influentials suggests there may be a multiplier effect from infecting a high-influence individual. However, individuals with high influence also tend to have peers with low susceptibility, making predictions about which effect would dominate difficult
...it is still not clear whether influence and susceptibility are generalized characteristics of individuals or rather depend on which product, behavior, or idea is diffusing.
Previous research has taken an individualistic view of influence—that someone’s importance to the diffusion of a behavior depends only on their individual attributes or personal network characteristics. In contrast, our results show that the joint distributions of influence, susceptibility and the likelihood of spontaneous adoption i