How to Spread the Word

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Science  23 Sep 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6050, pp. 1680-1681
DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6050.1680-c

How do behaviors spread in social networks? This is of interest to the corporate world, where companies want to get the word out about their products in the most efficient way possible. It is thought that active, personalized messaging to selected friends is more persuasive than broadcasting passively to an entire network. Aral and Walker compared these two approaches by conducting a randomized field experiment on users of Facebook. A free application was designed that allowed users to share information about movies, actors, directors, and the film industry. When users downloaded the application, they were randomly designated to have personalized invitation and/or broadcast capability or neither capability. The application could record use of the messaging capabilities as well as the rate of adoption by members of the experimental subject's social network (“peers”). Although there was a greater likelihood that a peer would adopt the application when the message was personalized, many more messages were sent out by broadcast notification. Surprisingly, the users who had the capability to actively invite their peers used the application more than those who could only passively broadcast, who, in turn, used it more than those who had neither capability. By modeling and analyses, the authors concluded that when more of a user's friends adopt the application, a positive feedback loop is created, so the application is used more.

Manage. Sci. 57, 10:1287/mnsc.1110.1421 (2011).

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