|M.Sc Student||Orit Lahav|
|Subject||Being in the Know: The Need for Information and the|
Central's Susceptibility to Influence in an Online
|Department||Department of Industrial Engineering and Management||Supervisor||Dr. Shalev Edith|
|Full Thesis text|
How do you influence a central consumer- an individual holding a large number of social ties- to become your brand’s loyal ambassador? This question is of longtime interest to marketers given the disproportionate influence such consumers have on word-of-mouth diffusion and product sales. While some studies portray the central individual to be resistant to social influence (Belleza, Gino & Keinan, 2014; Hu & Van den Bulte, 2014), other studies have shown the central to be susceptible to it (Lee, Cotte & Noseworthy, 2010). The current research examines the effect of centrality on susceptibility to majority influence in an online social network. Specifically, it examines the psychological process of the need for information, and how it might drive central individuals to become more susceptible to majority influence.
We hypothesize that compared to marginals, centrals have a greater need to be in the know and seek information about others’ opinions which, in turn, renders them more susceptible to majority influence. Central individuals’ need to know their peers’ opinions may stem from a) the desire to maintain their reputation, image and strategic positioning, b) an interest in knowing the thoughts and opinions of those they are attracted to and identify with, or c) the desire to use this information to help and advise others. We study this process and its effect on the central’s conformity to social influence within the context of an online social network- an environment of marked interest due to its growing ubiquity in recent years.
We examine centrality’s relationship to social influence across three studies in which we manipulate participants’ centrality within the context of a fictitious online short film review website which operates as a social network. In Study 1, we establish that centrals are more dependent on others to seek information. Central females in particular, demonstrate a greater informational dependency. Study 2 utilized a movie rating task whereby participants had to watch and rate a short film after being presented with the website’s community average user rating (AUR) of the film. Central females were more likely to provide a rating closer to the AUR they were presented with thus demonstrating a greater likelihood of being influenced by majority opinion. Study 3 demonstrates that the need for information about others’ opinions indirectly mediates the relationship between centrality and susceptibility to social influence. Theoretical and practical implications of the findings are discussed.