U-Shaped Conformity in Online Social Networks

55 Pages Posted: 11 Nov 2012 Last revised: 8 Aug 2018

See all articles by Monic Sun

Monic Sun

Questrom School of Business, Boston University

Xiaoquan (Michael) Zhang

Chinese University of Hong Kong; Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Center for Digital Business

Feng Zhu

Harvard University - Harvard Business School

Date Written: August 7, 2018

Abstract

We explore how people balance their needs to belong and to be different from their friends by studying their choices of a virtual-house wall color on a leading Chinese social-networking site. The setting enables us to randomize both the popular color and the adoption rate at the individual level so that our experimental design minimizes informational social influence, homophily, and group-identity signaling to the general public. We find that there exists significant social influence within a user’s friend circles. While learning about the most popular color among a user’s friends generally increases the likelihood for the user to adopt that color, conformity first decreases and then increases with the adoption rate of that choice, which ranges from 50% to 100%. In addition, users who are minority, newer, or of lower social-economic status are more likely to conform upon learning about the popular choice. Our findings are consistent with optimal distinctiveness and middle-status conformity theories and have implications for designing normative marketing campaigns.

Keywords: conformity, normative social influence, social networks, field experiment

JEL Classification: D03, M31, Z13

Suggested Citation

Sun, Monic and Zhang, Xiaoquan (Michael) and Zhu, Feng, U-Shaped Conformity in Online Social Networks (August 7, 2018). NET Institute Working Paper No. 12-15, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2164387 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2164387

Monic Sun (Contact Author)

Questrom School of Business, Boston University ( email )

595 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States
(617) 353 9640 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://people.bu.edu/monic

Xiaoquan (Michael) Zhang

Chinese University of Hong Kong ( email )

Shatin, N.T.
Hong Kong

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Center for Digital Business ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

Feng Zhu

Harvard University - Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 431
Boston, MA 02163
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/profile.aspx?facId=14938

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