Who cares what everyone else thinks?

A new study suggests that social factors can get you to try something—but not necessarily to buy it.

They found that social cues did increase the probability that someone would give a song a chance. However, the main factor in whether someone downloaded a song was whether the person had listened to it. A social recommendation didn't increase the chance that a person would give the song deeper attention. In other words, a social recommendation could make you try something. But once you try it, you aren't any more likely to buy it than if you had originally tried it on your own, without a recommendation.

…But the social scenario presented in the study doesn't fully reflect the way social influence works in real life, says Lada Adamic, an assistant professor in the School of Information at the University of Michigan who studies online communities. In particular, she notes, in this study, participants didn't know the other people sampling and downloading music. The coolest kid in school might prove to have a stronger influence on others, she suggests, or people might be more likely to download or buy music recommended by a close friend.

Music is also relatively easy to evaluate without help, Adamic adds. It only takes a few minutes to listen to a song, and most people are confident in their own taste. Social influence, even from strangers, might play a larger role with respect to products or services that are harder for individuals to assess.

Adamic says, “For most real-life scenarios, social influence does play a big role, because we want to do what our friends do, and we trust their opinions, and we want to fit in and be up-to- date.”

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