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Understanding social influence in online buyer psychology – study

New research on perceived peer influence

New research from the HP Labs reveals that shopping habits are influenced by peers online just as they are offline. While this notion isn’t groundbreaking, the extent of how much influence peers has is groundbreaking.

HP Labs tested 600 participants asking basic questions via computer that prompted users to indicate which of two objects was preferable to the user. The researchers put two sofas side by side, for example, and manipulated the images to show that whichever object the user chose, the opposite appeared as less popular, using a system that mimicked Facebook “Likes.”

Users were able to change their minds, thus changing the number of Likes the image received. Each time they changed the number of Likes an image received, they were given a second chance to rate the items but after a longer period of time with other items to select from presented in between.

One in five caved to perceived peer input

Popularity isn’t simply an idea contrived from the high school experience- many people inherently want what is popular. Many people base purchase decisions on web reviews, others consult their social networks. The HP Labs researchers found that 22 percent of people were influenced by peer input and changed their mind to select what they perceived to be the more popular option, but the most interesting result of the study is that the 22 percent influenced by peer input only changed their mind when there was a longer amount of time given between the first and second chance. When asked to immediately reconsider, only 14 percent of participants did so.

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Also intriguing is that study participants were only likely to change their selection if there were a moderate number of Likes on the opposing objects, whereas they left their answer unchanged when the number of Likes on their choice of picture were outweighed by 20 times or more.

“What this implies is that rather than overwhelming consumers with strident messages about an alternative product or service, in social media, gentle reporting of a few people having chosen that product or service can be more persuasive,” says co-author Bernardo Huberman, Senior HP Fellow and director of HP’s Social Computing Research Group.

Full report:

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Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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