Diffusion and Social Influence

The rise of online social networking technologies has ensured that social interaction and the sharing of information have gradually changed. These technologies namely made the dissemination of information and peer-to-peer communication possible on online platforms, such as social networking websites. Two articles of this week touch upon the importance of peer-to-peer influence and the diffusion of information on social media platforms. Aral and Walker (2011) discuss how companies can generate word-of-mouth peer influence and social contagion through viral features in their marketing campaigns and products. The two most widely used viral features in products are personalized referrals and automated broadcast notifications. Personalized referrals allow users to personally invite friends from their contact list so that they will also use the product or service, whereas the automated broadcast notifications are notifications that the contact list of the user automatically get when this user engages with the product or service in a certain way. According to the authors, the automated broadcast notification features generate the most peer influence and social contagion. Li, Sprengers and van Dalen (2014) focussed on how information on social media has an influence on the stock market performance. They claim that investors are often influenced by word-of-mouth and that they tend to follow the trade direction of their peers. The third article of this week by Eisenmann, Parker and Alstyne (2006) differs from the two other articles. The authors namely discuss the challenges of two-sided networks.

Due to the fact that two articles were focused on the influence of online peer-to-peer communication, I decided to examine word-of-mouth peer influence more in-depth and to see how it constitutes to viral marketing. Viral marketing is very important when it comes to diffusion and social influence. Palka, Pousttchi, Wiedemann (2009) argue that Viral marketing has been generally considered as word-of-mouth advertising, in which consumers are confronted with an advertising message about a product or service that passes from one consumer to another. Thus, viral marketing mainly relies on word-of-mouth or peer-to-peer communication. Viral marketing can be highly effective for companies when it comes to the dissemination of information and to influence people.

Two examples of this effectiveness are Kmart’s “Ship my pants” and Dove’s “Real beauty sketches” campaigns. Firstly, when Kmart wanted to introduce its new product-delivery program they decided to avoid traditional media and go directly to social media. They used a humoristic catchphrase for an online video to inform customers that out-of-stock items, could now be shipped directly to their doors for free (Fera, 2013). The video was really something people wanted to share and talk about with their peers so the video immediately went viral. Within one week, the video already had approximately 13 million views and it really increased the overall brand awareness of the company. Secondly, the video named “Real Beauty Sketches” really got the interest of many people since it conveyed an eye-opening message about the self-esteem of women. Within the first month, the video had 114 million views, 3.8 million shares and 15.000 new people subscribed to the YouTube channel of Dove (Ankeny, 2014). Thus, both campaigns were very successful and they both indicate how powerful and influential online peer-to-peer communication or viral marketing can be.


  • Ankeny, J. (2014, April 23). Viral marketing: How these 10 marketing campaigns became viral hits. Entrepeneur. Retrieved from http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/233207
  • Aral, S., &Walker, D. (2011). Creating social contagion through viral product design: A randomized trial of peer influence in networks. Management Science, 57(9), 1623-1639. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.1110.1421
  • Bakshy, E., & Rosenn, I. (2011). Information Diffusion and Social Influence in Online Networks. Retrieved from  http://hdl.handle.net/2027.42/89838
  • De Bruyn, A., & Lilien, G.L. (2008). A multi-stage model of word-of-mouth influence through viral marketing. International. Journal of Research in Marketing 25, 151–163
  • Eisenmann, T., Parker, G., & Van Alstyne, M.W. (2006). Strategies for Two-Sided Markets. Harvard Business Review, 84(10), 92-101
  • Fera, R.A. (2013, April 22). How Kmart used social listening (and some nerve) to create a ship-my-pants funny viral hit. Retrieved from http://www.fastcocreate.com/1682826/how-kmart-used-social-listening-and-some-nerve-to-create-a-ship-my-pants-funny-viral-hit
  • Li, T., Sprengers, D., & van Dalen, J. (2014). Leveraging public sentiment to beat the market. Working Paper.
  • Palka, W., Pousttchi, K., & Wiedemann, D.G. (2009). Mobile word-of-mouth – A grounded theory of mobile viral marketing. Journal of Information Technology, 24, 172–185. Retrieved from http://www.palgrave-journals.com/jit/index.html

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