MIT Study Finds a Recommendation Doesn’t Compel You to Buy a Song

It is virtually impossible to avoid social media in today’s society. The ability to share your opinion anywhere at anytime with anyone is a powerful mechanism of communication in the current digital landscape.  But how are we influenced by others online?  Businesses are convinced that social influencers can compel you to buy a product because they say so.  However, according to a new study by MIT researchers, to be published in PloS One, the findings suggest that influence has its limits.

By studying a body of information about music-downloading behavior, Krumme and colleagues Galen Pickard and Manuel Cebrian found that social cues could influence people to listen to samples of songs, but not necessarily to download them. They also suggested that the influence of social factors on a song’s popularity diminishes over time, meaning that songs that rise to the top of download lists do that because they’re better than ones that don’t.

The researchers worked with a body of data from the MusicLab, a study several years ago that examined how social cues influenced the popularity of songs. In the MusicLab study, about 14,000 people were presented with 48 songs. They could sample the tracks, and if they liked the music, they could take the additional step of downloading them. The original researchers divided the people into groups and experimented with different ways of giving people information about what others were doing with the same songs.

The study found the songs that became popular were influenced by social interactions, but luck played a role as well.  Most importantly, social interaction played a role in increasing the probably that participants would give songs a chance, but that didn’t influence downloading behavior.

However, the study’s parameters are flawed. Participants didn’t know each other, but this accurately reflect social influence.  recommendation carries more weight depending on where it came from and the relationship between individuals.  It is just common sense that each of pays closer attention to the people we know and trust versus those we are “friends” with online.

In addition, I don’t think musical preferences were screened, which would influence whether someone downloaded a song regardless of social recommendation. Purchasing music is very personal. Each of us has a deep emotional connection with the music we listen to and that affects what music we buy.  It is unclear what songs were used in the study, but music buying behavior is more complex than weighing a social recommendation from a random digital interaction.

For more information about the study, visit TechnologyReview.com.

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