Distinguishing between Drivers of Social Contagion: Insights from Combining Social Network and Co-location Data



Social contagion research in marketing seems ready to move from investigating whether contagion is at work to why it occurs. We discuss several research strategies to do so in field studies, and show how one can exploit systematic variation in contagion across network neighbors versus spatial neighbors to distinguish between two key mechanisms—social learning versus normative legitimation—driving contagion in new product adoption. An application to the diffusion of a new drug produces three key findings. First, the pattern of network ties is only weakly associated with co-location, a necessary condition for prior adoptions from the two peer groups to provide detectably distinct information about the influence process. Second, contagion operates through social networks as well as through co-location.
Third, social contagion among co-located peers likely stems from social-normative pressures, whereas contagion among network contacts likely stems from social learning mitigating functional and physical risk. These findings shed light on convergent and nomological validity of network and co-location data, and suggest a novel way to gain deeper insight into the specific mechanisms driving contagion.
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Dr. G. Liberali