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Modeling social interactions: Identification, empirical methods and policy implications

Abstract

Social interactions occur when agents in a network affect other agents’ choices directly, as opposed to via the intermediation of markets. The study of such interactions and the resultant outcomes has long been an area of interest across a wide variety of social sciences. With the advent of electronic media that facilitate and record such interactions, this interest has grown sharply in the business world as well. In this paper, we provide a brief summary of what is known so far, discuss the main challenges for researchers interested in this area, and provide a common vocabulary that will hopefully engender future (cross disciplinary) research. The paper considers the challenges of distinguishing actual causal social interactions from other phenomena that may lead to a false inference of causality. Further, we distinguish between two broadly defined types of social interactions that relate to how strongly interactions spread through a network. We also provide a very selective review of how insights from other disciplines can improve and inform modeling choices. Finally, we discuss how models of social interaction can be used to provide guidelines for marketing policy and conclude with thoughts on future research directions.

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Notes

  1. Manski (2000) refers to the presence of γ in both interacting agents equations as an endogenous social effect and μ as an exogenous social effect.

  2. We do not index the parameters θ, λ, and δ by the indices i and j for expositional simplicity; but conceptually, these parameters can be individual-specific.

  3. We could generalize further without any change in the substantive implications of our argument, that only the expected action of j drives i’s decision to send WOM: e.g. \(\begin{array}{*{20}c} {z_i = \theta w_i + \lambda E_i a_j + \delta a_i + e_i } \\ {z_j = \theta w_j + \lambda a_i + \delta E_j a_j + e_j } \\ \end{array} \)

  4. This may be the case because decision making in the group is known a priori to be sequential or because the analyst formulates the problem in continuous time with infinitely small time increments. As Doraszelski and Judd (2007) point out, a continuous-time model does not have simultaneity because only one agent can act at an instantaneous point in time.

  5. An alternative exclusion restriction imposes a temporal ordering, i.e., the focal individual’s behavior in time (t + 1) is affected by the group behavior up to time (t; see Manchanda et al. 2004 for an example). However, a caveat to this identification strategy is that unobservables should not be correlated over time, and agents must be assumed not to be forward looking (i.e., agents are passive).

  6. Further, as noted by Glaeser et al. (2003), in the presence of social interactions at the individual-level, models estimated on aggregate data are liable to be subject to large aggregation biases that inflate the extent of individual-level social interactions. Hence, “q coefficient-s” in a Bass model are less suited for an interpretation as causal measures of social contagion and are more appropriately interpreted as descriptive parameters capturing the dependence of current aggregate sales on the past-installed base of the product.

  7. We use the term possessed carefully because, unlike financial or physical capital, status is a form of social capital and, therefore, owned only in part by the individual or organization, whose audience—capable of withdrawing at any time the esteem and recognition on which status rests—also acts as a part owner (cf. Burt 1987)

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Correspondence to Wesley R. Hartmann.

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This paper is based on a session titled “Interdependent Choices and Social Multipliers: Identification, Empirical Methods and Policy Implications” (with the same participants) that was part of the Seventh Triennial Invitational Choice Symposium hosted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in Philadelphia during June 13–17, 2007. The authors would like to thank the organizers, Eric Bradlow and Robert Meyer of the Wharton School, for giving them an opportunity to be a part of the symposium.

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Hartmann, W.R., Manchanda, P., Nair, H. et al. Modeling social interactions: Identification, empirical methods and policy implications. Mark Lett 19, 287–304 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11002-008-9048-z

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11002-008-9048-z

Keywords

  • Social interactions
  • Networking
  • Social multiplier
  • Peer effects