Women sway more men to their Facebook recommendations than they do members of their own gender, suggests a survey that may help advertisers hone their online pitches. Women are also less susceptible to influence.
The research, published in the journal Science, tracked the use of an application to see whether one's Facebook friends would adopt it. When women sent friends a notification that they had used the app, about 1 1/2 times more male friends acted on the information than females. Men, however, were 49 percent more influential in general.
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The findings may help companies improve targeted marketing campaigns on Facebook, the operator of world's largest social network. Shares of Menlo Park-based Facebook Inc. tumbled 17 percent from its first day of trading May 17 through yesterday as the company struggled to show investors how it can leverage its more than 900 million members to increase advertising revenue, which brought in $3.15 billion last year.
"I think Facebook is in a unique position to improve its advertising strategy and focus on the social factors that influence its users, for example, looking at the influence of advice from peers on what to buy, or at incentives that direct the spread of advertising campaigns," said Dylan Walker, co- author of the study and a research fellow at New York University's Stern School of Business.
The study showed that people whose relationship status is "single" or "married" are more than twice as influential among friends as users whose status is "in a relationship" or "it's complicated." Influence on Facebook generally increases with age, with people older than 31 being 51 percent more likely to influence friends than people younger than 18.
Users' social media behavior tended to be either consistently influential or susceptible to influence, but not both, according to the study. Susceptibility decreased with age, and women were found to be 12 percent less susceptible to influence than men.
The findings shed light on the nature of earned media on Facebook and may be used to understand which types of users could play the biggest role spreading brands and products and boosting the company's revenue, Paolo Parigi, an assistant professor of sociology at Stanford University, said.
"If a company goes in that direction and singles out a group, in this case males, they could expand the reach of a certain message they want to broadcast," Parigi said June 19 in a telephone interview. "I am not sure how much that would translate into sales, though, because research shows that having strong personal connections with Facebook friends is key to influencing referral sales."
Parigi said the finding that women influence men more than other women may be attributed to a pattern of women being "embedded in more social networks than men." For example, by simultaneously holding a job and being the main child care provider, women may improve their ability to influence men.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted online from May 31 to June 4 showed that just one in five people on Facebook bought products because of advertising or comments they saw on the site. At the time the poll concluded, 34 percent of users were spending less time on Facebook compared with six months earlier.
This month, the company discussed its plans to make mobile advertising location-based and introduce real-time bidding for advertising on its site. The new bidding process is intended to help advertisers deliver more time-sensitive messages. Advertisers currently target users on Facebook based on interests in their profiles and the pages they "like" on the site.