Does your friend's iPad increase the likelihood that you will get one too? Today at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Telenor's team of researchers will present a new paper answering this and other questions about how products are spread in social networks.
If exactly one of your friends has iPad, the chance that you will buy one is 14 times higher than if none of your friends is using it. Also, the more friends with iPad you have, the higher is the probability for you to adopt it, as shown by research that Telenor’s team presents today for the first time at MIT campus, for around 400 experts representing universities and large industry actors.
Later this summer, their work will be included in the book “The Influence of Technology on Social Network Analysis and Mining”, published by renowned Springer.
The Apple tribe
The research of Telenor’s Pål Roe Sundsøy, Johannes Bjelland, Kenth Engø-Monsen, Geoffrey Canright and Rich Ling, also shows the existence of the so called “Apple tribe”. If one or more of your friends has iPad, it will not only increase your likelihood to own this product, but also to own some of the other well known Apple products like iPhone or iPod.
We buy what our friends have
Ten years of research analyzing spreading of the products in a social network confirms that we buy what our friends have.
“Almost every product we looked at shows this strong viral spreading effect. This includes the devices, products like Mobile broadband, even the services like Mobile control* that are maybe not as appealing and viral as Iphone for example,” said Geoffrey Canright.
The only product that challenges this rule was the Doro, the niche phone, made for and consumed by older users (most commonly, over 65 years old). Its users are not connected. “Still, their children – who are likely buying the phones – might be,” he said, raising a new idea for research.
*Mobile control is Telenor Norway’s product made for businesses customers. It enables you to delete contacts from an employee’s phone in case it is stolen.
2001: Is it possible?
“In 2001, when we started the research, people wondered if it was possible to actually map the network and figure out product spreading at all. We started with a small network of 11 people, then moved quickly to one covering a whole country,” said Kenth, who started the research with Geoffrey ten years ago.
In 2003 when they measured the spreading of MMS in Hungary, “the explosion” turned out to be 40 times bigger than their most optimistic guess.
Today, everyone knows it’s possible. The question they now ask is “how can we use this?”.
2011: How can we use this?
Every telco generates a large amount of data when the bill is sent to their customers. When made anonymous, this data represents valuable input for business intelligence and provides incredible insight in customer behavior.
“Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, all big players are exploiting the data they collect in their business intelligence. Telcos have unique data that can be utilized even more,” Johannes said.
In Telenor Group, dtac in Thailand is just starting an implementation project based on this research that will give them better customer insight. They could use the data to identify the products that are easily spread socially, or to prevent churn, like Telenor Denmark is doing.
We’re not snooping
Research based on sensitive data inevitably opens for the question – what about privacy? The group is obviously very aware of the sensitivity issue.
“All data has to be anonymous once we start using them in the research. It is impossible to connect a node in the research with a person in real life,” Kenth assures.
He is in constant consultations with Telenor’s Group Privacy Officer, Kjetil Rognsvåg.
“We are making sure that we are on the right side of the road all the time and compliant to the local laws in each country that we conduct the research in,” he confirms.
Finally, one might wonder why they would actually like to share the discoveries that can benefit the business, Telenor’s, but also competitors’.
“You have to give to gain,” says Pål, who is presenting the research at MIT today. “It is important to show the community what valuable insight it is possible to generate from the data that we have, while at the same time learning from the international research elite and benchmarking ourselves against other industries.”
“Tell the world what you are doing and you will get useful feedback,” Johannes added. “That’s what open innovation is about.”