Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation contains three essays that investigate how a consumer’s social network position (i.e., a person’s location within a web of relationships) plays an important role in the way that consumer influences and exchanges information with others. Using social capital theory as the conceptual framework, I demonstrate that a consumer’s location within a network (network centrality) has an effect on their ability to influence others and, conversely, on others’ ability to influence them. I also show that network positions influence the type of information that is sought from others (information about the self or information about others). Moreover, I demonstrate that people’s perceptions of their own social capital may not coincide with their actual stores of social capital, revealing how this discrepancy may yield certain social benefits and social costs. Together, the findings of this research contribute to our understanding of consumer networks and further emphasize the relevance and importance of social network positions and social capital. Essay 1 provides a framework for understanding the association between network centrality and the flow of consumer influence. Overall, people see themselves as opinion leaders when they perceive that they are central (i.e., popular) within their networks. However, these self-assessments are sometimes at odds with the perceptions of the rest of the network members. Counter-intuitively, the findings demonstrate that consumers who perceive themselves to be central in networks are quite susceptible to the influence of others. Essay 2 further extends the investigation of network centrality to information-seeking behavior. The results demonstrate that network centrality is positively related to a consumer’s rate of seeking information from other network members. Interestingly, people occupying degree central positions tend to seek information about their own consumer behavior (i.e., feedback), while people occupying betweenness central positions tend to seek information about the behavior of other consumers. Finally, Essay 3 focuses on the instrumental and detrimental role of the individual’s materialism in social network development. Based on an experimental study and a separate longitudinal field study of a social network, I demonstrate that materialistic consumers are susceptible to a perceptual network fallacy (a mismatch between individuals’ perceptions of their social networks versus their actual social networks, as rated by others) over time. Results from the longitudinal field study demonstrate that materialistic individuals overestimated the number of friends they had in their social networks in two separate time periods. Further, materialistic individuals overestimated the growth of their social networks over time. A follow-up experimental study reveals that materialistic consumers overestimated the extent to which others desired to develop friendships with them. Using the latest social network analysis techniques, I demonstrate the unique advantages and disadvantages of occupying central positions in social networks.
Lee, Seung Hwan (Mark), "The Structural Importance of Consumer Networks" (2011). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 109.