Is Social Networking the Next Milgram Experiment?

In 1961 Stanley Milgram, a Yale University psychologist, started what would become one of the most famous human behavioral experiments of all time – The Milgram Experiment.

The goal of the experiment was to measure the willingness of participants to obey an authority figure even if their instructions conflicted with the participant’s personal views. The results of these experiments showed us just how much situational power can affect behavior.

Fast forward 46 years to 2007 where social networking is now at the forefront of the online marketplace. Digg, MySpace, Orkut, Friendster, LinkedIn, YouTube, Metacafe and countless others clamber to capture a piece of this expanding market – but, as more and more internet users turn to this individualized online experience, it raises the question, “Does the social aspect of social networking affect a user’s buying behaviors, actions and opinions?”

The short answer is “Yes”. Whether we like to admit it or not, our decisions are influenced by the input of others, at least to some degree.

Now, the bigger question becomes, “To what degree will it impact buying behavior?” Will you still buy the new release of your favorite band after it receives a number of bad reviews on MusicStrands? Will you still go see that new blockbuster movie after the trailer on YouTube gets trashed by everyone who sees it?

Is it possible that social networking communities will be regarded as authorities whose suggestions we blindly follow?