The Effect of Peer Influence in Online Customer Advisory Boards

When we work with new clients who are considering the idea of setting up their first online advisory board for customers who often cannot attend their live consultancy meetings, we are sometimes met with concern about advisors being open to adopting a new technology and “sharing” information in discussion forums where their colleagues will be able to see their comments.

Adopting any new behavior, let alone a new technology that often feels very foreign to one’s day-to-day experiences can be daunting. What we have found over the past 6 years at Impetus Digital, however, is that the probability of someone adopting, leveraging, and enjoying the online advisory board experience is based on how many of their peers have also adopted it. Because we have worked with thousands of physicians, nurses, and pharmacists over the years, late adopters are now being encouraged to participate in online advisory boards because all of their peers are using them. You can see this behavior outlined in a technical presentation by Dean Eckles from the mediaX Conference at Stanford entitled “Science and Technology Feedback,” who discussed how ideas, image, and other elements spread in online social networks. The more someone is exposed to a new technology or idea as presented through their peers, the more likely they are to adopt that technology or idea.

The adoption process does not happen as a “step change” where, once someone clearly sees the advantage of that new technology or idea, immediately implements or incorporates that into their thinking or day-to-day practice. What happens in reality is that the progression of “contagious” behavior occurs progressively over time.

The objective of having advisors sharing ideas, collaborating, and discussing new concepts in online discussion forums is to have the ideas being shared by peers on a particular topic create a social cue for an advisor to increase their likelihood of “liking” or agreeing with the sentiment that is being shared. The more peers associated with a company’s online advisory board, the more open an advisor may be to the information being discussed. These types of online advisory boards leverage the targeting and persuasion components of peer influence.