Network Science

Research Article

Engineering social contagions: Optimal network seeding in the presence of homophily


a1 MIT Sloan School of Management, 100 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA (e-mail:

a2 Hebrew University of Jerusalem School of Business Administration, 5102b, Jerusalem, Israel 91905 (e-mail:

a3 NYU Stern School of Business, 44 West 4th Street Room 8-93, New York, NY 10012, USA (e-mail:


We use data on a real, large-scale social network of 27 million individuals interacting daily, together with the day-by-day adoption of a new mobile service product, to inform, build, and analyze data-driven simulations of the effectiveness of seeding (network targeting) strategies under different social conditions. Three main results emerge from our simulations. First, failure to consider homophily creates significant overestimation of the effectiveness of seeding strategies, casting doubt on conclusions drawn by simulation studies that do not model homophily. Second, seeding is constrained by the small fraction of potential influencers that exist in the network. We find that seeding more than 0.2% of the population is wasteful because the gain from their adoption is lower than the gain from their natural adoption (without seeding). Third, seeding is more effective in the presence of greater social influence. Stronger peer influence creates a greater than additive effect when combined with seeding. Our findings call into question some conventional wisdom about these strategies and suggest that their overall effectiveness may be overestimated.


  • peer influence;
  • social contagion;
  • social networks;
  • viral marketing;
  • information systems;
  • simulation