A study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that even with all of our Facebooks, Twitters, and Wi-Fi dongles, 25% of us “have no one to discuss important matters with.” What’s more, those lonely people prefer minority-endorsed products over majority-endorsed (Mr. Pibb v. Pepsi, Android v. iOS).
The researchers Jing Wang, Rui Zhu, and Baba Shiv began their study, called “Social isolation: Are lonely consumers actually loners or conformers?,” in 2004 and asked self-described and quantitatively lonely and non-lonely people to assess their preferences for items that included popularity percentages. Folks who hang out online initially expressed preferences for the less popular items and then changed their story when they had to express their preferences in public.
“Lonely people’s preference for the minority-endorsed products was only found when their preferences were kept private,” the authors write. “They switched to majority-endorsed products once their preferences became public.”
Helpfully, the researchers note that most marketing may be ineffectual on older folks because, as many are lonely and alone, their actual preferences cannot be initially swayed by suggestions of popularity and “might be less likely to respond positively to rave reviews from a majority of customers.”
In short, to paraphrase the old New Yorker cartoon, on the Internet everyone loves the underdog. In real life? In front of the family? The popular choice seems to be much more “rational” but in front of the keyboard we support the little guy.
It’s also interesting to note that 25% percent of us Internerds are lonely, which I suspect may be a lowball figure. This may explain some forms of Internet trolling and fanboism, which makes this study even more important than it appears on the surface. In general, maybe we need to get out more? Guys?