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Volume 11 (2015) Article 4 pp. 105-147
Maximizing the Spread of Influence through a Social Network
Received: April 17, 2014
Revised: September 7, 2014
Published: April 22, 2015
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Keywords: social networks, approximation algorithms, influence, viral marketing, diffusion, submodular function
ACM Classification: F.2.2, G.3
AMS Classification: 68W25, 90C59, 68Q25, 68Q17

Abstract: [Plain Text Version]

Models for the processes by which ideas and influence propagate through a social network have been studied in a number of domains, including the diffusion of medical and technological innovations, the sudden and widespread adoption of various strategies in game-theoretic settings, and the effects of “word of mouth” in the promotion of new products. Motivated by the design of viral marketing strategies, Domingos and Richardson posed a fundamental algorithmic problem for such social network processes: if we can try to convince a subset of individuals to adopt a new product or innovation, and the goal is to trigger a large cascade of further adoptions, which set of individuals should we target?

We consider this problem in several of the most widely studied models in social network analysis. The optimization problem of selecting the most influential nodes is NP-hard here. The two conference papers upon which this article is based (KDD 2003 and ICALP 2005) provide the first provable approximation guarantees for efficient algorithms. Using an analysis framework based on submodular functions, we show that a natural greedy strategy obtains a solution that is provably within 63% of optimal for several classes of models; our framework suggests a general approach for reasoning about the performance guarantees of algorithms for these types of influence problems in social networks.

We also provide computational experiments on large collaboration networks, showing that in addition to their provable guarantees, our approximation algorithms significantly out-perform node-selection heuristics based on the well-studied notions of degree centrality and distance centrality from the field of social networks.

The present article is an expanded version of two conference papers which appeared in KDD 2003 and ICALP 2005, respectively.