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Whether Someone Finds or Receives News and Video on Social Media Influences How Closely They’ll Read It and Whether They’ll Share It Says New School Study

June 08, 2016
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How a person comes across news and videos online influences whether or not they will read it closely and share with others says a new study from the School’s Department of Marketing. The study, in this month’s Journal of Consumer Research, found the following results:

  • Those who receive content from others look more closely at the quality of the information when evaluating whether to re-share. The quality of the writing, whether a point is well-argued, and whether the topic is interesting, are all qualities they assess before re-sharing the information.
  • Those who find content on their own are more blind to the quality of the content and make sharing decisions that are less dependent on the content quality. This is because the act of finding content causes people to associate that content with themselves, which makes them less inclined to deeply read/process the content. Therefore, content quality has less of an impact on the person sharing it. Further, these people are more likely to share whatever they come across, sometimes solely on the basis of the content’s headline.

The research provides practical advice for managers and firms interested in using word-of- mouth to market content.

“While firms might currently devote little thought to how people come across content, this work suggests that different amounts of attention should be devoted to crafting content with the aim of going viral in different channels,” said Zoey Chen, assistant professor of marketing at the School, who conducted the study with a faculty member from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “For example, if the goal is to foster sharing via long chains (i.e., one person sharing with another sharing with another), then higher quality content is needed because people are more sensitive to content quality when re-sharing received content.”

The research also suggests that personality variables affect social sharing. They found that information “finders” with low self-esteem are as sensitive to content quality as receivers when making sharing decisions. In other words, individuals with low self-esteem tend to look at content with a more detailed eye (regardless of acquisition method). This suggests then that high-quality content (e.g., interesting, well-written article) is needed when the goal is to facilitate social sharing among those with low self-esteem, for example, consumers looking for weight loss programs. While firms might not have direct access to measures of self- esteem, readily available consumer information such as educational status, income, etc. can be used to proxy self-esteem and other personality variables.

Methodology                                                                                 

The researchers conducted a series of six studies where they experimentally manipulated whether people found or received news articles. They randomly assigned approximately 900 participants to either find or receive the same piece of content, via a mock online news site or by email. They then randomly showed participants articles of different quality (e.g., written without vs. with typos; boring vs. interesting, etc.). From this, the researchers were able to study how people acquire content affects their willingness to share it with others. 

To view the full paper, visit http://jcr.oxfordjournals.org/content/43/1/86.

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