Viral Altruism? A Natural Field Experiment of Social Contagion in On-Line Networks

41 Pages Posted: 7 Nov 2012

See all articles by Nicola Lacetera

Nicola Lacetera

University of Toronto - Strategic Management; University of Toronto at Mississauga - Department of Management; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Mario Macis

Johns Hopkins University - Carey Business School; IZA Institute of Labor Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Angelo Mele

Johns Hopkins University - Carey Business School

Date Written: September 30, 2012

Abstract

We present preliminary results from a small-scale natural field experiment aimed at exploring online social contagion, with an application to charitable giving. We worked in partnership with Heifer International, a non-profit organization aimed at fighting poverty in developing countries, and HelpAttack! - the developer of a Facebook application that facilitates donations to charities while broadcasting such activities to the donors’ Facebook contacts. We ran a series of marketing campaigns, and randomized the broadcasting of users’ pledges, thereby creating exogenous variation in the information that users’ contacts were receiving. Although our campaigns reached as many as about 13 million Facebook users, 6,000 users clicked on the ad and only 18 pledges were made, without any subsequent pledge from these users’ contacts. We offer potential explanations for this finding on the absence of network effects, and outline our plans for future developments of this on-going project.

Keywords: Online networks, diffusion, pro-social behavior, network effects

JEL Classification: C93, D64, O33, M31

Suggested Citation

Lacetera, Nicola and Macis, Mario and Mele, Angelo, Viral Altruism? A Natural Field Experiment of Social Contagion in On-Line Networks (September 30, 2012). NET Institute Working Paper No. 12-16, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2164389 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2164389

Nicola Lacetera (Contact Author)

University of Toronto - Strategic Management ( email )

Canada

University of Toronto at Mississauga - Department of Management

Canada

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Mario Macis

Johns Hopkins University - Carey Business School ( email )

100 International Drive
Baltimore, MD 21202
United States

IZA Institute of Labor Economics ( email )

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Angelo Mele

Johns Hopkins University - Carey Business School ( email )

100 International Drive
Baltimore, MD 21202
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.meleangelo.com

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