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Viral Altruism? Generosity and Social Contagion in Online Networks

43 Pages Posted: 24 May 2014  

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

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Abstract

How do the social media affect the success of charitable promotional campaigns? We use individual-level longitudinal data and experimental data from a social-media application that facilitates donations while broadcasting donors' activities to their contacts. We find that broadcasting is positively associated with donations, although some individuals appear to opportunistically broadcast a pledge, and then delete it. Furthermore, broadcasting a pledge is associated with more pledges by a user's contacts. However, results from a field experiment where broadcasting of the initial pledges was randomized suggest that the observational findings were likely due to homophily rather than genuine social contagion effects. The experiment also shows that, although our campaigns generated considerable attention in the forms of clicks and “likes,” only a small number of donations (30 out of 6.4 million users reached) were made. Finally, an online survey experiment showed that both the presence of an intermediary and a fee contributed to the low donation rate. Our findings suggest that online platforms for charitable giving may stimulate costless forms of involvement, but have a smaller impact on actual donations, and that network effects might be limited when it comes to contributing real money to charities.

Keywords: altruism, fundraising, social media, network effects, field experiments

JEL Classification: D64, C93

Suggested Citation

Lacetera, Nicola and Macis, Mario and Mele, Angelo, Viral Altruism? Generosity and Social Contagion in Online Networks. IZA Discussion Paper No. 8171. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2441467

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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