ONLINE NETWORKS AND PROSOCIAL BEHAVIORS: EMPIRICAL STUDIES OF CHARITABLE DONATIONS AND ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY
Lucas, Hank C
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My dissertation seeks to understand how online networks promote prosocial behaviors in creating social value. The first essay examines the use of Twitter on charitable giving behavior in online fundraising campaigns. Using a unique dataset from one of the first nonprofit organizations to conduct an online fundraising campaign via Twitter, the goal of this essay is to understand how social media and the interpersonal communications it facilitates influences donation outcomes. I find that generic content sent through a mass broadcast mode has a negative influence, whereas personalized content sent through a narrowcast mode has a positive influence on a focal agent's donation behavior. I further show that different types of persuasive content have varied impacts on outcomes. In the interpersonal context, content related to maintaining social relationships such as the visibility of other members' donations, the diversity of sources advocating action, and strengthening interpersonal bonds, positively influence donation behavior, especially for those whose social ties with the charitable organization are weak. The second essay examines the design of online communities in supporting grassroots movements towards environmental sustainability. Using a dataset from one of the early pioneers of "green" online communities, the goal of this essay is to understand how online networks impact sustainable behaviors. Drawing from literature on observational learning and environmental sustainability, I show that a member's total carbon savings is mainly influenced by the exposure to relevant others' "green" behaviors. More specifically, a member's decision to commit and perform a sustainable act is determined by the organizational structure and strength of relationships with fellow members. While organizing members into groups decreases individual's environmental effectiveness in terms of total carbon savings, especially in larger groups, a higher frequency of communications among members increases sustainable behavior by enhancing interpersonal connections. Overall, the two studies provide important theoretical and practical implications for prosocial behaviors supported by online networks.