ENGINEERING DIGITAL SHARING PLATFORM TO CREATE SOCIAL CONTAGION: EVIDENCE FROM LARGE SCALE RANDOMIZED FIELD EXPERIMENTS
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Peer-to-peer information sharing has fundamentally changed customer decision-making process. Recent developments in information technologies have enabled digital sharing platforms to influence various granular aspects of the information sharing process. Despite the growing importance of digital information sharing, little research has examined the optimal design choices for a platform seeking to maximize returns from information sharing. My dissertation seeks to fill this gap. Specifically, I study novel interventions that can be implemented by the platform at different stages of the information sharing. In collaboration with a leading for-profit platform and a non-profit platform, I conduct three large-scale field experiments to causally identify the impact of these interventions on customers’ sharing behaviors as well as the sharing outcomes. The first essay examines whether and how a firm can enhance social contagion by simply varying the message shared by customers with their friends. Using a large randomized field experiment, I find that i) adding only information about the sender’s purchase status increases the likelihood of recipients’ purchase; ii) adding only information about referral reward increases recipients’ follow-up referrals; and iii) adding information about both the sender’s purchase as well as the referral rewards increases neither the likelihood of purchase nor follow-up referrals. I then discuss the underlying mechanisms. The second essay studies whether and how a firm can design unconditional incentive to engage customers who already reveal willingness to share. I conduct a field experiment to examine the impact of incentive design on sender’s purchase as well as further referral behavior. I find evidence that incentive structure has a significant, but interestingly opposing, impact on both outcomes. The results also provide insights about senders’ motives in sharing. The third essay examines whether and how a non-profit platform can use mobile messaging to leverage recipients’ social ties to encourage blood donation. I design a large field experiment to causally identify the impact of different types of information and incentives on donor’s self-donation and group donation behavior. My results show that non-profits can stimulate group effect and increase blood donation, but only with group reward. Such group reward works by motivating a different donor population. In summary, the findings from the three studies will offer valuable insights for platforms and social enterprises on how to engineer digital platforms to create social contagion. The rich data from randomized experiments and complementary sources (archive and survey) also allows me to test the underlying mechanism at work. In this way, my dissertation provides both managerial implication and theoretical contribution to the phenomenon of peer-to-peer information sharing.