When online visibility deters social interaction: The case of digital gifts


One of the defining features of online social networks is that users’ actions are visible to other users. In this paper, we argue that such visibility can have a detrimental effect on users’ willingness to exchange digital gifts. Gift giving is an intimate activity that comes with social risk, and the public nature of online environments can deter interactions that usually occur in smaller, more intimate settings. To study the effects of online visibility on the decision to give, we analyze a unique dataset from a large online social network that offers users the option of buying a digital gifting service. We find that purchase rates of the service increased with the number of ties that users kept on the network, but decreased with the extent to which those ties were connected to each other. We argue that the latter effect is due to the fact that, when a user’s ties are connected, any gift sent between the user and one tie is visible to their mutual contacts. We explore how characteristics of users’ networks moderate the effect of online visibility, and argue that firms should take consumer network structure into account when designing digital products and promoting engagement online.

Journal of Interactive Marketing