Social Visibility and the Gifting of Digital Goods


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 social visibility has a detrimental effect on users’ willingness to gift digital goods. The gift giving pro- cess often generates substantial anxiety, and social visibility exacerbates this anxiety to the point that it can deter gifting altogether. To study the effect of social visibility on the decision to gift, 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 social ties that users kept on the network, but decreased with the extent to which those ties were tied to each other. We argue that the lat- ter effect is due to the fact that, when a user’s ties are tied themselves, any gift sent between the user and one tie is vis- ible to their mutual contacts. This argument is bolstered by a stronger negative effect of social visibility for users with larger, less intimate, and categorically diverse networks.

Proceedings of the 2015 ACM on Conference on Online Social Networks