Many firms try to leverage consumers’ interactions on social platforms as part of their communication strategies. However, information on online social networks only propagates if it receives consumers’ attention. This paper proposes a seeding strategy to maximize information propagation while accounting for competition for attention. The theory of exchange networks serves as the framework for identifying the optimal seeding strategy and recommends seeding people that have many friends, who, in turn, have only a few friends. There is little competition for the attention of those seeds’ friends, and these friends are therefore responsive to the messages they receive. Using a game-theoretic model, we show that it is optimal to seed people with the highest Bonacich centrality. Importantly, in contrast to previous seeding literature that assumed a fixed and non-negative connectivity parameter of the Bonacich measure, we demonstrate that this connectivity parameter is negative and needs to be estimated. Two independent empirical validations using a total of 34 social media campaigns on two different large online social networks show that the proposed seeding strategy can substantially increase a campaign’s reach. The second study uses the activity network of messages exchanged to confirm that the effects are driven by competition for attention.

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Management Science
Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), Erasmus University

Gelper, S., van der Lans, R., & van Bruggen, G. (2020). Competition for attention in online social networks: Implications for seeding strategies. Management Science, 67(2), 1026–1047. doi:10.1287/mnsc.2019.3564