Users’ Response Toward Sponsored Social Recommendations on Social Network Sites: A Persuasive Information Processing Perspective


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Award date6 Apr 2020


User-generated contents (UGCs), such as users’ update of their consumption experience of products or services, are a key potential source of business value and revenue in social networking sites (SNS). Many SNS platforms have been attempting to commercialize UGCs to realize their business value. Particularly, a sponsor may pay the SNS platform to ensure that it will promote positive UGCs related to the products or services provided by the sponsor by recommending the UGCs to other users. Such UGCs then serve as a sponsored social recommendation (SSR) on SNS. However, we have little theoretical understanding about the response of SNS users when they see the SSRs promoted by platforms.

This thesis investigates the effects of SSRs from the perspective of persuasive information processing. I examine the effects of various design features of SSRs on users’ response toward the SSRs, the social network platforms, and the products involved in the SSRs through three studies.

In the first study, I manipulated the SSR sources (i.e., tie strength: from a user with a strong or weak tie) and the background contrast of SSR (i.e., with vs. without a salient background color). I used the persuasion knowledge model (PKM) and schema theory as bases to theorize the background contrast effects by considering the contingent role of tie strength. Two major findings are revealed. First, the SSR with a background contrast led to less favorable product attitude, low level of SNS platform satisfaction, and a decreased amount of attention when the source of SSR was a weak-tie other. By contrast, the negative effect of background contrast disappeared when the source of SSR was a strong-tie other. Second, I proposed that such contingent effect was mediated by the users’ use of persuasion knowledge (i.e., SSR is a form of advertising, which is usually associated with a purpose to persuade). The SSRs with characteristics that made users think of them as persuasive advertisements led to less favorable responses.

On SNS, users can click the “like” button to show their interest of a certain post. Such “likes” may also be displayed to other users when they see the post and then serve as a form of endorsement. In the second study, I further explored whether or to what extent the display of “likes” can affect users’ persuasive information processing. On the basis of schema theory, I proposed that “likes” from friends, but not from strangers, can effectively address the negative effect of SSRs. The reason for this proposal was that due to the less expectation on users from viewing SSRs as persuasive advertisements when their friends endorsed them. The results of the second study supported the proposed hypotheses. The negative effect of background contrast found in the first study disappeared when the SSR was presented along with a “like” from one of the users’ friend. By contrast, the negative effect of background contrast still remained when the SSR was presented along with a “like” from a stranger.

Sponsorship disclosure seemed to be a requisite to guarantee a fair communication because of the commercial and persuasive nature of SSR. In the third study, I investigated the users’ ways of processing and responding to persuasive SSRs when different types of sponsorship disclosure were provided. I divided the disclosure into two types, namely, sponsor-centered and combined disclosures. Sponsored-centered disclosure only discloses the persuasive intent of the sponsor (e.g., to attract users’ attention). By contrast, combined disclosure discloses the persuasive intent of the sponsor while explaining to the users that the SSR is recommended to them on the basis of their preferences. Results suggested that the effect of sponsorship disclosure types on the users’ response toward SSR was contingent on the tie strength and mediated by the users’ utilization of their persuasion knowledge. First, sponsor-centered disclosure led to a decrease in the amount of attention in the weak- and strong-tie conditions. By contrast, combined disclosure led to an increase in the amount of attention in the weak-tie condition, but it had no effect on the attention in the strong one. Second, in the strong-tie condition, sponsor-centered and combined disclosure led to a less favorable product attitude. In the weak-tie condition, sponsor-centered disclosure had no effect on the product attitude, whereas combined disclosure led to favorable product attitude.

This thesis has significant contributions to research and practice. The present work examines the users’ persuasive information processing of and responses toward SSR under different contexts. Moreover, this thesis reveals the activation of persuasion knowledge (advertising schema) as the underlying theoretical mechanisms for the effects of various features of SSRs on users’ responses. This thesis also helps practitioners in effectively designing SSRs that can minimize their negative effects on users.

    Research areas

  • Sponsored Social Recommendation, Persuasion Knowledge, Advertising Schema, Attention, Product Attitude, Platform Satisfaction, Tie Strength, Background Contrast, Sponsorship Disclosure