Can you persuade 100,000 strangers on social media? The effect of self-disclosure on persuasion
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Disclosure of personal stories and self-relevant emotions is an essential part of our daily conversations. We frequently talk about our thoughts, feelings, and emotions with our family, friends, and, in an online setting, even with strangers. Despite the frequent occurrence of self-disclosure on social media, research that examines the influence of self-disclosure on the persuasive impact of a speaker is surprisingly limited. Working to understand persuasion in social media, this dissertation looks at self- disclosure (i.e., the act of revealing personal information which ranges from demographic information to feelings, thoughts, values, experiences, and self-concepts) as a core construct. In particular, across two essays, this dissertation research focuses on how bloggers can use disclosure of their feelings, thoughts, and life concerns to increase trust and build relationships with their audience, thus increasing the persuasive impact of their word-of-mouth messages. The first essay is a qualitative study ofbloggers' communication practices, in which postings on a variety ofblogs were analyzed. Drawing on both the communication and social psychology literatures, this essay develops a conceptual framework of how blogs can be categorized based on audiences' perceptions and how bloggers use different strategies to shape or shift their audiences' perceptions and increase the persuasiveness of their messages. Specifically, it suggests that bloggers use two distinguishable communication strategies: (a) developing and sustaining an illusion of relationship between the blogger and the reader in order to individualize the communication and (b) maintaining a level of ambiguity in their commercial interests in order to conceal the commercial nature of some blogs. Tactics underlying the use of these strategies as well as the efficacy and ethics of these practices were discussed. The second essay examines how sharing of intimate self-disclosure (i.e., sharing ofa deeper level ofpersonal information that may potentially involve risk and a feeling of vulnerability) influences the communicator's ability to persuade. Across four studies, this essay demonstrates how a communicator's intimate self-disclosure is perceived and processed by their audience in different types of relationships (communal vs. exchange) and how it affects the persuasive impact of the message.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University