Three essays on how social context shapes engagement online
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Understanding online user engagement is a key challenge for social platforms that support the communal creation or transfer of knowledge and information. Engagement is not only a function of individual attributes but also the result of the social context that derives from platform choices. This dissertation presents several empirical examples of how social context shapes online engagement in social platforms such as social media or online communities. In the first chapter, I investigate how the social network structure influences Twitter users’ information sharing behavior. I reconcile contradictory theories of the diversity of information sharing on social media using data representative of the whole population of Twitter users. In the second chapter, I investigate how online community size impacts users’ platform engagement. By conducting a randomized field experiment on edX, I show a causal influence of community size on individual user’s knowledge-sharing behavior, retention and performance. In the third chapter, I examine how social learning impacts out-group users’ engagement in an online learning community in terms of language and culture. I broaden the scope of my research in this last chapter by studying a context that has received little attention in the platform engagement literature. I use an interdisciplinary multi-method approach in my research that includes social network analysis, randomized field experiment, and econometrics. This dissertation involves a combination of these methods to understand user-behavior in the social platform and introduce interventions to maximize the benefit for digital platform and users alike.
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