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A Theory of Viral Growth of Social Networking Sites
Fisher, Michael T

2013, Doctor of Philosophy, Case Western Reserve University, Management.
Social networking platforms, systems designed to provide digital content services specifically for social network sites (SNS), continue to develop through a rapid combination of components forming a service ecology that is much more than a single tool or service. These SNS have experienced tremendously rapid growth rates and traditional economic factors put forward to explain growth such as pricing are inadequate. Explanations offered by platform scholars for the exponential growth of SNS such as Facebook do not go far enough in explaining why some platforms such as Facebook grow while others such as Friendster do not, despite following somewhat similar growth strategies advocated in the literature.

In this thesis I develop a theoretical model that offers greater power and detail than previous models – that focus on single user-tool technology adoption – in explaining the growth of SNS. It builds upon the work on two-sided economic models but seeks to expand them using social exchange theory to situations where the exchanged value is not monetary. The dissertation covers the motivation, prior research, theoretical foundations, research methodology, findings, and contributions. Following mixed methodology utilized a grounded theory approach by first conducting semi-structured interviews with technology executives and users of two SNS that have experienced dramatically different growth patterns to identify and explain user related behaviors that drive growth. Informed by this study, I next hypothesize a research model that draws upon platform processes of co-creation and co-production as well as user features of voyeurism and exhibitionism to explain SNS growth – measured by fan out and retention. The model posits that the growth of SNS is mediated through the participation in the co-creation and co-production processes. In a second study, I analyzed to what extent the ratios of user propensity towards either voyeuristic or exhibitionistic behaviors affect the fan out and retention of SNS. To validate my theory, I tested the models with survey data from 1449 users of eight different SNS using clustering techniques and structural equation modeling.

The thesis makes several theoretical, methodological, and practical contributions to research on technological innovation diffusion and the growth of two-sided markets. Service-dominant logic models have typically predicted that co-production is a component of co-creation and in contrast I demonstrate a chained mediation through co-creation to co-production for the construct of retention on SNS. I provide support for the technology adoption theory with a focus on multi-user, multi-technology contexts such as SNS platforms and amend the explanations with additional individual and platform constructs as to improve its predictive power of technology adoption as examined through the lens of viral growth.
Kalle Lyytinen, Ph.D. (Committee Chair)
Dick Boland, Ph.D. (Committee Member)
Jerry Kane, Ph.D. (Committee Member)
Rakesh Niraj, Ph.D. (Committee Member)
Toni Somers, Ph.D. (Committee Member)
257 p.

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Fisher, Michael. "A Theory of Viral Growth of Social Networking Sites." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Case Western Reserve University, 2013. OhioLINK Electronic Theses and Dissertations Center. 23 Mar 2017.

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Fisher, Michael "A Theory of Viral Growth of Social Networking Sites." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Case Western Reserve University, 2013.


Fisher PhD Dissertation.pdf (1.93 MB) View|Download