Broadcasting and Narrowcasting: How Audience Size Impacts What People Share
ALIXANDRA BARASCH JONAH BERGER*
* Alixandra Barasch (email@example.com) is a doctoral student and Jonah Berger (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the James G. Campbell Jr. Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104. The authors thank Ezgi Akpinar, Amit Bhattacharjee, Cindy Chan, Zoey Chen and Deborah Small for helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript.
2 CONTRIBUTION STATEMENT How does the communication audience impact what people talk about and share? Research has mainly considered audience type (i.e., tie strength), but no work has considered how mere audience size might impact what people share. Five studies demonstrate how broadcasting (communicating with a large group) and narrowcasting (communicating with one person) alter sharer focus and influence what people pass on. Broadcasting encourages people to share selfpresentational content because it boosts self-focus, while narrowcasting encourages people to share useful content because it boosts other-focus. This work sheds light on the drivers of wordof-mouth and interpersonal communication, and provides preliminary insight into when the sender versus the receiver plays a relatively larger role in what people share.
ABSTRACT Does the mere number of people with whom consumers communicate impact what they talk about and share? Five studies demonstrate that broadcasting (i.e., communicating with a large group) encourages people to share self-presentational content, while narrowcasting (i.e., communicating with one person) encourages people to share content that is useful to the message recipient. These effects are driven by sharer focus. Broadcasting encourages self-focus, which leads people to share self-presentational content, whereas narrowcasting encourages other-focus, which leads people to share useful content. These findings are discussed in the context of research on word-of-mouth and egocentrism, and provide insight into when the sender versus the receiver plays a relatively larger role in what people share.
Keywords: word-of-mouth, self-presentation, self- vs. other-focus
3 Consumers communicate with dozens of people every day. They talk to friends, chat with neighbors, and gossip with co-workers. These social exchanges have an important impact on consumer behavior, and word-of-mouth affects everything from the books people read to the products they buy to the websites they visit (e.g., Chevalier and Mayzlin 2006; Trusov, Bucklin, and Pauwels 2009). One fundamental aspect of communication is audience size. Sometimes communication involves talking to many people, or broadcasting. In other instances, it involves talking to just one person, or narrowcasting. At a party, for example, consumers can find themselves talking to a group of friends or just one companion. Similarly, people may be responding to an email chain that involves a crowd of co-workers or just one. Might these differences in audience size affect the psychology behind communication? And if so, how? This paper investigates how mere audience size impacts what people talk about and share. In particular, we suggest that broadcasting encourages people to share self-presentational content, while narrowcasting encourages people to share useful content. Further, we show that these effects are driven by where potential sharers focus their attention. People naturally tend to focus on the self, but communicating with just one person heightens other-focus, which in turn impacts what people pass on. The paper makes two primary contributions. First, although communication almost always involves an audience (either real or imagined), no work has examined how mere audience size affects what people share. Second, while communication involves multiple parties, little is known about when and why communication focuses more on the sender...
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