Competition for attention in online social networks: Implications for seeding strategies

Sarah E.C. Gelper, Ralf van der Lans, Gerrit van Bruggen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Many firms try to leverage consumers’ interactions on social platforms as part of their communication strategies. However, information on online social networks only propagates if it receives consumers’ attention. This paper proposes a seeding strategy to maximize information propagation while accounting for competition for attention. The theory of exchange networks serves as the framework for identifying the optimal seeding strategy and recommends seeding people that have many friends, who in turn, have only few friends. There is little competition for the attention of those seeds’ friends and these friends are, therefore, responsive to the messages they receive. Using a game-theoretic model, we show that it is optimal to seed people with the highest Bonacich centrality. Importantly, in contrast to previous seeding literature that assumed a fixed and non-negative connectivity parameter of the Bonacich measure, we demonstrate that this connectivity parameter is negative and needs to be estimated. Two independent empirical validations using a total of 34 social media campaigns, on two different large online social networks, show that the proposed seeding strategy can substantially increase a campaign’s reach. The second study utilizes the activity network of messages exchanged to confirm that the effects are driven by competition for attention.
Original languageEnglish
JournalManagement Science
Issue numberXX
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Dec 2019

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