The impact of social vs. nonsocial referring channels on online news consumption

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6 Scopus citations


The digitization of news markets has created a key role for online referring channels. This research combines field and laboratory experiments and analysis of large-scale clickstream data to study the effects of social versus nonsocial referral sources on news consumption in a referred news website visit. We theorize that referrer-specific browsing modes and referrer-induced news consumption thresholds interact to impact news consumption in referred visits to an online newspaper and that news sharing motivations invoked by the referral source impact sharing behavior in these referred visits. We find that social media referrals promote directed news consumption—visits with fewer articles, shorter durations, yet higher reading completion rates—compared with nonsocial referrals. Furthermore, social referrals invoke weaker informational sharing motivations relative to nonsocial referrals, thus leading to a lower news sharing propensity relative to nonsocial referrals. The results highlight how news consumption changes when an increasing amount of traffic is referred by social media, provide insights applicable to news outlets’ strategies, and speak to ongoing debates regarding biases arising from social media’s growing importance as an avenue for news consumption.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2420-2447
Number of pages28
JournalManagement Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021


FundersFunder number
Coller Foundation
Henry Crown Business Research Center


    • Field experiment
    • Online news
    • Social media


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