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Information & Management 54 (2017) 837–850

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Information & Management

journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/im

How attachment influences users’ willingness to donate to content

creators in social media: A socio-technical systems perspective
Jinlin Wana , Yaobin Lub,* , Bin Wangc, Ling Zhaob
School of Information, Central University of Finance and Economics, China
School of Management Huazhong University of Science and Technology, China
College of Business and Entrepreneurship, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Edinburg, TX 78539, USA


Article history:
Received 27 January 2016 As a relatively new behavior, donation to content creators in social media has become very popular in the
Received in revised form 12 November 2016 last few years. Different from traditional donation to nonprofit organization or victims, donation to
Accepted 18 December 2016 content creators in social media has received little attention from academic researchers. On the basis of
Available online 21 December 2016 the socio-technical systems framework and attachment theory, this study develops a model to
investigate the effects of social and technological factors on users’ donation behavior. Our results indicate
Keywords: that donation intention is determined by the emotional attachment to the content creator and functional
Donation behavior dependence on social media, which are influenced by both social factors (identification, interaction, and
Social media
information value) and technical factors (sociability and personalization).
Attachment theory
© 2016 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Socio-technical systems

1. Introduction content creators. In addition, content creators also share the

revenue generated from users’ donation with the platform, which
Social media encompass a wide range of websites such as social can support social media in ensuring their innovativeness and
networking sites, blogs, microblogs, and websites such as YouTube long-term survival [81].
and Flickr that support content sharing [88]. Social media play a The donation function as a business strategy has become quite
vital role in the creation and sharing of information through user- popular, particularly in China. For example, Sina Weibo, the most
generated content (UGC) within online social networks [130]. In well-known microblogging platform in China, has provided the
recent years, social media have become increasingly popular and donation function since 2014, and the revenues through donation
attracted not only businesses’ participation and contribution but reached more than 40 million yuan in 2015. YY platform, a user-
also researchers to investigate the motivation behind their use generated live video streaming site similar to Twitch.tv, obtained
[114]. 676.2 million yuan in revenue from donation in the fourth quarter
To be an attractive platform to users, especially content of 2014 and attracted more than 200,000 content creators in its
creators, social media provide various functions such as allowing music channel [90,148]. In 2015, WeChat Public Accounts also
users to create their own channels, post contents that can be tested the feasibility of the donation function by allowing personal
instantaneously shared with a wide audience, choose to be friends public accounts to add the donation button at the end of the
with others or subscribe to other channels, and comment on or contents they propagated. However, social media are usually free
choose favorite contents [37]. Because encouraging UGC and of charge, and most users do not need to pay to view contents [86].
opinion formation are the core goals, some social media sites in Therefore, an understanding of users’ motivation behind donation
China provide a new function—donation—that allows users or the in social media is important for researchers and social media
audience to donate to content creators. Users donate on the basis of developers to help businesses to unleash their potential. Although
the knowledge and service provided by content creators, and donation to social media content creators is not prevalent in the
content creators can gain monetary or nonmonetary rewards as a Western culture, its success in China makes it an attractive feature
result. Therefore, such a function provides an incentive for the to consider for social media providers there. Our research provides
social media providers around the world with important practical
implications on how to understand and motivate users’ donation
* Corresponding author. behavior.
E-mail addresses: jennywan@126.com (J. Wan), luyb@mail.hust.edu.cn (Y. Lu),
bin.wang@utrgv.edu (B. Wang), lingzhao@mail.hust.edu.cn (L. Zhao).

0378-7206/© 2016 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
838 J. Wan et al. / Information & Management 54 (2017) 837–850

Given that donation is a relatively new function in social media charity, whereas charity is exhibited by the audience only and is
and no research has investigated this phenomenon yet, our study considered as the price paid for the music. Therefore, performers
first compares it to donation to street performance or busking, and even though freeriding behavior exists (e.g. [84]). “Busking” in
then we focus on the charitable and consumptive attributes of this social media also involves a joint product: charity and the service
behavior. This study draws upon the socio-technical systems or knowledge provided by the content creator. Thus, we argue that
framework to examine the influence of social and technological donation in social media has two inherent attributes: the
characteristics on users’ affection toward and intention to donate charitable attribute and the consumptive attribute.
to content creators in social media. As social media is a socio- The consumptive attribute of donation implies that the donors
technical information platform [140], the socio-technical systems pay for the consumption of goods or service, such as contents or
framework allows us to capture both the social and technical service provided by the creators. From this perspective, the
aspects of social media in our understanding of donation behaviors performers have to make sure their performance appeals to the
there. In addition, we investigate users’ motivation by applying the prospective audience, visitors, or buyers. Some researchers have
attachment theory, a theoretical framework that has been used to investigated how intercultural and intracultural identities exhib-
study the relationship between attachment and donation. ited by street performers increase the attention of the audience
Attachment theory helps us to empirically test the distinction (e.g. [25]). The audience can set the price for the street
between emotional attachment and functional dependence performance and use the PWYW pricing scheme. However, as
considering that such attachments are induced by different street performance lacks the mechanisms to ensure payments or
aspects of users’ affection. In addition, we examine the effects of donations and are vulnerable to freeriding, some researchers
emotional attachment to the content creator and functional noticed that charitable causes may also be the major motivations
dependence on social media on donation intention. Moreover, for the audience’s donation behavior [65]. Kushner and Brooks [84]
the combination of the socio-technical systems framework and modeled the audience’s payment intention and found both musical
attachment theory can provide us a better understanding of which service and reputation influence the decision to pay. Similar to the
type of social and technical factors influence attachment to predict donation behavior examined in the busking context, donation in
social media donation behavior. social media also presents freeriding opportunities and employs
The present research makes the following contributions. First, the PWYW pricing scheme. However, the lack of social pressure in
this study extends the literature on donation behavior to social such a virtual context might further decrease users’ donation
media, whereas previous research mainly focuses on charitable intention. Considering more and more social media platforms have
organizations and victims. Specifically, we examine the Pay-What- started to support the donation function as a revenue source, it is
You-Want (PWYW) donation model in social media, where the important to understand what motivates users’ willingness to
original motivation of the knowledge contributor or content donate to content creators.
creator is not financial gains. Second, we extend the understanding
of the motivation of users’ donation intention using attachment 2.1.1. Charitable attribute of donation in social media
theory and examine the crucial roles of social and technical aspects Charitable- or gift-giving behaviors as a type of donation
as antecedents of attachment on the basis of socio-technical behavior have been studied in various social science disciplines
systems. including psychology, economics, and anthropology, and in
This paper is organized as follows. In the next section, the marketing and the nonprofit organization domain
theoretical background of the research is presented. In the third [15,19,81,95,116]. Researchers view the act of gift giving as
section, we discuss the research model and hypothesis, followed by symbolic or even a “labor of love” for some. When individuals
the research methodology including measurement development, make a payment or donation, they usually do not receive direct
data collection, and analysis in the fourth section. In the final commensurate tangible benefits [118].
section, discussion of the results, the theoretical and practical Research on donation has studied why people give or donate by
implications, limitations, and future research are presented. applying the motivation theory. Such research has classified
motivation to donate into two categories: intrinsic and extrinsic.
2. Literature review Intrinsic motivations to donate can be closely associated with the
“warm effect,” the positive emotions associated with doing good
In this section, we review the theoretical underpinnings of our and helping others, which is also called altruism or benefit to
research by first providing an overview of donation in social media others [5,6,146]. Many individuals donate to nonprofit organiza-
and its two attributes. Then we introduce the attachment theory tions out of a desire to help these organizations to achieve their
and the socio-technical systems framework. mission or to support a particular cause. That is, they enjoy the
satisfaction from the experiences of making the donation [69,127].
2.1. Donation in social media Sargeant et al. [116] concluded that empathy, sympathy, and
emotions such as guilt, pity, and fear can considerably affect
Researchers in various social science disciplines including individuals’ intrinsic motivation. In contrast, extrinsic motivations
psychology [77,146], economics [28,60], marketing [94,98], and are the means through which individuals can gain rewards or
nonprofit organization domain [19,116] have examined the benefits from engaging in a behavior. These benefits can be
donation behavior. In these literatures, donation is defined as tangible such as tax breaks [124] and monetary rewards [54] or
charitable giving behavior to organizations or others beyond one’s intangible such as praise, recognition, or grades [59,79]. For
own family. Donation may be both monetary and nonmonetary example, an individual who donates to an arts organization may
such as donating organs, blood, clothes, and toys [15,19,53,56]. In gain a better seat at an event, and the “purchase” of a brick in a
social media, the donation function is used by social media community garden can have one’s name displayed as a donor.
platforms as an incentive to improve the richness and quality of Extrinsic motivations promote donation because individuals will
UGC [35]. consider them before donating [118].
Donation in social media is similar to busking or street In addition to motivation theory, research suggests relation-
performance because a performer or content creator first delivers ships between donors and nonprofit organizations in terms of
service or knowledge, and then the audience gives a voluntary trust, commitment, and identification influence the donation
amount [84]. As a joint product, basking includes both music and behavior [81,116,117]. One of the effective tools to let individuals
J. Wan et al. / Information & Management 54 (2017) 837–850 839

know what a nonprofit organization does and how it helps its media, content creators do not provide knowledge or service for
victims and beneficiaries is storytelling, and many nonprofits deem their financial gains, and users generally consume such knowledge
storytelling as a means to differentiate themselves from others in or service for free. Users donate to content creators to show their
the minds of (prospective) donors and the public. Merchant et al. appreciation for the knowledge or service provided, encourage
[94] studied the relationship between charitable organizations’ future content creation behaviors, and help content creators enjoy
storytelling and emotion and found that problem description can a better life. As a result, donation in social media is more than just
indeed arouse negative emotions, which in turn can be alleviated PWYW.
through the opportunity to donate to the identified cause, after Finally, donation behavior in social media describes the
which, the donor would experience greater positive emotions and behavior where a user is willing to make a monetary or
lesser negative emotions. nonmonetary donation to a content creator, which involves both
In prior research, beneficiaries of donations can be people who charitable and consumptive attributes. That is, the donor pays the
suffer painful experiences such as those going through a natural content creator any price she wants depending on her charitable
disaster or victims of traumatizing experiences [52,123,149,150]. emotion, consumption of the knowledge or service, or both.
They can also be organizations such as alumni organizations
[60,104] and open source software platforms [81]. In social media, 2.2. Attachment theory
the beneficiaries are individuals who volunteer their time to create
contents, contribute knowledge, and provide service. On the one Attachment theory is developed to explain interpersonal bonds
hand, users who donate to content creators want to help the that connect an individual with a specific target [22]. Attachment
creators to achieve their mission, have a better life, or encourage to a specific target such as a person or object affects one’s
them to provide high-quality contents or service. Such voluntary allocation of emotional, cognitive, and behavioral resources to the
donation provides an incentive for content creators. On the other target [61]. In early attachment studies, the desire to make an
hand, users decide whether to donate to content creators after emotional attachment to a particular target serves as a basic need
consuming the creators’ contents or service. It is similar to paying [1], beginning from an infant or child’s attachment to her primary
in exchange for such contents or service, which is different from caretakers [21] and going into the adulthood with kinships,
the traditional donation behavior. Therefore, donation in social friendships, and romantic relationships [134].
media is not only a charitable behavior but also a consumptive Attachment leads to strong motivational and behavioral out-
behavior. comes such as the desire to maintain physical proximity and the
willingness to defend and invest cognitive and financial resources
2.1.2. Consumptive attribute of donation behavior in social media in the attachment target [9,43,143]. Thus, a person who is strongly
The consumptive attribute of donation behavior implies that attached to a particular target will be dedicated to the target and
when users consume creators’ contents or service, they can pay will strive to protect and preserve interactions with the object [42].
any price they want. It is similar to the PWYW pricing model, In the marketing literature, many researchers conceptualized
which entails the consumer setting the price of a product or the relationship between consumers and a brand as emotional
service [82]. Consumers can set any price equal to or above zero, brand attachment and investigated its influence on consumers’
and the seller may not refuse this price [76]. PWYW as a purchases [40,62,121,143], positive word-of-mouth [42,138], re-
marketing strategy has been popular in real-world applications purchase [91], brand loyalty [92,138,139], and forgiveness [42,50].
and increases customers’ purchase intention, especially for In the information systems (IS) literature, Choi [30] indicated
service and digital goods [75]. Academic researchers have that users’ attachment to IS products has a positive influence on
explored customers’ motivation of paying. For example, Kim their intention to get involved in online communities for the
et al.’s [76] pioneering research on the factors affecting PWYW products. On the basis of Ren et al. [113], IS researchers identified
payments revealed that consumers’ personal characteristics such two dimensions of attachment, namely identity-based attachment
as fairness, altruism, satisfaction, loyalty, and income influence and bond-based attachment, and they regard them as the main
the PWYW prices they pay. Building on Kim et al.’s [76] research, factors that affect user participation, willingness to help, retention,
Kunter [82] found that avoiding the feeling of guilt and social and knowledge sharing behavior in virtual communities [32,113].
norm are important factors that also drive PWYW payments. Choi [31] showed that attachment is a more influential predictor of
Furthermore, Marett et al. [93] distinguished economic drivers demanding contributory behaviors (e.g. community involvement)
including price consciousness and prior usage of the app and than loyalty and satisfaction.
social factors including fairness and loyalty while investigating In the fan–celebrity relationship context, Stever [125] revealed
online PWYW for electronic device applications. Because sellers that once a fan develops an attachment to a celebrity, her
using PWYW face the risk that customers may exploit their proximity-seeking system will be activated as if she is in a
advantage and pay either nothing at all or a price below the costs, relationship with a child or a romantic partner. As a result, fans can
other researchers have explored the pricing mechanisms under spend hours looking at the celebrity’s photographs and videos,
PWYW. For example, Schons et al. [120] examined the potential collecting memorabilia, and becoming passionate consumers of
dynamics in prices paid from individuals’ perspective using latent the celebrity’s work. In particular, sports fans have been shown to
growth modeling. They found that repetition negatively influen- endorse their favorite teams against all odds [12]. Although this
ces customers’ price behavior. behavior of supporting highly unlikely events seems irrational, it is
In a PWYW process, the customers may offer what they reminiscent of a typical attachment.
consider to be fair prices for a product or service because the In the donation literature, a number of university fund-raising
customers and sellers will tend to maintain a fair relationship to and alumni donation studies have shown that attachment to the
avoid the pressure of unfair transactions [64,76,93]. In social university can be a significant predictor of donation [38,132]. In
media, this can also be a reason that explains the motivation of the addition, as a construct similar to attachment [40,55,132],
donation behavior. Furthermore, the key objective of PWYW is to commitment is also found to positively impact donation behavior.
maximize the seller’s profits and achieve competition advantage, For example, Sargeant et al. [116] argued that commitment
where some sellers use it as a promotional tool and others use it as significantly influences donors’ nonprofit giving behavior. Krish-
a sustainable pricing mechanism [76,120]. In other words, PWYW namurthy and Tripathi [81] found that commitment to open source
is a marketing strategy designed by the sellers. However, in social software platform contributes to the decision to donate.
840 J. Wan et al. / Information & Management 54 (2017) 837–850

In summary, attachment is one of the factors that drive argued that social media such as microblog are socio-technical
commitment, loyalty, and consumer’s helping behavior. When information platforms [140], and users can obtain knowledge or
users are emotionally attached to the target object, they are likely achieve interpersonal outcomes through the platforms in addition
to expend more of their own resources such as time, energy, and to communicating with others [13,57,58]. Therefore, many studies
financial resources to strengthen the relationship [9]. In the virtual have applied the socio-technical systems framework to study user
context, because of the lack of social pressure and because participation and contribution behavior. For example, Chai and
freeriding is more prevalent, content creators have to ensure their Kim [27] investigated users’ knowledge sharing on social
knowledge and service appeal to prospective followers and donors. networking sites from both social and technical aspects. Wang
Therefore, we apply the attachment theory to explain why users et al. [140] examined the influences of technical and network effect
donate to content creators in social media. factors on microblog users’ behavior through the lens of the socio-
technical systems framework.
2.3. Socio-technical systems In our study, users donated to content creators when and after
they consume the contents or service in social media. The behavior
We use the socio-technical systems perspective [135], a concept of users during the process of content/service consumption and
initially introduced to understand an organization from both social donation will provide insights into the nature of their interactions,
and technological perspectives, to investigate user motivation to and social media platforms will provide and guide users to
donate to content creators in social media. In a socio-technical accomplish such experiences and behaviors. Thus, this study
system, the social system focuses on the relationship among investigates how social aspects motivate user donation behavior in
people and their attributes such as attitude, value, and skills, social media along with the consideration of technical and
whereas the technical system emphasizes the processes, tasks, and environmental factors. In addition, the combination of the
technologies to produce the designated output [20]. These two sets socio-technical systems framework and attachment theory allows
of factors affect each other in producing goods and service and us to examine the effects of both social and technical factors on
operating a business [107]. Socio-technical systems as a framework attachment in explaining social media donation behavior.
have been widely used in previous studies. For example, Kim et al.
[74] argued that society, culture, and technology play core roles in 3. Research model and hypotheses
building the information and communication technology ecosys-
tem. Yu et al. [147] employed the socio-technical systems In the present study, we examined the drivers of users’ donation
framework to study users’ Smart TV adoption. Some IS researchers to content creators in social media using the attachment theory

Fig. 1. Research Model.

J. Wan et al. / Information & Management 54 (2017) 837–850 841

and the socio-technical systems framework. Our research model is make financial sacrifices to obtain it or help it to achieve its goals
depicted in Fig. 1. Next, we explain the theoretical groundings of such as paying a premium price or performing additional tasks
the constructs and develop the research hypotheses. [70,132]. Social media provide technological support for users so
that the users can communicate, share, consume knowledge, and
3.1. Users’ emotional attachment follow other users whom they like [14,29,48].
In this study, we used functional dependence on the social
According to self-expansion theory [9,143], users’ emotional media platform as the technical factor for characterizing the extent
attachment has strong motivational and behavioral implications of interdependence between a user and the social media platform
because an individual who is deeply attached to a person or object for communicating, sharing, consuming knowledge, and following
is more willing to invest in that target to sustain or strengthen the other users. Thus, users with different degrees of functional
relationship with it. In the extant literature, many researchers have dependence on social media will differ in their attitudes and
studied emotional brand attachment. For example, bonds and behaviors. For example, a high level of dependence in social media
connections with a brand can be regarded as long-term outcomes as perceived by a user may lead to customer loyalty and encourage
of the brand relationship that strongly predicts the frequency of behaviors such as performing additional tasks that are not
past purchases and the likelihood of future purchases [42,55,132]. required, committing extra time in social media, and intending
If a user is attached to a product, person, or an object, she will be to benefit the social media [70]. Therefore, users’ willingness to
more likely to engage in demanding behaviors such as expending make financial sacrifices and intention to donate to content
more resources (e.g., time, energy) to answer other users’ creators on the social media that they depend on will be higher
questions or providing suggestions and developing user-driven because this behavior is a way to benefit the social media.
marketing campaign [30]. In consumer–celebrity relationship Moreover, users who rely heavily on social media would have more
research, emotional attachment plays an important role in time and chance to share and consume knowledge and find friends
explaining consumer and fan behavior [12,47,125]. For example, or other users they want to connect with because the platform
Ilicic and Webster [63] revealed that consumers respond more provides necessary resources and capabilities that enable them to
strongly to endorsements by celebrities to whom they are achieve their goals and build relationships with other users or
emotionally attached than those to whom they are not emotionally content creators. Such functional dependence will lead to users’
attached. Fans are willing to spend hours to review each piece of emotional attachment to content creators and increase users’
information and purchase goods about the celebrities they like donation intention. Thus, we hypothesize the following:
H2a. Functional dependence on social media is positively
In the donation context, it has been shown that donors are
related to a user’s intention to donate to a content creator.
willing to donate to organizations they trust and are committed to
[89,98,116,117]. Similarly, Brady et al. [23] showed that people
H2b. Functional dependence on social media is positively
donate because they are attached to an organization or a cause. In
related to a user’s emotional attachment to a content creator.
addition, loyal customers pay higher prices than others in a PWYW
setting because they want to avoid the potential embarrassment
associated with paying a low price, and they have a desire to 3.3. Social system
maintain and strengthen the relationship with the seller [76,93].
Therefore, we define emotional attachment to a content creator in As discussed earlier, the social system refers to the relationships
this research as the emotion-laden bonds and connections with a among people and their attributes such as attitude, value, and skills
content creator that reflects a user’s affective commitment and [20]. We identified three constructs, namely identification,
desire to maintain and strengthen the relationship with the interaction, and information value, as characteristics of the social
content creator. Such emotional attachment can produce a positive system. In our context, identification refers to users’ identification
influence on the user’s donation intention. Therefore, we with a content creator, which will result in their positive attitude
hypothesize the following: toward the content creator and increase their willingness to build
long-term relationships with her; interaction focuses on users’
H1. Emotional attachment to a content creator is positively
communication with a content creator, which is regarded as a type
associated with a user’s intention to donate to the content
of user–content creator relationship; information value refers to
users’ perception of acquiring knowledge, experience, and service
from the content creator. It is related to a content creator’s skill
3.2. Functional dependence level and can increase users’ skill levels [107].

Functional dependence as user attachment has been used to 3.3.1. Identification

investigate the interdependence among group members in Identification is a cognitive assessment of the degree of overlap
performing tasks. It reflects group structure, and the functional between the self and a target organization, group, or another
dependence level will affect an employee’s work style and attitude individual [24,102]. It has been studied as an important construct
toward the organization and other members [97]. Interdepen- in the organizational behavior and marketing literature. The
dence theory suggests that such dependence is an essential part in consequences of an individual’s identification include support for
determining how and what type of relationships will be developed the social group, social attraction to members of the group, and
[73]. It also influences coordination and communication patterns, willingness to build long-term relationships with companies,
trust, and members’ commitment to organizations as high organizations, or other objects they identify with [11,17]. For
functional dependence makes group members to expect their instance, a high level of perceived overlap between self-image and
roles to be important to the group [36,111,126]. Similar to organizational image will make one psychologically attached to
functional dependence, functional attachment is defined as how and care about the organization, which motivates them to commit
well a setting and condition support goal achievement [66,133] and to the achievement of the goals, willingly exert more effort, and
influence a consumer’s emotional states and behavior [144]. The actively collaborate with organizational members [26,136,141]. In
strength of an individual’s dependence on an object may be this research, we argue that if users perceive a high degree of
associated with the investment in the object and the willingness to overlap between self-personality and content creators’ personality,
842 J. Wan et al. / Information & Management 54 (2017) 837–850

they will have a sense of identification with the content creators, 3.4. Technical system
which makes the users to like the content creators more and want
to build relationships with them. Therefore, we hypothesize the According to the pervious literature, the technical system
following: consists of the tools, techniques, procedures, and devices used by
users to accomplish the tasks in social media [107]. Therefore, we
H3. Identification is positively related to a user’s emotional
propose competitiveness, sociability, and personalization as
attachment to a content creator.
characteristics of the technical system. They denote features of
the functional tools and distinctive mechanisms provided by the
3.3.2. Interaction social media platform to the users to accomplish the tasks and
According to the extant literature, interactive characteristics of increase their engagement in social media.
social media and online communities include three major aspects:
knowledge sharing, interactivity, and engagement [83]. Knowl- 3.4.1. Competitiveness
edge sharing refers to users’ sharing and the discussion of Competitive mechanics are an effective and important tool in
information and personal experiences [67,99]. Interactivity is game design [101]. Salen and Zimmerman [115] described that “the
defined as the extent to which users can interact with each other competitive striving toward a goal is fundamental in giving shape to
on the online platform [67,99]. Engagement refers to users’ positive the structure of a game and the way that the game creates meaning”
perceptions of their participation in activities hosted by the online ([115], p. 255). In particular, competitiveness in games can evoke
platform [2]. In this research, we focus on interaction because it several cognitive and affective effects including perceived impor-
allows users to interact and communicate with content creators tance of ability [3], involvement [137], satisfaction [68], and
and other users in social media. Such interaction makes them feel Internet addiction [18]. For example, Ozcelik et al. [106] indicated
more socially connected, increases the chance that others can that the elements of play, competition, and challenge in computer
weigh in, and puts more focus on content creators [16,33,41]. and video games increase players’ motivation, engagement, and
Thomson [131] and Lin and Chen [91] argued that interaction willingness to spend more time on knowledge tasks within the
between consumers and brands helps create attachment to brands game. Thus, attracting players through comparison processes is a
and predict consumers’ commitment and specific purchases such basic game design principle [71]. Social media platforms imitate
as paying high prices and repurchase behavior. Similarly, interac- game design to provide competitive features that arouse users’
tion with other people drives the development of interpersonal affection and behavior. For example, YY platform ranks content
attraction: when individuals’ interactions increase in frequency, creators by the number of virtual gifts they have received. Once a
the likelihood of liking others will also increase [45,113]. In online user donates a virtual gift to a performer, the donation information
communities, social interaction gives users the chance for self- including the donor’s name and amount of donation will be
disclosure and friendship building with others, which increases broadcasted live to all subscribers. Twitch.tv ranks content
common bond attachment [46]. Therefore, the more a user creators by the amount of donations they have received and
interacts with a content creator and with other users who consume inserts the donation link on the performer’s home page. We define
the same creator’s contents, the stronger an emotional bond will be competitiveness in this study as the degree to which a user feels
established. Therefore, that social media involves competition [4]. According to social
comparison theory, if users perceive competitiveness and detect a
H4. Interaction is positively related to a user’s emotional
discrepancy in abilities or opinions in social media, they will spend
attachment to a content creator.
more efforts to enhance their abilities, reduce the discrepancy, and
protect their superiority [44]. In this process, users will become
3.3.3. Information value more attached to social media. Therefore, we have the following
Perceived value refers to “a consumer’s assessment of the utility of hypothesis:
a product based on perception of what is received and what is given”
H6. Competitiveness is positively associated with a user’s
[151]. Perceived value has been applied to investigate business
functional dependence on social media.
issues since the 1990s [49,151]. As a context-specific perception, it
can drive an individual’s attitude and behavior such as satisfaction
[39], trust [112], relationship quality [10], loyalty [85], purchase 3.4.2. Sociability
intention [108], and word of mouth [96]. In addition, creating Sociability refers to the characteristics of a social media system
greater value for consumers through a better understanding of that support “a state of being sociable,” where users enjoy
their needs and desires is at the heart of the relationship– interacting with each other through the technology-enabled space
marketing paradigm because perceived value directly influences [110]. The level of perceived sociability feature determines
consumer commitment [100]. Perceived value incorporates three whether the technology-enabled environment allows users to
theoretical types of value: functional value (acquire functional, interact with each other comfortably [109]. It gives users the
utilitarian, and physical performance), emotional value (acquire opportunity to present and build their own virtual images and
feelings and affective states), and social value (enhancement of requires users to spend more time, effort, and money in such
one’s self-concept) [128]. In this study, we focus on information image-building activities in social media [7]. Therefore, such
value, which is a functional value regarding users’ perception of technology-enabled environment exhibiting a greater level of
obtaining knowledge, experience, and service from content sociability may create stronger feelings of affection, trust, and
creators in social media. When users perceive a high information belongingness [122], which in turn will reinforce the perception of
value of the knowledge or service provided by a content creator, attachment to social media [105]. In this study, sociability of social
they will follow the creator and build a long-term relationship to media facilitates users’ communication and interaction, and it
enhance their experience and further obtain more knowledge, brings convenience to users in completing their routine tasks such
innovative information, or interesting news. Therefore, we as building virtual images. Therefore, we hypothesize the
hypothesize the following: following:
H5. Information value is positively related to a user’s emotional H7. Sociability is positively related to a user’s functional
attachment to a content creator. dependence on social media.
J. Wan et al. / Information & Management 54 (2017) 837–850 843

3.4.3. Personalization 4.1. Questionnaire design

Personalization implies that contents in social media will
effectively articulate a user’s personal preferences and needs [80]. When developing the questionnaire, we adapted existing
Platforms provide relevant and customized recommendations to validated scales to suit the context of this study. All constructs
users to match their idiosyncratic preferences and needs [80] and were measured using multi-item perceptual scales and were
make a good impression on the users [152]. In social media, these measured on a seven-point Likert scale with the two anchors being
recommended items are put under a distinct category with labels “strongly disagree” and “strongly agree.” Items for donation
such as “personalized recommendations,” “unique offers for you,” intention were adapted from Merchant et al. [94] and Ye et al.
and “the users you are following also like,” which encourage users’ [146]; items for emotional attachment were adapted from Ren
exploration [129]. In addition, personalization also tailors unique et al. [113]; and items for functional dependence were adapted
services to users using information technology. For example, some from Antioco et al. [8]. The measures for the antecedents of
social media platforms provide customized functions for users to emotional attachment and functional dependence were adapted as
alter their interfaces and interactions to match their preferences. In follows: identification based on Brown et al. [24] and Tuškej et al.
this case, users will spend time, effort, and money to actively [136]; interaction from Kuo and Feng [83]; information value from
customize including constructing their profiles and presenting Lee et al. [86]; competitiveness based on Anderson and Carnagey
their preferred identities. Users’ investment in the personalization [4] and Nebel et al. [101]; sociability based on Animesh et al. [7];
process may lead them to develop a strong sense of connection and personalization based on Zhou et al. [153].
with the platform [30,153]. Therefore, we hypothesize the As the respondents were Chinese, we followed the back
following: translation method to ensure that the English and Chinese
questionnaires were similar. First, a researcher whose native
H8. Personalization is positively related to a user’s functional
language is Chinese translated these items into Chinese. Next, to
dependence on social media.
prevent altering the semantic contents of the measurements
during translation, different researchers translated the Chinese
4. Methodology version back to English. Subsequently, these researchers compared
the two English versions. The translation process did not induce
YY platform (YY.com), a live video streaming website, is one of any language bias into the survey design, and the degree of
the most successful social media websites and the first platform to correspondence between the original and the translated English
provide the donation function in China. In the present research, we versions was very high. We then invited 25 participants to check
tested our proposed research model on the basis of a questionnaire for any ambiguity in wording and format and established the
survey of YY platform users. We next discuss the details of our validity of the questionnaire. The final questionnaire used in the
research methodology. survey is presented in Appendix A.

Table 1
Demographic Information of the Participants.

Category Item Count Percentage

Gender Male 196 64.7
Female 107 35.5

Age <18 3 1.0

18–24 126 41.6
25–30 139 45.9
31–40 32 10.5
>40 3 1.0

Education High school or below 36 11.9

Associate’s or bachelor’s degree 258 85.1
Master’s degree or higher 9 3.8

Occupation Unemployed 9 3.8

Student 38 12.7
Corporate or government 167 55.1
Freelancers or self-employed 88 29.0
Others 1 0.4

Monthly Income (in yuan) None 19 6.3

>1000 19 6.3
1000–2999 67 22.1
3000–4999 126 41.9
5000–6999 65 21.4
>7000 6 2.0

Length of YY platform Usage <3 months 27 8.8

3–6 months 48 15.9
6 months–1 year 55 18.0
1–2 years 79 26.2
>2 years 94 31.1
844 J. Wan et al. / Information & Management 54 (2017) 837–850

4.2. Data collection matched the composition of registered users on YY platform [34].
Most of the respondents’ ages were between 18 and 30 years, and
The data for this study were collected from users of YY platform. more than 50% of the respondents had used YY platform for more
YY’s users donate to content creators (live broadcasters) by giving than 1 year.
virtual gifts purchased on the platform. The content creators will
get a portion of the value of the gifts they receive as their income.
Donation is also a major source of revenue for YY. According to YY’s 4.3. Data analysis and results
2014 fourth quarter financial report [148], its revenues from online
music and entertainment donation increased by 100.9% to 676.2 We first used the principal components analysis to test the
million yuan (109.0 million US dollars) from a year ago. It also convergent and discriminant validities of the scales. The Kaiser–
experienced a 65.5% year-over-year increase in the number of Meyer–Olkin statistic for our sample was 0.948, indicating that the
paying users to 1,4993,000 and a 21.4% increase in average revenue data were appropriate for factor analysis [72]. All the indicators
per user to 453 yuan (75 US dollars) in the fourth quarter of 2014. loaded on the expected factors and factor loadings exceeded 0.6,
Therefore, we selected YYplatform because it was one of the most suggesting good convergent and discriminant validities.
well-known social media sites in China with a successful business Because our research involved self-reported responses from a
model that incorporated the donation function. A survey hyperlink single source, we tested the common method bias using Harman’s
was posted on YY platform from November 14 to December 17, 2015. single factor test. Nine factors were extracted from the data,
Each participant had an opportunity to win monetary rewards after explaining 81.2% of the variance. The most significant factor
completing the survey. The responses were scrutinized and invalid accounted for 43.4% of the variance. Although this value was less
responses including those with the same answer to all questions, than 50%, we further tested for common method bias using Liang
those with missing responses, and those finished in less than 5 min et al.’s [87] method. The result is presented in Table 2. The average
(minimal completion time based on the pilot test) were removed. In substantively explained variance of the indicators was 0.7923,
addition, the user’s ID and IP address were recorded, and we deleted whereas the average method-based variance was 0.0039. The ratio of
those responses with repeated IP addresses or user IDs to eliminate substantive variance to method-based variance was approximately
duplicate responses. At the end, we obtained 303 valid responses 203:1. In addition, most method factor loadings were not significant.
from 345 completed surveys. Because the method variance was small and nonsignificant, we
The demographic characteristics of the respondents are concluded that common method bias was not a problem in our
presented in Table 1. The sample was predominantly male, which research.

Table 2
Common Method Bias Analysis.

Construct Indicator Substantive factor loading (R1) R12 Method factor loading (R2) R22
Interaction INT1 0.9436 0.8904 0.0255 0.00065
INT2 0.9258 0.8571 0.0117 0.00014
INT3 0.9217 0.8495 0.0133 0.00018

Identification IDE1 0.8771 0.7693 0.0008 0.00000064

IDE2 0.8893 0.7908 0.0088 0.00007
IDE3 0.7956 0.633 0.079 0.00624
IDE4 0.8958 0.8024 0.0706 0.00498

Information value IV1 0.9194 0.8453 0.0611 0.00373

IV2 0.9314 0.8675 0.0108 0.00012
IV3 0.7937 0.6299 0.0735 0.00540

Emotional attachment EA1 0.8066 0.6506 0.0842 0.00708

EA2 0.9447 0.8924 0.0523 0.00273
EA3 0.7055 0.4977 0.1664 0.02769

Competitiveness COM1 0.9473 0.8974 0.0694 0.00481

COM2 0.8329 0.6937 0.0955 0.00912
COM3 0.7505 0.5633 0.0472 0.00222

Personalization PER1 0.8357 0.6984 0.0529 0.0028

PER2 0.9866 0.9734 0.1071 0.0115
PER3 0.855 0.731 0.0555 0.003

Sociability SOC1 0.8292 0.6876 0.0844 0.00712

SOC2 0.9642 0.9297 0.0715 0.00511
SOC3 0.9352 0.8746 0.0108 0.00011

Functional dependence FD1 0.8905 0.793 0.0387 0.00149

FD2 0.957 0.9158 0.0425 0.00181
FD3 0.9225 0.851 0.0031 0.00001

Donation intention DI1 0.9296 0.8642 0.0015 0.000002

DI2 0.9077 0.8239 0.0163 0.00027
DI3 0.9532 0.9086 0.0479 0.00229
DI4 0.8322 0.6926 0.035 0.00123

Average 0.8855 0.7888 0.0074 0.0039

J. Wan et al. / Information & Management 54 (2017) 837–850 845

Table 3
Results of Confirmatory Factor Analysis.

Construct Items Mean SD Loading AVE CR a

Interaction INT1 4.99 1.258 0.9195 0.8652 0.9506 0.893
INT2 5.03 1.347 0.9378
INT3 4.93 1.330 0.9332

Identification IDE1 4.84 1.234 0.8773 0.7471 0.9219 0.9273

IDE2 4.85 1.207 0.8835
IDE3 4.88 1.234 0.8571
IDE4 4.42 1.366 0.8387

Information value IV1 5.31 1.102 0.8655 0.7782 0.9133 0.8572

IV2 5.62 1.023 0.9211
IV3 5.90 1.036 0.8589

Emotional attachment EA1 5.25 1.351 0.8986 0.7662 0.9216 0.8929

EA2 5.60 1.179 0.858
EA3 5.33 1.314 0.8167

Competitiveness COM1 4.74 1.396 0.886 0.7657 0.9074 0.8472

COM2 4.77 1.341 0.9002
COM3 4.88 1.372 0.8065

Personalization PER1 5.10 1.306 0.874 0.797 0.9217 0.8727

PER2 5.22 1.019 0.9026
PER3 5.40 1.063 0.9014

Sociability SOC1 5.40 1.159 0.8922 0.8283 0.9354 0.8963

SOC2 5.20 1.064 0.912
SOC3 5.25 1.216 0.9259

Functional dependence FD1 5.10 1.299 0.9223 0.8522 0.9453 0.9133

FD2 5.50 0.951 0.9214
FD3 5.58 0.976 0.9258

Donation intention DI1 5.62 1.032 0.9284 0.8217 0.9485 0.9273

DI2 5.48 1.203 0.9206
DI3 5.49 1.160 0.9134
DI4 5.55 1.263 0.862

4.4. Measurement model 4.5. Hypothesis testing

We examined the reliability and validity of the measurement On the basis of the factor loading results, we retained all the
model using SmartPLS 2.0, which allowed us to test the items to test the hypotheses using SmartPLS 2.0 with boot-
measurement and structural models simultaneously. As shown strapping for standard error estimation. The results are summa-
in Table 3, the Cronbach’s alphas and the composite reliabilities rized in Fig. 2. Overall, the results show that the explained
were all higher than 0.70, thus exhibiting a good reliability [103]. variances of the dependent constructs were quite high (53% for
The average variance extracted (AVE) values were all above 0.5, donation intention, 52.6% for emotional attachment to content
showing the data had a good convergent validity [51]. creator, and 51.9% for functional dependence on social media),
The discriminant validity is supported when the square root of indicating that the research model had a sufficient predictive
the AVE is greater than the correlation between the focal construct power. Specifically, attachment theory and socio-technical systems
and other constructs. As shown in Table 4, the square roots of the perspectives provide useful insights into users’ donation behavior
AVEs for all constructs were greater than their correlations with in social media.
other constructs, thus indicating adequate discriminant validity. Regarding the significance of the hypothesized relationships,
emotional attachment significantly influenced a user’s donation
intention with a path coefficient of 0.539 (p < 0.001), thus
supporting H1. Functional dependence contributed significantly
Table 4
Correlations Between Latent Constructs. to donation intention with a path coefficient of 0.269 (p < 0.001),
and it also affected emotional attachment with a path coefficient of
0.236 (p < 0.01), thus supporting H2a and H2b. Regarding the
COM 0.875 antecedents of emotional attachment and functional dependence,
identification (b = 0.192, p < 0.001), interaction (b = 0.179, p
DI 0.628 0.906
EA 0.618 0.699 0.875
FD 0.403 0.592 0.609 0.923 < 0.01), and information value (b = 0.259, p < 0.01) significantly
IDE 0.445 0.515 0.562 0.517 0.864 influenced emotional attachment, whereas sociability (b=0.331,
INT 0.461 0.564 0.563 0.568 0.591 0.930 p < 0.001) and personalization (b = 0.473, p < 0.001) significantly
PER 0.406 0.501 0.595 0.670 0.510 0.491 0.893 influenced functional dependence, thus supporting H3, H4, H5, H7,
IV 0.361 0.531 0.617 0.667 0.555 0.530 0.624 0.882
SOC 0.571 0.621 0.737 0.609 0.562 0.613 0.589 0.524 0.910
and H8. However, competitiveness did not have a significant effect
on functional dependence. Thus, H6 was not supported.
846 J. Wan et al. / Information & Management 54 (2017) 837–850

Fig. 2. Hypothesis Testing Results.

*p < 0.05, **p < 0.01, ***p < 0.001; the dashed line represents nonsignificant path.

5. Discussion and implications long-term relationships with other users will strengthen. Finally,
regarding technological features, sociability and personalization
The current study investigates the motivation behind users’ positively influence functional dependence. For example, accord-
donation behavior in social media. Using a questionnaire survey of ing to the use and gratification theory, one medium is chosen over
social media users of YY.com, we examined the complex relation- others because of its ability to better serve a user’s need [145], and
ships between emotional attachment, functional dependence, and such perceived personalization in turn influences users’ medium
donation intention through the lens of attachment theory and selection decision.
socio-technical systems framework. Our research has the follow- Although most of our hypotheses are supported, the relation-
ing findings and implications. ship between competitiveness and function dependence is found
to be nonsignificant. One plausible explanation is that users’
5.1. Discussion of results perception of competitiveness on YY platform can be either a
positive or negative emotion because it is impossible to make each
This study examines users’ donation behavior by integrating the user win and rank higher. In other words, it will make some users
socio-technical systems framework with attachment theory. The feel discouraged when ranked low; consequently, they may not
results depict a high degree of explained variances for all develop a positive attitude toward the social media platform.
dependent variables. The empirical results also reveal interesting Therefore, competitiveness may not affect users’ dependence on
findings. First, we found that it is useful to explain users’ donation social media.
behavior using both social and technological factors based on
socio-technical systems. Second, drawing on attachment theory, 5.2. Theoretical implications
we found that users develop emotional attachment to content
creators and depend on social media platform functionally. These From the theoretical perspective, our study presents a few
two types of attachment significantly influence users’ donation interesting findings. First, we extend the research on donation
intention. In addition, functional dependence also indirectly affects behavior to the social media context by integrating charitable
donation intention through emotional attachment. This indicates behavior and PWYW, a first in academic research. In traditional
that social media as the platform provide an environment for users donation, the beneficiaries are often people who suffer painful
to present themselves and develop relationships, and they play a experiences. In this research, we study users’ donation to content
core role in influencing users’ affection and behavior. Third, among creators in social media. In addition, we examined PWYW in social
social factors, identification, interaction, and information value media, a setting where content creators’ behaviors are not
positively influence emotional attachment. For example, social primarily driven by financial incentives. As most studies on
media with high interactivity can better meet users’ needs [83] and donation behavior focus on donor motivation and nonprofit
allow them to spend more time to discuss the topics they are organization performance [95,146] and research on PWYW
interested in. During this process, users’ intention to maintain examines the pricing mechanism and product sales, this study
J. Wan et al. / Information & Management 54 (2017) 837–850 847

contributes to the donation and PWYW literature by understand- 5.4. Limitations and future research
ing donation behavior in the consumption of “free” contents
through the lens of the attachment theory. We acknowledge the limitations of this study. First, given the
Second, we fill a gap in the study of consumer behavior by scope of the study, there are other constructs that were not
exploring how the characteristics of user perception influence included in the model. Future research can identify other
donation in social media. On the basis of the attachment theory, we important antecedents that may explain social media donation
identified two types of attachments—emotional attachment and behavior from different perspectives. Second, we did not incorpo-
functional dependence—that influence users’ donation intention in rate actual donation behaviors in our research model, which is one
social media. Emotional attachment is an important factor that of the limitations of all cross-sectional studies. Future research can
influences users’ donation behavior, and functional dependence extend our research by considering actual donation behaviors or
has direct and indirect impacts on donation. These empirical the amount of the donation. Third, our results may be specific to
results reveal that the theoretical perspectives in our study are China as social media donation gains traction. Future research may
effective in explaining and predicting future donation intention. also extend our model to other geographical contexts or cultures.
Third, our study extends the understanding of how user Finally, we did not examine moderating factors such as gender,
attachment influences donation behavior from social and technical income, and personality that may provide better insights into the
perspectives on the basis of socio-technical systems. The findings understanding of donation behavior in different situations. These
indicate that both social and technological factors of the social factors can be considered in future research.
media are important in promoting users’ donation intention.
Although studies have shown the significance of social factors on 6. Conclusion
traditional donation behavior [78,89], our research revealed the
importance of technological factors in social media. The present This study investigates the roles of social factors (identification,
study found that three social factors (identification, interaction, interaction, and information value) and technological factors
and information value) and two technical factors (sociability and (sociability, competitiveness, and personalization) on users’
personalization) are indirect predictors of donation intention in attachment consisting of emotional attachment and functional
social media. dependence and how such factors further influence their donation
intention in social media. Most of the hypotheses on the impacts of
social and technical factors on attachment and donation behavior
5.3. Practical implications
are supported by our empirical study. Our findings suggest that
user attachment enhances donation intention. Social media
The findings of this study also offer a few interesting practical
providers and nonprofit organizations should focus on the
implications. To predict whether people are willing to donate,
different effects of the two types of attachment and pay attention
social media providers and nonprofit organizations should pay
to both social and technical factors to encourage user donation in
attention to both social and technical factors. For example,
social media.
nonprofit organizations can develop their platforms or draw
support from social media, which can boost the organizations’
ability to strategically and efficiently engage a large audience [119]
and build relationships through communication or other mecha-
This work is partially supported by grants from the National
nisms [142]. Emotional attachment and functional dependence
Science Foundation of China (71332001, 71201062, 71602152, and
provide goals or guidelines for practitioners. Social media
71602063). It is also partially supported by University of Texas Rio
providers should take strategic actions to enhance users’ attach-
Grande Valley Faculty Summer Writing Group Program.
ment to content creators or beneficiaries and their reliance on the
social media platform to solve their routine problems and achieve
Appendix A. Questionnaire items
their goals.
In addition, because technical factors are good indicators of the Identification [24,136]
willingness to donate, social media providers and nonprofit IDE1 I feel that my personality and the personality of the content creator are
organizations should manage the technological features and test very similar.
IDE2 I have a lot in common with the content creator.
the impacts of these features on users’ donation behavior.
IDE3 I feel that my values and the values of the content creator are very
Practitioners can increase sociability by providing comfortable similar.
and convenient channels of communication for users and IDE4 I perceive an overlap between my self-image and the content creator’s
beneficiaries to build and strengthen relationships. Specifically, image.
practitioners should spend more efforts to increase personaliza-
Interaction [83]
tion that significantly enhances users’ perceptions. For instance, INT1 I can usually get quick responses to any question I bring up from the
they can provide different types of users with personalized settings content creator.
and recommend other users or content creators based on users’ INT2 I have close and intensive interactions with the content creator.
usage patterns and tasks. INT3 I can usually get quick responses to any idea I post from the content
Our findings advise that social media providers and nonprofit
organizations should increase the opportunities for users Information value [86]
including prospective donors and beneficiaries to recognize each IV1 I accumulate knowledge through the content creator’s shared
other, and beneficiaries or content creators should focus on information.
building strong attachment relationships with users who may be IV2 I acquire novel information through the content creator.
IV3 I get interesting information through the content creator.
donors. For example, beneficiaries or content creators can offer
valuable information to increase attention and foster positive Personalization [153]
affection from users. Moreover, beneficiaries can increase PER1 I set up YY platform to use it the way I want to.
interaction with users by discussing common interests and PERI2 I have adapted YY platform to meet my needs.
PER3 I have chosen features offered by YY platform to suit my style of use.
providing prompt responses.
848 J. Wan et al. / Information & Management 54 (2017) 837–850

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