Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science

, Volume 47, Issue 6, pp 1005–1026 | Cite as

What makes online content viral? The contingent effects of hub users versus non–hub users on social media platforms

  • Qingliang WangEmail author
  • Fred Miao
  • Giri Kumar Tayi
  • En Xie
Original Empirical Research


Extant research has focused on the role of hub users (e.g., individuals with a large number of ties to other people) in social media–based product adoption or information diffusion processes to the neglect of non–hub users. Drawing on the strength-of-weak-ties perspective and social capital theory, we (1) reveal systematic differences in characteristics of hub users vs. non–hub users in terms of user type, follower type, as well as user–follower relationships and (2) demonstrate differential effects of non–hub users versus hub users contingent upon contextual factors. Using a dataset collected from a popular Chinese micro-blog website, we find that hub users are more likely information disseminators than non–hub users, that followers of hub users are more likely information disseminators themselves than followers of non–hub users, and that there are more reciprocal ties between non–hub users and their followers than relationships between hub users and their followers. More importantly, results confirm contingent effects of hub users vs. non–hub users on reposts. Specifically, relative to hub users, the effect of non–hub users on reposts becomes much less weak when content topics are of high personal relevance to followers’ lives or when content has high emotional valence. By contrast, hub users, relative to non–hub users, become even more impactful when many of their followers happen to be active online when an original post is seeded.


Social media User-generated content Hub users Non–hub users Information diffusion Strength of weak ties Social capital theory 



The authors thank the review team for constructive feedback and suggestions. The first and fourth authors acknowledge the financial support from the National Natural Science Foundation of China [Grants 71402131 and 71832009].


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Copyright information

© Academy of Marketing Science 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Qingliang Wang
    • 1
    Email author
  • Fred Miao
    • 2
  • Giri Kumar Tayi
    • 3
  • En Xie
    • 4
  1. 1.School of ManagementNorthwestern Polytechnical UniversityXi’an, Shaanxi, 710072China
  2. 2.College of BusinessUniversity of Texas at ArlingtonArlingtonUSA
  3. 3.School of BusinessUniversity at Albany, State University of New YorkAlbanyUSA
  4. 4.School of Economics and ManagementTongji UniversityShanghai 200092China

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