“What Makes Social Movement Campaigns Go Viral on Social Media? The Role of Narrative Features and Cultural Influences.”

Grant from Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communications: $4,000, 2019-2020.

Abstract: Social movements and social issue related public discourse has become one of the most impactful public communication phenomena in the digital space. Previous studies have examined the association between information utility and content valence on message virality. However, little is known about what makes certain social movement narrative go viral quicker with greater magnitude than others. Even less explored is how social movements, concerning the same issue, is communicated and spread as narratives in different cultures. To address this, using the #MeToo movements in the U.S. and China as the focal case, we propose a two-phase study to: 1) identify narrative features as evidenced on Twitter and Weibo during #MeToo movement via content analyses; and 2) examine the effects of identified prominent narrative features on public engagement behavioral intention and issue participation on social media via an online experiment in the U.S. and in China. The findings will advance theory building in narrative-based public communications about social issues. Practical insights will be offered on refining social media strategies and tailoring culturally-relevant narrative content and form to engage public dialogues beyond cultural boundaries and facilitate public issue participation globally.

Yan Jin  Xuerong Lu 

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