Being in the Moment: The Effects of Ephemeral Communication in Social Media

Ran Kivetz and Daniel He, 2017, 17-112-06

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Ephemeral messaging has recently been integrated into a variety of social media apps. Unlike permanent forms of messaging, ephemeral messaging transmits multimedia messages which, much like spoken words, automatically disappear after the messages have been viewed. It is commonly assumed that because of the greater privacy afforded by these self-deleting messages, consumers use ephemeral communication to exchange sensitive or provocative content.

Ran Kivetz and Daniel He posit that this conventional understanding of ephemeral messaging overlooks an important aspect of why people find it appealing. That is, because ephemeral messaging is transient in nature, it grounds the interaction to the present. As a result, individuals become immersed in the activity at hand and experience the related consequences of being “present” or “in the moment”. They explore their hypotheses in a series of studies using a real and functional ephemeral messaging app that participants used to transmit texts and images.

Among their findings:

  • Being in the moment allows consumers to be more immersed in the activities portrayed in social media messages, which increases consumers’ intent to join the depicted activities that are shown ephemerally, rather than permanently.
  • In social interactions that evoke mild anxiety from ruminating over what to say, ephemeral messaging fosters greater interpersonal closeness by causing consumers to ruminate less.
  • Because ephemeral communications cause consumers to be “in the moment”, they enhance consumers’ openness and creativity.
  • Further, since ephemeral messaging causes consumers to be “present”, they rely less on past information and outcomes, which inoculates them against the sunk cost fallacy.

These findings have broad marketing implications. First, because people are more interested in participating in activities that they viewed ephemerally, marketers can use such communication as a channel to advertise events (e.g., concerts, shows, movies) and experiences (e.g., vacations, hotels, restaurants).

Second, their findings suggest that introducing ephemerality in text-based communication between a firm representative and a consumer can increase feelings of trust due to a greater sense of authenticity. By enhancing interpersonal communication, ephemeral messaging may increase consumers’ satisfaction in their experience interacting with the firm.

Finally, because ephemeral communication can facilitate a more immersive experience and increase interpersonal closeness in anxiety-ridden settings, online social networks -- particularly dating platforms -- can benefit from incorporating ephemerality as a feature to increase bonding and closeness.

Ran Kivetz is Philip H. Geier Jr., Professor of Marketing and Daniel He is a Ph.D. Candidate in marketing, both at Columbia Business School.



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