The Growth of Follower Networks on Social Media Platforms for Humanitarian Operations

Eunae Yoo, Elliot Rabinovich, Bin Gu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Information is a perishable resource that is costly to produce and distribute to stakeholders. To ensure the rapid and broad diffusion of this resource, humanitarian organizations (HOs) have become increasingly intent on building larger follower networks on social media platforms. Our study examines the growth of these networks, particularly in response to the sharing of social media content originally produced by the HOs during periods of normalcy and emergency. To analyze this phenomenon, we formulate a structural model grounded in theoretical work on strategic network formation. Our model evaluates the probability of individual users deciding to follow a HO in response to content sharing as a function of their utility and costs of doing so. We estimate the model using a unique Twitter dataset from a natural experiment involving a major earthquake. We find that content sharing more effectively contributes to the expansion of HOs’ follower networks after the earthquake. Our results also indicate that content sharing stimulates the formation of follower links to HOs from users who are at the highest risk of receiving obsolete information. Moreover, strategically engaging with users to share and diffuse content can yield greater follower link formation activity. Based on these findings, we derive operational implications for HOs that aim to increase the size of their follower networks on social media platforms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2696-2715
Number of pages20
JournalProduction and Operations Management
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • content sharing
  • humanitarian operations
  • social media
  • strategic network formation
  • structural model

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Management Science and Operations Research
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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