The effect of salience of multiple social roles on social communication

Document Type


Source Publication

2017 International Symposium on Business and Social Sciences

Publication Date



International Symposium on Business and Social Science; The International Conference on Education, Psychology and Society


roles conflict, word-of-mouth, social media, online communication


Consumers today share many daily consumption experiences online as a way to communicate with others. While these communication may aim to provide some useful information to other people, oftentimes the sharing itself could benefit the consumer themselves. For example, literature in marketing has suggested that consumers engage in word-of-mouth behavior (WOM) to affiliate with others, to signal their knowledge, or to make themselves look better (Hennig-Thurau et al. 2004). These self-relevant goals mentioned above generally requires the presentation of message recipients in order to achieve. In fact, consumer researchers have shown that WOM speaker does show some knowledge about the characteristics of message recipients when crafting their communication channels (Chen and Kirmani 2015). Similarly, when people have an affiliation goal, they alter their message to present a desired image for different audiences (Goffman 1959).

Since audience plays a role in affecting consumers‘ selection of communication content and channel, it is possible that a general communication decision will be influenced. Specifically, we suspect that in a communication context with multiple audiences, consumers are likely to consider their distinct roles for different audiences. For example, a college student wants to establish an image of hardworking partner to his teammates in a course project, but he also wants to show his commitment to his co-workers from a part-time job. The consideration of multiple social roles may inhibit communication behavior because of perceived role conflict. However, we know little about how may the salience of social roles affect communication behavior.

Our goal in this research is to directly examine 1) whether the number of social roles affect perception of role conflict, and 2) whether perceived role conflict influences social communication.

We conducted 2 experiments and propose a future study. Study 1 aims to show that when people think about their multiple roles, they perceive different role exceptions. We randomly assigned 333 participants to one of the three social roles conditions, multi-dimension, uni-dimension, and a control condition. Before the social role manipulation, we asked participants to describe a fun activity they had recently as the sharing content later. Next, we manipulated number of social roles by asking them to indicate agreement/disagreement with their current social roles. Specifically, in the uni-dimension condition, we asked 5 questions focusing on their roles as classmates. In the multi-dimensional role conditions, we asked 10 agreement questions to assess their roles across three dimensions, including student, family member, and employee. In the control condition, participants were asked to describe their social roles in an open-ended box. Finally, we measured perceived role expectation and manipulation check questions.

Our social roles manipulation worked as intended. The one-way ANOVA revealed a significant dimension main effect (F(2, 330) = 8.57, p < .01), and people reported more social roles in the multi-dimensional roles condition (M=4.23) than in the uni-dimensional roles condition (M=3.45; F(1,330) = 9.04, p < .01). Next, we found support for role expectation (F(2, 330) = 10.80, p < .01). Specifically, people reported more diverse expectation in the multi-dimension condition (M=4.66) than those in the uni-dimension condition (M=3.32; F(1,330)=13.09, p <.01). Thus, study 1 shows some initial support to our conceptual model that the number of roles could lead to diverse role expectations.

Study 2 further examine if role expectations could influence perceived role conflict and online sharing behavior. 440 participants were randomly assigned them to four conditions (2: number of social roles X 2: expectation similarity). The idea of having a 2 x 2 design is to attenuate the impact of absolute number of social roles by directly manipulating the driving force of role expectation. Consistent with our prediction, the results showed that, when focusing on dissimilar role expectation, participants reported higher level of role conflict (M = 4.70 vs. M = 4.14; F(1, 403) = 9.07, p < .01) and found it more difficult to manage their desired image online (M = 3.69 vs. M = 3.11; F(1, 402) = 9.47, p < .01). However, we did not find support for sharing intention in a 2 x 2 ANOVA (all ps > .37).

A planned study 3 aims to show the intended role effect on sharing behavior. Specifically, we suspect that not every sharing content is affected by role conflict. For example, while a work-family role conflict is common, people should find it comfortable to share happy events regardless of their roles as a family member or a colleague. However, when the sharing content shows conflict of interests among different roles, this sharing may be inhibited. Study 3 attempts to focus on types of sharing content to enrich our understanding of the relationship between number of friends, role expectation, role conflict, sharing content and behavior.

This research is expected to contribute to the literature in word-of-mouth and social media marketing, by considering the multiple-audience communication context. Such a communication context has not been investigated to relate to social role a consumer have. We aim to show an unexpected result that the number of connected friends could backfire social communication intention. Such a finding has substantial managerial implications for social media strategy planning, especially when a strategy requires the identification of influential person in a social network.



Recommended Citation

Chen, Y.-J. (2017, June). The effect of salience of multiple social roles on social communication. Poster presented at the 2017 International Symposium on Business and Social Sciences, Kitakyushu, Japan. Abstract retrieved from

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