You Only Get One Shot: How Message Ephemerality Affects Information Processing and Viewing Behavior

Uri Barnea, Marketing, The Wharton School; Gideon Nave, Marketing, The Wharton School; and Robert Meyer, Marketing, The Wharton School

Abstract: Most digital communication platforms store content and allow users to see it multiple times. Despite the benefits that recording content holds for both users and companies, many applications delete it after it was seen by the receiver (i.e., ephemeral communication channels). We study the effects of message ephemerality on the processing of received content and production of shared content. Specifically, we are interested in how knowing that a message can be viewed only once affects attention to it, recall of it, and willingness to observe it for longer. Additionally, we explore how knowing that an interlocutor will be able to see a message only once affects the type of content one chooses to share. Offering consumers to communicate ephemerally can be costly, as foregoing access to shared content limits the company’s ability to leverage user data to optimize their services. Our work aims to provide insights into the pros and cons of ephemeral communication, and the ways in which it can be successfully integrated in more traditional platforms.

Michelle Eckert is Marketing and Communications Coordinator for the Mack Institute, where she works to engage students, researchers, and corporate partners in opportunities for collaboration. Michelle received her B.A. in Art from Valparaiso University in 2007. Her background includes two AmeriCorps terms of service working to teach mathematics, computer literacy, and job readiness skills to out-of-school youth in Philadelphia, focusing particularly on promoting access to post-secondary education.