Diffusion Dynamics of Energy Saving Practices in Large Heterogeneous Online Networks

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Online social networks are today's fastest growing communications channel and a popular source of information for many, so understanding their contribution to building awareness and shaping public perceptions of climate change is of utmost importance. Today's online social networks are composed of complex combinations of entities and communication channels and it is not clear which communicators are the most influential, what the patterns of communication flow are, or even whether the widely accepted two-step flow of communication model applies in this new arena. This study examines the diffusion of energy saving practices in a large online social network across organizations, opinion leaders, and the public by tracking 108,771 communications on energy saving practices among 1,084 communicators, then analyzing the flow of information and influence over a 28 day period. Our findings suggest that diffusion networks of messages advocating energy saving practices are predominantly led by the activities of dedicated organizations but their attempts do not result in substantial public awareness, as most of these communications are effectively trapped in organizational loops in which messages are simply shared between organizations. Despite their comparably significant influential values, opinion leaders played a weak role in diffusing energy saving practices to a wider audience. Thus, the two-step flow of communication model does not appear to describe the sharing of energy conservation practices in large online heterogeneous networks. These results shed new light on the underlying mechanisms driving the diffusion of important societal issues such as energy efficiency, particularly in the context of large online social media outlets.