Social Consumption

Communications professor Qian Xu studies the ways we shop online and connect through social media.

The fast-changing field of interactive and social technology provides a variety of avenues for people to communicate with each other, consume information and purchase products.

It seems plausible that the more time a consumer spends using a specific interface for online shopping, for example, or communicating in a social media platform or instant messaging system, the more likely they are to purchase a product or return to interact on that same program. 

That is an assumption that isn’t always true. As a result of her research, Qian Xu, associate professor of communications, has discovered there is actually an optimal level of time users want to spend navigating a website or using a specific interface or various social media platforms. 

In her research, Xu explores how people interact with technology while they are shopping for a product. She examines how they communicate with one another via social media platforms, such as Facebook, Weibo or WeChat, and whether public opinion is influenced by these online conversations.

She determines how various technologies and experiences impact the way people think, understand and behave. That information is useful to help website designers and e-tailers create better user and online shopping experiences. 

She also wants to understand more about how people interact with each other and with the online interfaces they are using as well as how they react to the opportunities provided by those interfaces. A recent study explored different product features offered on an e-commerce website. The study required participants to use three different versions of the website, ranging from the least amount of interactivity to having the ability to move things around and change colors.

The fast-changing field of interactive technology and social technology introduces new ways for people to interact with each other and with various media interfaces. There seems a constant need to understand how these technologies affect the way we think, understand and behave.

Xu is also working on a project that examines how people are talking about genetically modified foods on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging site. She is interested in whether they think genetically modified foods are good or bad. She wants to know who they think is responsible for them. She is exploring whether those conversations are enhancing the public discourse on the topic. In addition, Xu is researching the extent that older citizens are using WeChat, a mobile instant messaging system used in China, and whether those interactions are helping them psychologically.

Joined Elon’s Faculty:

  • 2010


  • Ph.D. in Mass Communications from Penn State University
  • Master of Arts in Journalism from Nanjing University
  • Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Nanjing University

Recently Published Work:

Book Chapter

  • Nan, Y., & Xu, Q. (2016). “Public discourse on genetically modified foods in mobile sphere: Framing risks, opportunities, and responsibilities on mobile social media in China.” In R. Wei (ed.), Mobile media, political participation, and civic activism in Asia: Private chat to public sphere. Springer, Singapore.

Journal Articles

  • Xu, Q., & Sundar, S. S. (2016). “Interactivity and memory: Information processing of interactive versus non-interactive content.” Computers in Human Behavior, 63, 620-629. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2016.05.046
  • Miller, B., Xu, Q., & Barnett, B. (2016). “Commenter anonymity affects reader perceptions.” Newspaper Research Journal, 37(2), 138-152. doi:10.1177/0739532916648959

Encyclopedia Entry

  • Xu, Q. (2016). “Dual process models of persuasion (ELM/Heuristic-Systematic Model).” In P. Roessler (Ed.), The International Encyclopedia of Media Effects. New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell.