A few interesting Facebook links

26 Oct 2010 by Randall Helms, 1 Comment »

Several days ago the New York Times reported on a very interesting study that looked at how and why people are ‘unfriended’ (deleted) on Facebook:

BEFORE you post that umpteenth status update about your toddler’s latest witticism or your feelings for Glenn Beck, consider this: According to research by a graduate student at the Business School at the University of Colorado, Denver, the top two reasons that Facebook users unfriend people is that they post too frequently on trivial topics or about polarizing subjects — particularly politics and religion.

“One of the interesting things about unfriending is that most real-world friendships either blow up or fade away,” said Christopher Sibona, who wrote the study with his adviser, Steven Walczak, an associate professor of information systems management. “But on Facebook, users actively make the decision to unfriend, and people often don’t know why or what’s happened in the relationship.”

Not everyone, it seems, really wants to be friends with everyone. According to the study, those who initiate a friendship are more likely to be unfriended than those on the receiving side. This seems to mirror the real world. Research shows that people who make friendship overtures tend to be of lower social status than those courted. It may be that the recipient of a new friendship, whether off- or online, values those relationships less than the initiator does.

For more, see this post at ComMetrics. Overall, I have to say that this research does not particularly surprise me, and I think that the results would probably be even more robust if they had also included who people ‘hid’ from their newsfeed, since that is a step short of fully unfriending someone. I unfriend people only very rarely, but I have certainly hidden people from the news feed if they clog it up with too much trivia or half-baked political ranting, and I’m sure that I am not alone in having done so!

For brands, what this research shows, in my opinion, is the important of balance. Obviously you want your fans to engage with your content (and then hopefully convert that engagement into actual sales), but at the same time you need to be careful that you do not overdo it and annoy them, and that your messages are interesting but not polarizing, although perhaps it is ok to be controversial and polarizing if you are looking to energize a relatively small group of passionate fans.

Having posted this story on Facebook, my friend Olly Pearce then linked me to this story about how Facebook’s algorithms determine what you see on your Facebook news feed:

Facebook, much like Google with its search algorithms, consistently refuses to go into details about how it picks and pans content … So, with the mystery of that 10th-grade friend in mind, The Daily Beast set out to crack the code of Facebook’s personalized news feed …

To get the answers, we devised an experiment, creating our own virtual test lab within the confines of Facebook and tracking thousands of news-feed items over a period of several weeks. The focal point of our experiment: Phil Simonetti, a 60-year-old Facebook newcomer who allowed us to dictate and monitor his every move …

The experiment showed several results:

  1. It’s harder to appear in people’s news feeds if you are a newcomer
  2. To appear in more people’s news feeds they need to interact with your content – but that’s not so easy when you aren’t appearing in them in the first place
  3. The number of people appearing in the feeds is capped (which I didn’t know, but had suspected)
  4. Facebook ranks links as more important than status updates, and photos and videos as even more important than links
  5. Attracting comments on your content is also crucial to boosting your presence on other peoples’ news feeds

It’s really good to see this laid out in such a comprehensive way, since the precise mix of people that appeared in my news feed has always been somewhat puzzling, including as it does not just close friends and family, but also a number of acquaintances, fans of my music, or people I’ve not seen since High School. Some of it was pretty obvious (looking through people’s photos seems to be a good way of guaranteeing they will show up in your news feed), but I always had a bit of a question mark hanging over some of the others, so it’s great that this research has been published, since it answers many of my questions on the topic.


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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Randall Helms, Randall Helms. Randall Helms said: new social media post on some interesting new Facebook reports: http://bit.ly/dhTJDK […]

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