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Pew Study Finds Facebook Power Concentrated in Relatively Few Friends

Pew Study Finds Facebook Power Concentrated in Relatively Few Friends

If you're a typical Facebook user, you get a lot more attention and affirmation from your use of the site than you give to others, suggests a new study. On the other hand, if you're really into Facebook -- if, in fact, you're a power user -- then you probably give a lot more than you get. And it's possible that one day, you'll even get the opportunity to pay a premium fee to give even more.

By Erika Morphy
02/03/12 3:07 PM PT

An in-depth look at Facebook user behavior reveals some interesting trends among this more than 800- million constituency: One, Facebook users tend to receive more from the Facebook friends than they give out; two, there is a solid core of users that are very active on the site.

The Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project report on the subject is based on data mined from the server logs of Facebook activity and survey data that explores the structure of Facebook friendship networks and measures of social well-being.

Over a one-month period, it reached the following conclusions:

  • 40 percent of Facebook users in the Pew sample made a friend request, but 63 percent received at least one request;
  • Users in the sample pressed the like button next to friends' content an average of 14 times, but had their content "liked" an average of 20 times;
  • Users sent nine personal messages, but received 12;
  • 12 percent of users tagged a friend in a photo, but 35 percent were themselves tagged in a photo.

The Power User Explanation

Pew has an explanation for the mismatch between Facebook fans who give and those who receive -- power users -- that is the 20 percent to 30 percent of Facebook users whose intense level of activity skews the average.

It is not clear at what point the network effect would kick in to override these power users, noted Daniel M. Ladik, associate professor of marketing at Seton Hall University. This study is an example of the Pareto Principle -- or 80-20 Rule -- at work, with 20 percent of Facebook users generating 80 percent of the content.

"There is nothing wrong with that, but that usually applies to one-to-one or didactic relationships," Ladik told TechNewsWorld. "Social network relationships are different."

For example, say a person has 10 friends, and each of them also has 10 friends. "If everyone sends out five messages, they will receive 100 messages -- so, of course, a user will get more than he or she gives," said Ladik. "It is simply the mathematics of a network."

The Collective Is Different

This makes sense on the individual level, Pew researcher and co-author of the report Lee Rainie told TechNewsWorld.

"But for a collective -- the whole system -- it would balance out, and everyone would get equivalent number of Likes or comments. That is the reason why the power users stand out. They are the ones that make it so people get more than they give."

What is also striking about the power users is that they can be divided into different categories, depending on the activity in question, the report found. One group of power users dominates friending activity. Another group dominates "liking" activity, and yet another dominates photo tagging.

A Gold Mine for Advertisers

These power users are gold mines of information for advertisers, Dave Robbins, CEO of Quantivo, told TechNewsWorld.

"The ability to perform powerful pattern analysis to uncover behaviors of power users is their gravy train to the next wave of creative advertising," he said.

Power users essentially hand over their minute-to-minute decisions during the course of a day, Robbins observed. "You really couldn't ask for more detailed information on a demographic."

How Else to Mine Them?

This report highlights what has been clear for some time with social media, William J. Ward, social media professor at Syracuse University, told TechNewsWorld -- namely, that they are people who are more engaged than others. "It is likely that they also have more social influence or capital, which is why companies try to leverage them as much as possible."

What is interesting is that Facebook does not appear to be taking advantage of these users to any great extent, Ward noted.

At minimum, these would be the people most likely to pay for a premium service, he suggested. Such as?

"Well, consider what Facebook offers brands that use its site and advertise," said Ward. "They get increasing levels of data and analytics made available to them. Why not offer power users the same sort of data analytics available to these brands?"


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