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Why most Facebook users get more than they give

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Facebook users who post, upload and tag on a regular basis may be a source of amusement — or aggravation — to their friends. A 2012 report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project suggests that such active users can significantly impact the Facebook experience of everyone in a network.

The report, “Why Most Facebook Users Get More Than They Give,” builds on the findings of the project’s June 2011 publication, “Social Networking Sites and our Lives,” by focusing on a subset of Facebook “power users” — individuals who frequently post, comment and tag photos. Researchers worked with Facebook to capture data on site users’ behaviors from November 1 to 28, 2010; data was augmented by usage logs completed by participants. The survey sample was comprised of 269 users who on average had 245 friends.

Key study findings include:

  • Approximately 20% to 30% of Facebook users are considered “power users”: “As a result of these power users, the average Facebook user receives friend requests, receives personal messages, is tagged in photos, and receives feedback in terms of ‘likes’ at a higher frequency than they contribute.”
  • The average users in the sample “like” their friends’ Facebook posts 14 times a month, but have their own content “liked” by others 20 times a month; 12% of the users tag photos of their friends, but 35% are tagged by others.
  • “It is commonly the case in people’s offline social networks that a friend of a friend is your friend, too. But on Facebook this is the exception, not the rule…. The average Facebook user in our sample had a friends list that is sparsely connected.”
  • “There is a statistically positive correlation between frequency of tagging Facebook friends in photos, as well as being added to a Facebook group, and knowing people with more diverse backgrounds off of Facebook.” Users who receive and accept more friend requests than the average report that “they received more social support/assistance from friends (on and offline.)”
  • Despite having the ability to unsubscribe from having a friend’s content in one’s news feed, “less than 5% of users in our sample hid another user’s content from their feed in the month of our observation.”
  • “At two degrees of separation (friends-of-friends), Facebook users in our sample can on average reach 156,569 other Facebook users.” Within the sample, the most influential power user could reach nearly 8 million other Facebook users through friends-of-friends, while the median user could reach 31,170 people.
  • The more active a Facebook user is, the more likely he or she has attended a meeting or political rally. “Heavy Facebook users were much more likely to attend political rallies and meetings, to try to influence someone they know to vote for a specific candidate, and to vote or intend to vote.”

The researchers find no evidence that Facebook’s popularity may be fading. “On the contrary, the more time that has passed since a user started using Facebook, the more frequently he/she makes status updates, uses the ‘like’ button, comments on friends’ content, and tags friends in photos. Similarly, the more Facebook friends someone has, the more frequently they contribute all forms of Facebook content and the more friend requests they tend to send and accept.”

Tags: Facebook, technology, social media

    Writer: | Last updated: February 22, 2013

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    Media analysis

    Read the study-related New York Daily News article titled “Facebook Users Get More Than They Give: Study.”

    1. Reporter's use of the study: Evaluate what the reporter chose to include and exclude from the study. Would the audience have acquired a clear understanding of the study's findings and limits from this article?
    2. Reporter's use of other material: Assess the material in the article that is not derived from the study. For example, does the reporter place the study in the context of other research and to what effect? Does the reporter include reactions to the study from other researchers or interested parties (e.g., political groups business leaders, or community members) and are their credentials or possible biases made clear?

    Analysis assignments

    Read the Pew Research study titled “Why Most Facebook Users Get More Than They Give.”

    1. Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
    2. Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
    3. Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)

    Newswriting assignments

    1. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
    2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
    3. Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
    4. Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.