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Behavioral effects of Social Media Networking websites

Ever wonder why people post on the wall on Facebook rather than sending direct e-mail?  It is because people want to be visible and to be  recognized.  This is an example of online social grooming behavior.  Social grooming offline consists of exchanging pleasantries and small talk with people.  Social grooming amongst friends consists of checking-in (e.g. what’s up? what’s going on?, etc.)

On Facebook, there are applications such as online quizzes that reveal people’s interests to others, these are interactive, in which friends can comment and share the results to others.  These activities are mostly used by Generation Y as a way of self-expression.  The “about me” sections on Facebook and MySpace as well as the decoration of their profiles on MySpace are other examples of individuality and self-expression.  Generation X is the fastest growing demographic on Facebook, because of the need to reconnect to old acquaintances, and is driven by the curiosity about the status of former high school and college friends.  Gen Xers tend to use it as a social utility to communicate with the past versus Gen Yers who use it to strengthen with their current friends and acquaintances.

Ever wonder how some people on Facebook have over 500 friends? Is it even possible they have too many of them? It takes much mental computation to keep track of all of them.   There is a number called the Dunbar number, which states that most people cannot keep track more than 150 friends.  Even though we are more connected more than ever, it does not necessarily mean we have better connections with them. We continue to keep in contact with a select few number of friends.  According to this article in the Economist, the statistical breakdown for men versus women in the number of friends are the following:

Thus an average man—one with 120 friends—generally responds to the postings of only seven of those friends by leaving comments on the posting individual’s photos, status messages or “wall”. An average woman is slightly more sociable, responding to ten. When it comes to two-way communication such as e-mails or chats, the average man interacts with only four people and the average woman with six. Among those Facebook users with 500 friends, these numbers are somewhat higher, but not hugely so. Men leave comments for 17 friends, women for 26. Men communicate with ten, women with 16.

An issue that may arise is if one does not want to continue to communicate with some acquaintances  online on Facebook, MySpace and other social media networks or offline.  The difference between online and offline friend behavior, is that offline, meeting people occurs in a short period of time, afterwards, you may not see them again.   Online once you add a friend, “unfriending” them becomes politically onerous.

Twitter and Generation Y

I attended a Social Media conference on Saturday.   One of the talks was from entrepreneur and social media enthusiast, Jonathan Kochis, and he discussed the emerging popularity of Twitter.   What age group do you think Twitter is most popular?  One would suspect the Generation Y (people born between 1980 and 1995) crowd, because they were the early adopters of popular social media websites such as Facebook and MySpace.    However, the latest surveys here and here show that the Generation X (people born between 1964 to 1979) crowd were the ones driving the recent Twitter phenomenon.

Mr. Kochis explained how youth interact with social media.  He mentioned several insights from a report from the MacArthur Foundation, which studied youth and their online behaviors.   Some of the insights included: young adults and teenagers tend to have no patience, low reading and research skills compared to Generation X adults.   Generation Ys mostly use the internet to connect, to share and to make plans with friends.  They also use these tools to maintain friendships rather than find new ones.  Whereas, Generation X adults tended to use the internet for research and for work.   They also use the social media tools to organize events, issues and causes.  Making new business and professional contacts as well as promoting oneself and their work are used more often with Generation X than Generation Y.

Twitter is a great tool to organize events, to make new business contacts and to promote oneself.  It is also mostly text-based (140 characters or less).  None of these attributes attract the Generation Y crowd.  Twitter can be used to attract and maintain weak ties to people.   Random people who may use the Twitter search to find keywords can add random users.  The Generation Y crowd seeks to maintain friendships, and there is a need to find tools that strengthen these strong ties.  Facebook, IM (e.g. MSN Messenger, Adium, etc.)  and SMS texting are all very personal and very direct.

What are your thoughts on this?  Do you agree with this analysis?