You Are More Influential Than You Think You Are
Imagine yourself on a stage. A sizable audience comprised of all your peers sits quietly before you; co-workers, ex-girlfriends, and roommates are eagerly waiting for you to begin your act. The performance? Reading to them your Facebook status.
How large would you guess your audience is? How many people would need to be in that room to make you think twice before you click "Post"? 25? 50? I recently asked myself these same questions when I repeatedly saw people in my network post obscene statuses or sensitive photos. Did they realize how many people saw their activity?
There's a large population of people interested in their own Facebook analytics. Remember Stalker Check, that app in 2009 that showed you your biggest stalkers? Of course, it was bogus but it still gained hundreds of thousands of users because people were desperate to know who viewed their profile the most. Unfortunately, Facebook guards its data very carefully and I have yet to come across a study that quantifies the number of people who view your profile, so I took my own stab at it.
Getting a measurement on my profile's traffic was tricky. I couldn't install an app that would count views, so I needed people to interact with my profile somehow to indicate that they had viewed it. The most obvious method is to count the number of likes/comments on my activity, but only a small portion of people that view Facebook content actually like or comment on it. I needed a better way.
What if I used bitly to track the number of clicks I had on all my links? Think about how often you enlarge a picture or click on a link someone has posted without commenting on it. Pretty often, right? By using bitly, I could measure exactly how often one my posts was clicked on and if anything, it would understate the amount of people that saw my post, since not everyone who saw a post would click it.
I posted 18 articles over the period of a month that ranged in a variety of topics and observed how many times each article was clicked. I specifically chose to post articles that I thought were the most interesting/would generate the most traffic.
Analyzing the Data
Before I jump into the data, I thought I would give some context to the statistics by describing my Facebook usage (below). If your social network's demographics are largely different than mine, your Facebook traffic will also be different:
- Facebook Friends: 1,176
- Number of times on Facebook daily: 5-10
- Age: 21
- Primary Facebook Network: College Students (UT Austin Network)
General Link Statistics:
Total Articles Posted: 18
Average Article Clicks: 80
Stan. Dev. of Clicks: 65
Categories of Articles Posted: Life, Technology, Research
Clicks by Topic
Total Clicks: 1438
Avg. Clicks on "Life" Articles: 197
Avg. Clicks on "Tech" Articles: 28
Avg. Clicks on "Research" Articles: 89
Bar Graph of All Clicks by Subject
Surprisingly, my links generated on average 80 clicks and my most popular link generated 250+, or 25% of my friends! I had always judged how popular a post was based on likes or comments, but some of my links had over 100 views without a single comment or like. Clearly, there is more to our News Feed than what meets the eye.
Visualizing Facebook Traffic
While viewing the statistics at a high level is interesting, I still wanted to know more about how information diffuses across my social network. Was my link only clicked at the time of posting and then forgotten? How much did other people sharing a post contribute to its traffic? To answer these questions, I took a closer link at the most popular article I shared, Living With Less, which generated 250+ clicks.
The chart alludes to a positive feedback loop that exists in Facebook’s News Feed - more popular items re-appear in the news feed if they generate sufficient amount of comments or likes (such was the case this time). The graph also shows that a friend sharing a post contributes significantly to its total traffic, as if the friend had posted the article him/herself. Lastly, around 25-35% of traffic to the link came at off-peak times and as a result of someone viewing my profile.
Like It or Not, You Have Influence
When I started this study, I was posting articles to observe traffic more than I was to spread information or news. Halfway through my experiment though, people started stopping me in the hallways, disagreeing with an article I had posted or sharing an interesting fact about the author. Good or bad, I had developed a reputation for sharing articles.
But I continued to post them - each night, I came back to my apartment and learned something new about my friends. I learned they were interested in bitcoin exchange rates (57 clicks) and intrigued about how we lie to our children (166 clicks). They were moved by an unhappy love story (106 clicks) and raised their voices about affirmative action (139 clicks).
Whether we post interesting content or not though, our profile is
frequented by those who have access. More than 10% of my friends clicked on
most of my posts and I’m willing to bet you’d have similar results.
The truth is that social media is a perpetual stage performance and we are all in the stands. Whether your audience is smaller or larger than mine is irrelevant - the microphone is on and they're all listening.