With people having hundreds or even thousands of “friends” on Facebook, it’s clear that most tend to interact with a much smaller group of connections on the site. A new study from Facebook, however, suggests the site is more than simply an echo chamber where like-minded people share information and opinions with each other.
Findings by Eytan Bakshy, a Facebook data scientist, indicate that information shared on the site is amplified by the strength of “weaker” ties. People’s distant contacts are more likely to exchange novel information about everything from new products to current events. That in turn, powers the word-of-mouth marketing that Facebook enables for brands.
The Facebook study is grounded in the research of U.S. sociologist
Mark Granovetter, whose influential 1973 paper “The Strength of Weak Ties” focused on the spread of information in (physical world) social networks. He found that people are more likely to
acquire jobs they learned about through individuals they interact with infrequently rather than their close personal contacts.
Weak ties help spread novel information by bridging the gap between clusters of strong tie contacts.
Similar to offline, Bakshy found that people are more likely to share information (links to Web pages) they were exposed to by close friends, rather than their weak ties on Facebook via the News Feed.
“One reason is that close contacts are more likely to be similar to one another, and therefore find content shared by their close friends more interesting. An alternative explanation is that strong ties are more 'influential,’ so that people are more likely to be persuaded to share information from their close contacts,” he states in a blog post today.
But while people are more likely to share information among their strong ties, the far greater number of weak ties is how the majority of information is spread on Facebook. That also means that a majority of influence is generated by weak ties rather than strong ones.
“The information we consume and share on Facebook is actually much more diverse in nature than conventional wisdom might suggest,” concludes Bakshy. “We are exposed to and spread more information from our distant contacts than our close friends. Since these distant contacts tend to be different from us, the bulk of information we consume and share comes from people with different perspectives.”
The study didn’t relate its findings directly to marketing efforts or ad campaigns on Facebook. The implication for marketers, however, is that people can learn about brands or products on Facebook from contacts well outside their closest circle of friends.