On most social media platforms, your online connections are probably more popular than you are. Users’ friends also tend to post more, have more influence, and receive more feedback on their posts, according to research published in PLOS One.
The culprit, according to the study, is the hierarchical nature of social media networks and relationships. Popular users rarely follow people less popular than them. Instead, a social media user might follow a friend with a larger number of connections. That friend, in turn, may then follow a local celebrity with even more connections, and the local celebrity may follow a national celebrity with millions of connections. In this scenario, each individual user is left with friends who have a wider reach than they do.
Why Social Media Users ‘Friend’ People with More Friends
A so-called friendship paradox can affect relationships on social media, according to the study. This paradox suggests most people think they are funnier, smarter, and more popular than their friends, but most social media users actually have fewer connections compared to their friends. The paradox holds for about 90% of social media users.
To explore this paradox, researchers worked with two data sets of posts to Twitter. The first contained more than 470 million tweets by 18 million users, including more than 20% of tweets posted over seven months beginning in June 2009. A second data set included all links between users who joined Twitter before August 2009, including 5.8 million users, 193 million links, and 200 million tweets. Repeat tweets were discarded, allowing researchers to look only at original tweets.friends to share information with one another, social media relationships are often about following popular people. Not all users follow celebrities, though. Instead, the results showed a user with hundreds of followers is more likely to follow one with thousands, while a user with thousands of followers might follow a user with millions of followers.
The study notes the number of followers or connections is not always the best measure of influence on social media, because the most popular users may be inundated with information. Instead, the most influential users are often those whose posts are shared by their social media connections, and those whose posts garner a high response rate.
- Momeni, N., & Rabbat, M. (2016). Qualities and inequalities in online social networks through the lens of the generalized friendship paradox. PLOS One, 11(2). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0143633
- Your friends have more friends than you do. (2016, May 18). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/05/160518170436.htm
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