The experiment

Why am I using social network sites? Have you ever asked yourself? Think of your favorite social media platform and answer the questions: Why do you use it? How do you use it? Who is your virtual self?

Let’s talk about who are you.

Cora Lupas - research experiment Like me, you are an individual trying to achieve well being. In order to reach the desired level of happiness, you have to satisfy certain needs. According to the literature, humans have five motivational needs. Psychologist Maslow classified them in a five-level pyramid. Self-esteem and self-actualization needs that can be fulfilled using media, especially social network sites.

People can find a lot of information about others. They can compare themselves in terms of physical aspect, marital, professional and financial status and also lifestyle: hobbies, dining and travel preferences. The level of recognition/appreciation and popularity can be quantified (likes, comments, shares, number of friends and followers). Individuals want to be perceived in a certain way. Therefore, they manipulate the information to display a desired self.

One of the most common forms of self-presentation online is self-promotion. To achieve recognition and popularity, people enhance and promote their positive traits. Behaviors such as taking selfies, not taking photos that don’t benefit the self, choosing carefully the photos to publish and disclosing personal information are related to self-promotion. Whether is self-generated content or content from other users or external sources, everything a user shares on Facebook can give cues to certain traits of the person behind the virtual profile.

But what type of disclosure is the most efficient? What type of content engages most the audience and generates the most reactions?

The experiment

The engagement of the audience can be quantified in the number and nature of reactions to each post. Hence, I decided to conduct an experiment to see if there are any patterns in the audience behavior when exposed to different types of content. My hypothesis was that self-generated content is more effective than shares from other sources. I expected the own generated/personal content to have a higher reach and a larger number of reactions.

The experiment took place on Facebook. All friends and followers in the network were participants. Also, friends of friends were subjects to the research as my profile is public. I exposed the audience to four types of stimuli. These stimuli represented news, educational, entertaining and personal content shared. During 16 weeks I posted, by rotation, on the same day of the week, at the same hour, each type of content.

My hypothesis was confirmed. More than 50% of all reactions were to posts that directly disclosed information about myself: pictures, check-in and so on. Considering the nature of reactions, personal content received more “likes”, “loves” and “wows” than other types of posts. By the characteristics of the audience, results are similar. There were people who engaged with my posts only once, during the entire experiment. More than 75% of them reacted to personal content shared. Also, most of the reactions from people outside my network are to this type of posts.

This research has a lot of limitations, first of all Facebook algorithms. Still, how much is about algorithms and how much about audience preferences and attitudes?

Here you can read the full research.