Social influence: the question of quantity vs quality

Still thinking about contagion.


I was talking with a friend recently about online influence. In particular, whether – or to what extent – social media influence translates into real world behaviour. You know, things like raising funds through your online social network and blog readers.


That conversation reminded me of a study by Robert Bond and colleagues from the University of California, looking at the impact of Facebook activity on political mobilisation (paid access to the paper here and free access to presentation here). The researchers showed participants the two messages below:


The first message focuses purely the quantitative side of socialisation – how many people did x. The second message takes into account the qualitative aspects of socialisation – who did x.


The researchers wanted to study the impact of these messages on three behaviours:

–       Online expression – i.e., the user clicks on the ‘I voted’ button;

–       Private behaviour – i.e., clicking on the ‘Find your polling place’ link;

–       Real world behaviour – i.e., actually voting in the election.


The researchers found that quantity impacted on online expression. However, only quality had any significant impact on private behaviour or, indeed, real world behaviour.


In other words, the size of the network is very important to make content spread. But it’s the close ties – specially, real world connections – that generate action.


So, if you are in the business of spreading content – by all means, focus on numbers. But if you want to generate action, you really need to nurture those personal connections.


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