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Managing Relationships on Facebook.com: How Users Monitor Themselves, Others and Brands Online
by Olga Alexeivna Kazakova, B.S.
Professional Report Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of The University of Texas at Austin in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of
Master of Arts
The University of Texas at Austin May 2009
Managing Relationships on Facebook.com: How Users Monitor Themselves, Others and Brands Online
Approved by Supervising Committee:
Michael Mackert Matthew Eastin
Managing Relationships on Facebook.com: How Users Monitor Themselves, Others and Brands Online
Olga Alexeivna Kazakova, M.A. The University of Texas at Austin, 2009
Supervisor: Michael Mackert This paper seeks to understand how Facebook users establish and monitor their personal brands online and how advertisers can leverage this opportunity when developing messages. The history, development trends and current state of social networking sites will be applied to two theoretical models, the Impression Management Theory and Social Cognitive Theory. Two data collection activities are discussed, one qualitative and one quantitative, which examine behaviors and beliefs related to managing relationships on Facebook.com and the long-term implications for advertisers.
Table of Contents List of Figures ....................................................................................................... vii INTRODUCTION LITERATURE REVIEW 1 2
Definition, History and Elements of Social Networking Sites .......................2 Social Network Growth ..................................................................................6 Site Navigation and Usage: Facebook versus MySpace .............................7 Profile of a Facebook User ..........................................................................8 Catering to Millennials/Generation Y ............................................................9 Frequency of Social Media Use and Integration with Facebook .................11 THEORETICAL APPLICATION 13
Impression Management Theory ..................................................................13 Brands and Impression Management...................................................16 Opportunities for Advertisers ..............................................................17 Social Cognitive Theory ...............................................................................18 Diffusion ..............................................................................................22 Social Cognitive Theory and Facebook Usage ...................................23 RESEARCH 25
Methodology .................................................................................................25 Findings and Discussion ...............................................................................26 First Experiences with Facebook .........................................................26 Usage ...................................................................................................26 Most Valued Features ..........................................................................28 Limiting Time on Facebook.................................................................29 Facebook and Relationships ................................................................30 Facebook and Conflicts........................................................................33 The Element of Control .......................................................................35 Interpreting Messages on Facebook.....................................................36 Friends versus Facebook Friends.........................................................37
If Facebook were a Person...................................................................38 Advertising on Facebook .....................................................................39 Connecting Brands with Profiles .........................................................43 Facebook in Five Years .......................................................................45 CONCLUSION APPENDIX A APPENDIX B APPENDIX C APPENDIX D REFERENCES VITA 47 52 55 62 63 65 73
List of Figures Figure 1: Figure 2: Figure 3: Figure 4: Figure 5: Figure 6: Launch Dates of Major Social Network Sites.....................................3 Top Social Networking Sites ..............................................................6 US Facebook Users by Age Group and Gender ................................8 The Two Components of Impression Management .........................15 Social Advertisement on Facebook .................................................18 Schematization of Triadic Reciprocal Causation In the Causal Model of Social Cognitive Theory ..............................................................19 Figure 7: Figure 8: Figure 9: Figure 10: News Feed Options ..........................................................................24 Facebook Advertisement Example and Status Response ................41 Status messages as Potential Advertisements. .................................43 Brands and photo tagging ................................................................46
Managing Relationships on Facebook.com: How Users Monitor Themselves, Others and Brands Online Introduction Over the past decade, social networking sites have evolved into a communication phenomenon that embraces interaction, technology and story telling. This highly personalized medium allows the user to explore his or her ideas and share them with the rest of the online world. Social networking sites like Facebook.com allow users to be creative in the messages they spread to their network of friends. The invention and re-invention of self is evident on social networking sites as users pick and choose the information they want to make available and cater messages to different audiences (Leary 1996). As people manage information and audiences on social sites, brands should carefully consider their online image and the current perceptions about that brand. Social networking sites like Facebook.com are responsible for changing the way people communicate and how advertisers create marketing messages. Since users have control over the medium, advertisers must implement strategies to reach this highly coveted group. As conversations move from face-to-face to online, brands must figure out how to make a first good impression online and more importantly, how to maintain it. A recent report from Microsoft and Synovate highlights the importance of this point and proves to be among the most insightful for the purposes of this paper. The global survey found that young adults are brand-conscious online, engaging with brands by talking about them and adding branded content to their social networking page. The study found that 19% of
respondents already add branded content to their homepage or social networking site. Furthermore, 24% said that they recently uploaded advertising clips to their social or video sites (Synovate 2008). Young adults are choosing to engage with brands online and willingly spread the content to their network. It is crucial that brands are aware of the differences between how they think they are perceived online, how they really are perceived and how they want to be perceived. This paper will also work to explain how the constantly-changing social networking landscape works to develop an individual’s sense of self and how advertisers can apply the Social Cognitive Theory and Impression Management Theory to understand social networking use and its effect on the younger generation. Most importantly, it will highlight the way users are currently using Facebook.com and how this new method of communication shapes their relationships with others. Using the constructs of the Impression Management and Social Cognitive theories, along with recent industry research about the implications of Facebook use, an online survey was developed and interviews were conducted with current Facebook users. Using the results of both the survey and interviews, managerial implications and conclusions were drawn regarding Facebook users’ views towards brand presence in the online community. Literature Review Definition, History and Elements of Social Networking Sites Across social networking sites, people have the chance to connect with others based on shared interests, connections or beliefs. Social network sites are defined as “web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system,
(2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system (Boyd & Ellison 2007). The main element of social networking sites is the user’s profile. Before befriending others, a person enters information pertaining to their education, career and personal interests (Boyd & Ellison 2007). The profile page and especially the “About Me” section is where a person can ‘type oneself into being’ (Sundén 2003). Some sites, including Facebook and MySpace, allow users to add multimedia to their profile such as video clips from YouTube or applications like Twitter and FlickR. The first social networking site, SixDegrees.com, was launched in 1997 (Boyd & Ellison 2007). Similar to today’s popular social Figure 1
networks, SixDegrees.com allowed users to create profiles, find friends and looks at other friends’ lists. Although many platforms like AOL Instant Messenger and Classmates.com existed before SixDegrees.com, this site was the first to combine these functionalities (Boyd & Ellison 2007). This service, believed to be ahead of its time, was shut down in 2000. Following SixDegrees.com, a number of community tools surfaced between 1997 and 2001. AsianAvenue, Blackplanet, LiveJournal and LunarStorm were among the earlier sites developed (Boyd & Ellison 2007) See Figure 1. The next set of social networking sites appeared in 2001 when Ryze.com found an opportunity in linking people both personally and professionally. While Ryze did not attract many users, the networks that followed, including Tribe.net, LinkedIn and Friendster, experienced successful growth for some time (Boyd & Ellison 2007). Friendster, for example, was launched in 2002 and was intended to compete with Match.com (Cohen 2003). The idea for Friendster was that the site would help ‘friends-of-friends meet, based on the assumption that friends-of-friends would make better romantic partners than would strangers’ (Boyd & Ellison 2007). Friendster experienced rapid growth, but the site was unsustainable due to a number of technical issues and social restrictions (Boyd 2006). For example, Friendster initially limited users from seeing others’ profiles that were more than four degrees away from them socially (friends-of-friends-of-friends-of-friends) (Boyd & Ellison 2007). This created a closed environment that was initially a limitation to Friendster but did not stop sites like Facebook from restricting profile access. As other developing social networking sites realized the effects on limitation, privacy and security concerns would surface in new networks.
In 2003, MySpace was launched to compete with sites like Friendster, Xanga and AsianAvenue, according to co-founder Tom Anderson (Boyd & Ellison 2007). Interestingly, Indie-rock bands were among the first groups to encourage others to switch after being barred from Friendster for not adhering to profile regulations (Boyd & Ellison 2007). By allowing minors to join the site, MySpace quickly attracted teens to the site in addition to bands and music enthusiasts in 2004. MySpace also capitalized on those who abandoned Friendster because it was rumored that Friendster would begin charging for membership on the site. While MySpace attracted a broader audience, Facebook was launched in 2004 and was initially available only to Harvard students (Cassidy 2006). As the social networking site grew to other universities, it was required that every member have an address that ended in .edu (Boyd & Ellison 2007). In 2005, Facebook was first extended to the high school audience and then eventually to everyone. Facebook was unlike other niche networks and unlike MySpace in the way that it defined its audience based on networks. Additionally, the site welcomed applications from third parties and worked with brands to incorporate them in the space. Depending on the site, followers, fans and contacts can be considered synonyms for ‘friend.’ However, the connection on a social networking site does not necessarily mean that the two people are friends in real life (Boyd 2006). Users can leave comments, look at pictures and view friends’ contact lists on various social networking sites. Brands looking to befriend members on social networking sites must offer something valuable in order for the relationship to work. Today, social network sites have morphed into communities where advertisers and marketers can see who their customers are, find out what interests them and understand current brand perceptions. Sites welcome advertisers to create
pages and create messages for users by offering various advertising opportunities. Many companies go unnoticed because they remain static in their messaging and do not truly understand the meaning of online communication. They expect users to find them, pass along the information to their friends and become brand evangelists simply because the brand exists online. But brand relationships are difficult to foster and even tougher to maintain with the recent growth of online social networks. Social Network Growth The most popular social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn continue to grow although they are mature networks. In fact, nearly half of the top social networking sites are also among the fastest growing. And while MySpace saw 1% year over year growth from 2007 to 2008, Facebook experienced a 116% increase in unique audience numbers (Nielsen 2009) See Figure 2.
As of January 7, 2009, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that over 150 million people around the world used Facebook.com. Furthermore, almost half of these users were logging onto Facebook once a day (“A Great Start to 2009”). While Facebook has 54.5 million monthly unique visitors and MySpace leads with 76 million in early 2009, Facebook’s US growth rate is 3.8% compared with MySpace’s growth of .8 % per month. According to this data, Facebook will likely overtake MySpace in January 2010 with these growth rates (Arrington 2009). Site Navigation: Facebook vs. MySpace Advertisers must understand where their Facebook users come from before and after visiting the site to create an integrated, online marketing campaign. Photo sites like YouTube, Flickr and Photobucket are most common for MySpace users while Facebook users most commonly visit Slide, YouTube and Flixter after leaving their page. Both sets of users rely on these multimedia and photography sites, but a key finding was that 5% of those leaving Facebook visited an educational Web site (Tancer 2007). MySpace audiences are more likely to visit community, African American, Instant Messenger, Music/Radio and Teen sites while Facebook audiences are more likely to visit community, bridal, teen, fashion, cosmetics and university sites (Quantcast 2009). In the Hitwise study, 20% of Facebook users visited MySpace immediately afterwards and 4.7% of MySpace users visited Facebook. This indicates that while demographics and interests range between the two networks, both groups choose to have an account with both MySpace and Facebook (Tancer 2007).
Profile of a Facebook User When looking at the demographics of Facebook.com users, it is interesting to see that while Facebook.com attracts a young audience, the site also appeals to the more affluent and college-educated. Facebook users are more likely to be female (55%) and 47% of users are between the ages of 18-34. The second most popular age category, 12-17, account for 31% of visitors. MySpace users are also more likely to be female and younger, but 53% of site visitors have no college education and 48% have a household income of $60,000 or less (Quantcast). Recent research from Facebook indicates fast growth rates for Americans over the ages of 35, 45 and 55. Since January 25, 2009, the number of Facebook users over the age of 35 has nearly doubled. Interestingly, the fastest growing group on Facebook is women over 55 with nearly 1.5 million active monthly users. Since March 25, 2009, “over 4 million more US women ages 35-44 and nearly 3 million more US men 35-44 used Facebook in March 2009 compared to September 2008” (Smith 2009b). See Figure 3.
Beyond looking at demographics alone, it is important to look at the reasons why people use Facebook. In a Louisiana State study of 172 Facebook users, the most cited reason for using the site was to check up on ‘real-life friends and acquaintances.’ While the site was used to pass time and avoid boredom, few students indicated that they used the site to develop romantic relationships or relieve loneliness. The most interesting finding in the study was that the users who reported feelings of anxiety in real-life relationships spent more time on the site than the peers who were socially comfortable. In addition, the more introverted group spent more time on social networking sites (Boyles 2008). The findings of this study will be put into perspective by two studies, one qualitative and one quantitative, later in this paper.
Catering to Millennials/Generation Y According to Facebook, the largest age group on the site is 18-25 with almost 20 million users (Smith 2009b). This group, born after 1980, is classified as Millennials, or Generation Y. Millennials are generally characterized as being technology-dependent, opinion-driven, individualistic, career-focused and restless (Stockman 2008). The top-down messages of advertising are no longer as effective as peer-to-peer communication, as younger audiences are finding out about products, brands and services through different channels (Fichter 2007). eMarketer predicts that by 2011, 84% of online teens will use social networks, with MySpace and Facebook attracting the most attention and advertising spend (eMarketer, Social Network Marketing). While it is impossible to assign characteristics to everyone born after 1980, it is important to look at the social events and common influences that shape the behaviors and attitudes of this
young generation. Generation Y was the first generation to grow up surrounded by entertainment technology and witnessed the widespread adoption of time-shifting technologies (Stockman 2008 pg. 6). Global changes in the way products, media and ideas spread greatly influenced the group’s development. Furthermore, the overprotective ‘helicopter’ parent and other authority figures were constantly challenged, resulting in the Millennial usually getting what he wants (Stockman 2008, pg. 9). Interestingly, research has shown that the ‘hovering’ trait extends to Millennials’ own use of online media as they like to keep tabs on what their friends are doing at all times, across a number of social networks (Wolff 2008). These young users are aware of safety concerns, limit their personal information online and keep tabs on their own behavior. According to The Pew Internet and American Life Project, two-thirds of teens with blogs or social-networking sites limit the information they make available to others. However, 79% include photos of themselves and half identify their schools (USA Today 2007). In fact, Facebook is the No. 1 photo sharing site, drawing twice as much traffic as Photobucket, Yahoo!Photos and Webshots Community combined (FaberNovel Consulting 2009). When looking at online impression management, Facebook users may choose to untag photos that their friends post but have no control of these photos existing online. While their name may not be tagged in the photo, others can still see the photo if a mutual friend posted it. Through these relationship ties, Facebook users may become even more focused on the impressions others form of them online and find different ways to control what is visible. According to Sandra Kleinburg, a Managing Partner of Martec Porter Novelli, a sense of belonging to a certain group is important to Millennials, being “cool” is a requirement and constant recognition from family, friends and co-workers is expected (Stockman 2008, pg. 10).
For this reason, it is no surprise that Millennials have taken a strong liking to social media and are a coveted target for marketers. The quest to understand how this young generation works with social networking sites is a continuing trend and research topic. In the book, Growing Up Digital, author Don Tapscott introduces the term Net Generation that includes people born between 1977 and 1997. Similar to Millennials or Generation Y, the Net Generation is great in number – 81.1 million, or 27 percent of the US population. Through interviews, Tapscott concluded that the Net Generation is much different from any other generation because they work and think much differently than others (Kharif 2009). Tapscott explains that the Internet and interactive technologies are a part of youth experience for this group and that time spent online takes away from time spent watching TV – and not social activities. Grown Up Digital, Tapscott’s follow-up book, focuses on how people interact through digital media and how relationships are changing based on different broadcasting methods. During the brain development time of age 8-18, the thing that most affects an adolescent’s brain besides DNA is how they spend their time. Tapscott explains that the Net Generation is not necessarily a group of multitaskers, but that they are better at switching between abilities and have a better active working memory. As this generation enters the workplace, their lives are intersected with technology. “Choice is like oxygen for this generation,” said Tapscott. They want to customize everything, collaborate with their peers and mix work with fun (McGraw Hill Pro 2009). For a brand to succeed in a community-driven environment, it is important that advertisers know how to reach this group in ways that traditional media cannot.
Frequency of Social Media Use and Integration with Facebook Recent research has shown that adolescents look to social networks to extend their reallife experiences online. While there are a number of different perspectives on why social networking works, some of the repeating themes include friendship, identity, community and entertainment (Larsen 2007). A Teen Topix study shows that teens ages 13-17 spend an average of 11.5 hours online per week and engage in various activities including instant messaging, listening to music and visiting social networks. Seventy-one percent of the total respondents preferred to get information from the Internet instead of newspapers, magazines and TV (Loechner 2008). With the emergence of time-shifting technologies, online video and the mobile Internet, marketers are finding it difficult to reach Millennials with traditional methods alone. The social networking phenomenon puts power into the hands of the word-of-mouth youth and interactive social media tools makes communication instantly possible. The static model of one-way messaging has developed into an interactive, entertainmentseeking hub. Younger audiences, once influenced by the popular slogan, “I want my MTV” visit YouTube more often than they watch MTV (McQuivey 2008). The once private group are turning in their journals to broadcast their voice through a number of social media tools, integrating their social networking profiles with blogs, photo-sharing sites and other communities. Facebook welcomes each of these social media platforms to its site by integrating with sites like Twitter, Blogger and Flickr through applications and establishes an even greater presence with its users. For example, Facebook users who also use Twitter can update their posts
directly through Facebook and may find no need to visit the site. Facebook users can use the YouTube videos application to share their favorite videos on their profile or share them with friends. The capabilities of these applications increase exposure for social media tools, but also establish Facebook as the activity hub. Theoretical Application Impression Management Theory Today, our definition of ‘friend’ is blurred by the impact of social technologies. We meet a person at a gathering, befriend them on Facebook and are connected to them digitally and indefinitely. Unless we decide to manage the relationship by 1) ending it or 2) controlling profile settings to restrict certain information, that ‘friend’ has access to a great amount of information. And naturally, people care about what others think of them and try to present themselves in the best way possible – be it in-person or online (Leary 1996). Danah Boyd and Jeffrey Heer conducted research about this topic in their article, Profiles as Conversation: Networked Identity Performance on Friendster. The paper addresses how social networking profiles are a tool for helping a person present their identity online. The authors argue that profiles are not only a depiction of the user, but also a representation of others on the system. The profile is “a digital body, a social creation, an initiator of conversation and a medium for ongoing conversation in multiple modalities” (Boyd & Heer 2006). Additionally, Danah Boyd covered the topic of “writing oneself into being” in her article about teenage life and social networking use. Here, Boyd examines how teens model identity and status through social networking sites. She presents the idea that social network sites are a form of networked public with four properties that are not present in real-life conversation. These
factors include persistence, searchability, replicability and invisible audiences (Boyd 2007). Boyd argues that these four properties change social interaction and complicate the ways people engage with one another. While the study was based on MySpace use in a two-year ethnography study, a number of significant findings can be related to this research on Facebook use. These studies and others present the idea of impression management online and focus on underlying reasons of social networking use beyond simply staying in touch with others. However, the studies do not specifically focus on brands although companies are now just as present in social networks as are the users. Impression management is a process of self-presentation where a person tries to control the impressions that other people form of them (Leary and Kowalski, 1990). The combination of self-esteem with the perception of others creates self-verification. Self-presentation is a useful process for the individual and is necessary for smooth social transactions. In order to interact with people, we need to know some details about their interests, careers and personality traits (Goffman 1959). While some people see impression management as a form of vanity, manipulation or self-consciousness, self-presentation is an essential part of life. People regulate the impressions others have of them because these perceptions have a great impact on life outcomes (Leary 1996). Two separate processes are involved in impression management: impression motivation and impression construction. See Figure 4.
Figure 4 In the first component, people look for the impressions others have of them, usually without any attempt to create a certain impression. The second process, however, involves the impression creation and works with desired identity images (Leary and Kowalski, 1990). Impression management can be seen across all social media channels. Users can present, invent or re-invent themselves by customizing content for different audiences. According to Leary, “some people seem to pick an audience. Other people pick and choose the best parts of themselves.” For example, a person can choose what information he wants to make available to a boss and friends by setting up a Limited Profile on Facebook. He can join groups, contribute to discussion boards or subscribe to a news feed that is made visible for others. However, the theory does not address the fact that younger audiences may alter their pages because they are revolting to social norms. For example, younger users may portray themselves in a negative light on social media sites to anger their parents or surprise friends.
While the theory explains that most people want others to have positive impressions of them, some cases could argue exactly the opposite. Finally, brands are an important part of youth culture and potentially play a role in impression management, although research for this topic is not yet available. According to Keller Fay Group, Millennials have around 145 conversations a week about brands, equaling twice as many brand-related conversations as adults have (eMarketer 2007). The most trusted brand among US consumers in 2007 was Apple (eMarketer 2007a) and it is clear that the company has a strong strategy behind reaching brand evangelists and giving consumers what they want. By using the right social media practices, Apple created a user group who is constantly constructing the impressions others have of them based on the brands they buy. Brands and Impression Management Like Facebook users, brands also have a reputation and image to maintain online. According to the 2008 Cone Business in Social Media Study, out of 60% of Americans who used social media in the study, one in four interacted with a company more than once per week. The survey found that 93% of users thought that a company should have a presence in social media and 85% thought a company should interact with its consumers. Overall, social media users felt a stronger connection with brands that were also engaged online. Among other interesting findings, the survey found that men were twice as likely as women to interact with companies through social media and younger audiences were more open to marketing messages in the social environment (Cone 2008).
To help brands meet audience expectations, Facebook established a number of advertising solutions: Facebook flyers, Facebook pages, engagement advertisements, virtual gifts and most recently, social ads. Below is an explanation and image for each platform:
Facebook Flyers: allow advertisers to target users based on specific data listed in profiles including demographics, interests, relationship status and education. The advertiser chooses the max price per click and a higher PPC increases the chances of the flyer being shown (Ostrow 2007). Facebook pages: advertising promotion feature for brands, businesses and musicians. Users have the options to add comments, write on the wall and post photos. When fans interact with a Facebook Page, stories are published in the News Feed (Ostrow 2007). Engagement Advertisements: prompt users to interact with the ad by performing an action, such as commenting on a movie trailer. When a person completes an action, Facebook works to spread the action to the rest of the user’s network. Virtual Gifts: brands can create virtual gifts on Facebook and schedule their release around holiday promotions (Smith 2009). Social Advertisements: Facebook now couples advertisements with the social actions taken by a user, extending the impression management from personal relationships to brand affiliations. For example, if a person becomes a fan of a product, Facebook may include the profile picture and name of that person with the advertisement. Other examples of social advertisements include social video ads, sponsored virtual gifts, event ads, pages ads and polling ads (Smith 2009) See Figure 5.
Social Cognitive Theory
Facebook offers a digital platform where users are able to develop and maintain social connections and, when necessary, reinvent self as a means to overcome real-world apprehensions. But does the process of checking up on others become counterproductive when a person relies on the information made publically available online to learn about the happenings in another person’s life? How does an online encounter differ from a face-to-face meeting and do expectations differ based on the preconceived ideas an individual has about the other person? If we can paint a picture of ‘ourselves’ inside the online environment, do others and ourselves view this image differently in real life? (Negative Effects of Internet Usage, 2008) The invention and reinvention of self begins at an early age, but past research shows that increased use of the Internet decreases communication with family and increases feelings of loneliness (Franzen, Kraut 1998). However, a recent research study at the University of South
Florida found that the Internet could be used as a tool to strengthen social networks and that Internet use was not associated with a decrease in social participation (Hogeboom 2007). Both conclusions are debatable, as social participation and Internet involvement are measured in different ways. By using Social Cognitive Theory, we can try to understand the behavior of social network use by understanding reasons for use and how cognitions are developed. Social networking sites like Facebook play an influential role in society, especially for the highly motivated and socially involved youth. By studying Social Cognitive Theory, advertisers can better understand what influences adolescents’ thoughts and actions and create more effective messages. Instead of defining human behavior as being shaped solely by environmental influences and by an individual’s inner nature, Social Cognitive Theory focuses on the operation of “personal factors in the form of cognitive, affective, and biological events, behavioral patterns and environmental events.” (Bandura 2001 pg. 266) See Figure 6.
Bandura explains that people are self-organizing, self-reflective and self-regulating. They do more than just react to their environment; they participate in social networks, resulting in their own personal guidance. People learn from others by processing information through a set of symbols and social networking Web sites like Facebook make it easier than ever to control the symbols they release about themselves. They choose to process experiences based on a number of factors including the lasting impressions and motivating aspects of the idea (Bandura 2001 pg. 267). Two pathways are involved in the process; the direct pathway encourages change by informing and motivating people while the socially mediated pathway relies heavily on media. In this route, people are brought together in social networks that, in turn, promote personal guidance. Unlike many self-regulation theories that state that people gauge the differences between their own actions and the standard set by society, social cognitive theory introduces a proactive and aspiring characteristic to an individual’s behavior (Bandura 2001). Self-efficacy, or the feeling that a person can accomplish a given task, applies to Facebook use because new members gain confidence once they realize that they can use the new technology successfully. People challenge themselves by setting goals based on their selfefficacy levels and use their available resources to achieve them. Furthermore, people have selfreflective, or cognitive, capabilities and are able to self-examine their performance and also compare it with others’ (Bandura 1997). Bandura suggests that in vicarious verification, “observing other people’s transactions with the environment and the effects they produce provides a check on the correctness of one’s own thinking” (Bandura 2001, pg. 269). People tend to evaluate their personal views by observing other people’s ideas through social verification.
A person’s self-efficacy has the strongest effect on his self-image (Bandura 2001). Efficacy influences people’s personal goals, personality traits, sense of accomplishment and many other factors. And people are more likely to repeat behavior if it results in a worthwhile effect and less likely to model the behavior if the outcome is unrewarding. When compared with Facebook, this concept may explain why people choose to keep up with others’ online and learn vicariously through them. Due to this observational learning, people expand their knowledge sets and develop their skills. Almost all behavior - affective, behavioral and cognitive - can be sought out vicariously by seeing the consequences certain actions cause for people (Rosenthal, Zimmerman, 1978). This especially applies to social networking because people can keep track of others’ experiences and anonymously learn from their consequences. After seeing the consequences a certain action has, a person determines whether or not this action should be sought out personally. In addition to observational learning, people work with others to accomplish things that they would not be able to do individually. Social Cognitive Theory capitalizes on the idea of collective agency (Bandura, 1999). The more efficient social groups are, the more likely they are to build greater aspiration and motivation for the task. Their collective power builds both powerful relationships and accomplishments. This argument can be seen on Facebook, where members join groups and become fans of corporations to show support for a specific brand, product, service, person or organization. Research on social capital suggests that there is actually a positive relationship between the intensity of Facebook use and a student’s satisfaction, social trust, volunteerism and civic and political participation (Valenzuela, Namsu, Kerk 2008). This
study presents the idea that online social networks are useful in connecting people and give users the opportunity to build meaningful, personalized content. Diffusion A number of factors determine the innovation adoption process: environmental encouragement, adoptive behavior and social network structures. As it can be applied to Facebook, a person is more likely to adopt an innovation - or a new social networking site in this case-if the benefits are greater because there is a higher incentive to adopt (Ostlund, 1974; Rogers & Shoemaker, 1971). Bandura explains that many innovations serve as a way for gaining social recognition or status. People try to distinguish themselves from others, but when an activity becomes popular among the masses, a new form is soon adopted. Furthermore, the diffusion process looks to variables including economic advantage, observability, trialability, effectiveness, complexity, compatibility, communality, application, radicalness and reliability (Dearing 1994). Particularly for social networking sites, it is important to note that the adoption of technological innovations is based on the purpose of trying new products (Rogers 1995). However, it is critical that marketers understand that people may login once to try out a product due to curiosity, but not return again because the content does not match the variables of diffusion. Furthermore, because Facebook is considered an interactive media, diffusion of innovation is different from traditional means. According to Markus’s Critical Mass Theory, interactive media are vulnerable to start-up problems and discontinuance. The adoption of interactive technologies includes universal access and mutual interdependence, which is different from the characteristics of conventional adoption (Markus 1990).
The final factor that affects the diffusion process is social network structures. People are not only linked by their personal relationships; “acquaintanceships overlap different network clusters and many people become linked to each other indirectly by interconnected ties” (Bandura 2001). Ideas and innovations can be passed along through ‘weak’ ties, and ideas usually spread more rapidly this way than through personal contacts (Granovetter, 1973). It is important to understand the differences between a strong and weak tie because a weak tie in a social media environment can be more powerful than the term suggests. Strong ties - or relationships that are built on trust, frequent contact and commitment and weak ties – superficial relationships with infrequent contact – provide people with social support. However, weak ties become important when a person needs to find information outside of the personal resources he already has (Granovetter, 1973). For example, a person can befriend hundreds of people on Facebook and learn more through this connection of weak ties than he would have ever learned through strong ties. The informational benefits that weak ties offer could potentially be more enticing than the number of strong ties, because the number of strong ties is limited. Social Cognitive Theory and Facebook Use In a study of 450 undergraduate students at it was found that many students do not communicate with their online friends, but instead ‘observe’ or ‘keep track’ of others’ behavior (Wolff 2008). According to anthropologist Danah Boyd, “profile-stalking is the newest way to satisfy our deeply ingrained desire to know...the more we’re in the loop about people, the more control we have over our situation – or so we believe.” The idea of being constantly in the know about other people’s lives further explains the connection to Bandura’s Social Cognitive Model.
As we keep track of our closest friends, we compare our successes with theirs and set similar goals. Furthermore, we are more curious about people whom we admire and those who could potentially help us in our careers (Sarno 2008). Festinger’s Social Comparison Theory explains that people compare themselves with others who they think have similar interests and capabilities and will then change their behavior if it does not match the person’s they are modeling (Festinger 1954). Facebook actively sought out this opportunity when launching the news feed on September 6, 2006. This new feature would spread updates to a user’s network when a person changed their profile status, added pictures, made an RSVP for an event or virtually took any other type of action on Facebook. This was in response to a realization that the problem for Facebook was that it required a lot of active surfing. Facebook users could update their information regularly, but unless a person visited their friend’s site each day, they could receive the news much later. With the news feed, users could login to the home page and see a stream of events that are happening in their friends’ lives (Thompson 2008). To keep track of particular users, Facebook also added a function to the news feed which allowed users to choose whom they wanted to know more about. The option allows users to select up to 200 friends that they find interesting. Facebook users can also choose to select those people that they prefer to not see in the news feed as often (Facebook.com) See Figure 7. While the news feed was initially met with great resistance from Facebook users, the tool became one of the most valuable and unique aspects of the site.
Facebook continuously updates advertising opportunities so that companies can reach their desired audience. As seen in the literature review, Facebook use for young adults exceeds far beyond staying in touch with friends and is instead a social hub where users can learn, grow and share information. Facebook users manage their profile and more importantly, monitor others’ pages. Through observation of profile changes and updates, users learn how to cater messages to different groups and collaborate with each other. For advertisers promoting a specific brand message, the viral and word-of-mouth potential is great if they can understand how their audience is using the site and how likely they are to pass along the information. The research presented in the next section will uncover the characteristics and usage behaviors of Facebook users and present advertisers with actionable opportunities. Research Methodology Based on the framework provided by both the Social Cognitive Theory and the Impression Management Theory, two data collection activities were carried out. An online survey was developed to understand general opinions and the findings of the study were used as a springboard for the in-depth interviews. The online survey participants were part of the student pool at the University of Texas at Austin and recruited by an email and Facebook message. The duration of the online study was approximately three weeks and the sample consisted of 72 respondents (N=72), 68% female, 32% male. The majority of the participants (90%) were between the ages 22 and 34. To better understand the role of impression management and online brand involvement for Facebook users, 11 interviews were conducted to gain a better understanding of how people
used Facebook. The interviews were especially helpful in uncovering insights about Facebook usage that were not apparent in the survey. All interviewees were active Facebook users between the ages of 18-25 and four specific objectives were created for the interview sessions (see Appendix D for Interview Guide): 1. Find out young adults’ motivations for joining Facebook and becoming active users. 2. Learn how Facebook users interact with the site and discover what features they find most valuable. 3. Understand how digital personas are created on Facebook and the impact on a user’s selfimage. 4. Learn how brands can play a more active role in the conversations happening on Facebook. Findings and Discussion First Experiences on Facebook In the interviews, the majority of respondents said they first joined Facebook during college, when the Web site was only available to college students with a valid .edu email address. They heard about the site through friends and thought it would be a good way to keep in touch with friends from high school. One respondent said that she was having a hard time staying in touch with friends because calling everyone she used to talk to was difficult and in some cases unnatural. Through Facebook, she was able to keep up with both her close friends and acquaintances on Facebook without having to contact them directly. Other respondents chose to try Facebook because they were concerned about privacy and felt that Facebook was more secure than MySpace.
Similar results were found in the online survey as 71% of respondents said they joined because their friends joined. Fifty-seven percent said were interested in the new site and wanted to know what the hype was about, 32% wanted to reunite with old friends and only 4% said they joined to meet new people. Facebook attracted the college audience by creating a social network fit to this group’s needs. The network was niche in some regard because of established college networks but not as exposed as MySpace where practically anyone could join. Students attending college wanted to maintain their friendships and Facebook provided a way for students to interact with each other through the creation of profiles. Usage The success of an online social network depends on its users. For the Generation Y audience, joining a number of social networks is common as individuals are invited to join by others or are personally curious about what the site has to offer. But the key to profile upkeep and communication is users’ engagement with the site. In the interviews, respondents agreed that their use over time has changed on Facebook. By listening to Facebook users and understanding their needs, Facebook successfully created a number of features to keep community members coming back to the site. When they first joined, the site was mainly used to build an online address book of friends from high school. Facebook users listed the colleges they were attending, posted their email address and displayed a profile picture. However, when users began creating photo albums online, respondents said that they began to logon more frequently. The photos feature of the site increased and encouraged Facebook use for early adopters. The online survey shows that most
active Facebook users login several times a day (76 %). Responses sharply drop off for users logging in once a day (15%), or once a week (8 %). It is important to note that other social media sites like YouTube, Twitter and FlickR are featured applications on Facebook. One respondent said that he only updates his Twitter status through Facebook. Other respondents said that they share YouTube videos directly through Facebook, without visiting the YouTube site. Providing these features allow users to login several times a day to Facebook instead of visiting other sites of interest. As Facebook becomes the central hub for social media sites, it is increasingly important for brands to understand how to best utilize the online network. Most Valued Features Respondents’ Facebook use spiked when the photos feature was added to the site and they valued the information they could find from this source. Photos were valuable in two ways because the user could keep up with their friends and also be tagged in others’ photos. One respondent said that his friends documented his college experience on Facebook because he never took photos himself. Several female respondents said that they kept track of acquaintances’ physical changes in college such as weight gain or hairstyle changes. “As superficial as it sounds, I would check up on my boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend from high school on Facebook to see if she looked better than me. When I heard that she gained weight freshman year, Facebook was the first place I went for assurance,” said a respondent. In fact, 89% of respondents in the online survey said that they find out what is happening in their acquaintances’ lives through Facebook before they find out directly through them.
Another popular feature was the news feed which broadcasted Facebook users’ updates to their network on the homepage. Due to the live-feed nature of this tool, respondents felt that they needed to login in more than once a day to stay atop of breaking news in their friends’ lives. “You can interchange the phrase stalking and follow-up when you talk about the news feed. For example, there is one person that I’ve always considered to be successful in everything – school, love and life in general. I know it’s petty, but I like to see where she’s working and how her social life is compared to mine. After seeing that things are continuously going well for her, I feel like I should try and be more social,” said a respondent. This type of experience is directly related to Social Cognitive Theory which explains that a person is likely to model behavior that has a rewarding outcome and makes the person feel efficacious. Also, people use observational learning on Facebook to develop their skills and improve in all areas of behavior – affective, behavioral and cognitive.
Limiting Time on Facebook With the addition of the photos and news feed features, Facebook users reported to logging into the site more often. When asked if respondents ever tried to limit that amount of time they spent on Facebook, 54% of respondents in the online survey reported that they had. The most common reason for limiting time on the site was that respondents felt they were spending too much time on Facebook and realized that they were losing productivity (87%). Other reasons included occasional fights with significant others over information found through Facebook (23%), the risk associated with an employer seeing their page (20%) or that their friends were not using Facebook as frequently as they were (10%). The least reported reason for
limiting Facebook use was that the user was bored with the site and decided to seek out a different social network (5%). To support these findings, every interviewee responded to wanting to limit their Facebook use at some point, mainly because they felt that it was an unproductive use of time. Interestingly, most respondents could not pin down the reason they felt addicted to the information they were finding on Facebook. One respondent explained that he got into the process of checking email first, Facebook second and his bank account third. “I don’t know why I was logging in all the time…it was crazy. It became routine for me and I realized that I was looking more at news on Facebook than being out and doing social things,” he said. The irony in this statement is that Facebook is a site that encourages users to post pictures, notes and status updates on the activities they are socially involved with. Sixty-three percent of respondents said they were successful in limiting their time spent on Facebook after coming to the realization that their time was not being wisely spent. Facebook and Relationships Almost every respondent in the online survey (97%) said that they like to see what other people are up to even if they do not talk to them often. This significant finding shows that Facebook users are connected through a Web of weak ties and are interested in what is happening in other people’s lives outside of their closest contacts, or strong ties. The need to keep up with friends’, acquaintances’ and complete strangers’ lives is apparent as the majority of respondents, 54%, said they disagreed with the statement, “If my close friends decided to no longer use Facebook, I would find little to no use for it and would discontinue use.” This alludes
to the idea that Facebook is more supported by the connections between weak ties, rather than strong ties. Furthermore, each respondent said that something that they discovered only through Facebook has made it into a conversation between them and their friends. Eighty-one percent of respondents in the online survey said that the things they read on Facebook were talked about in an offline setting. Some examples included status messages, photo albums from trips, job and education updates and relationship statuses. For advertisers, this is a great opportunity to create resonating campaigns and messages that are worthy of being talked about in real-life conversation. But when it comes to significant events happening in their friends’ lives, respondents usually found out from their closest friends directly. This was supported by the online survey as the majority of respondents said that they usually find out what is happening in their friends’ lives directly through them and not on Facebook. Respondents felt that their friends would update them in a way other than Facebook about a significant happening in their life: an engagement, baby news, relocation or a new house. However, respondents have experienced the negative feelings of finding out about something significant through Facebook. While they are fine with finding out about acquaintances’ happenings through Facebook, the same rule does not apply with close friends. One respondent remembers her reaction when finding out that a good friend was engaged through Facebook. “Initially, I was angry for not being told and then it shifted to disappointment because I felt that I was being left out. I figured that if this person wanted to maintain a friendship with me, I wouldn’t have to find out about his engagement through Facebook. I think
we get comfortable online and forget about courtesy. I think these digital relationships potentially ruin real-life friendships,” she said. Another interesting finding is that several respondents reported to feeling that another Facebook user’s status update was in some way directed at them personally. For example, status messages on Facebook are sometimes used to express feelings towards friendships and relationships. The following Facebook status messages are evidently directed at one person: ‘waiting to hear from that special someone,’ ‘Totally perplexed…I’m just thinking about that person!’ and “thinks she is a liar.” One respondent explained a time when she knew that a friend’s status message was directed towards her. “I was talking to my friend on Facebook chat about our Saturday night plans and I had to break it to her that I couldn’t go downtown because I couldn’t get my shift covered at work. After a few back-and-forth messages on chat, I see that she updated her profile to say, ‘currently very annoyed’. I knew that this was in response to our conversation but she decided to take the passive aggressive route and update her status. The next thing you know, her Facebook friends are asking her why she is annoyed.” Generally, respondents said they felt more comfortable with their actions on Facebook than they did in real-life settings. It is not unusual to send a Facebook friend request to a person someone met through another friend. “I find it funny when I meet someone at the bar and see their friend request in my email the minute I get home. I don’t limit my information to anyone, but it makes me wonder if I should,” one respondent said. She goes on to explain that while she sometimes finds this type of interaction to be strange, she too has ‘facebooked’ a stranger she
met. She finds this person by looking at their mutual friend’s list of contacts or looks in photo albums to see if they are in a group picture. On the other hand, one respondent has a positive view of these relationships and thinks that Facebook has helped her develop friendships. “I saw that a popular guy from my high school appeared in the ‘people you may know’ sidebar on Facebook. I didn’t add him immediately, but his profile would reappear every day. Then, I received a friend request from him. I thought it was ironic that neither of us would ever talk to the other in high school because we were in different social circles, but that Facebook connected us,” she said. However, for the purposes of brands’ advertising efforts on Facebook, it is important to distinguish between brand fans and simply Facebook friends. As the respondent and her high school acquaintance are only friends because of Facebook, brands need to understand the importance of developing a stronger relationship with the end-user. Facebook and Conflicts As mentioned earlier, all respondents said that they often discussed things that they found out about on Facebook in actual conversations. In addition, several respondents agreed that Facebook sparked an argument between their friends or significant other. However, the survey responses conflicted with the findings in the interviews. But it is interesting to point out that while most respondents (67%) disagreed with the statement, “Sometimes I get into arguments with others about the things I find out through Facebook,” 82 % admitted to checking up on their significant other’s page to see who was commenting on their wall. The two main topics brought up in interviews were the advantages and disadvantages of knowledge and suspicion.
Facebook users can anonymously look at any information a person in their network posts and then choose what they do with this information. They can pass a judgment, tell a friend or apply that information to their own life. For example, one respondent explained that she found out that a friend from high school was married and had two children through Facebook. But when the respondent ran into her friend at a bar in her hometown, she pretended that she did not know and acted as though she was hearing the news for the first time. “I guess I enjoyed knowing what was happening in her life and then pretending that I didn’t. But for social reasons, you still have to ask,” she said. The respondent felt that she had background information on most of her acquaintances but that she could not disclose what she knew in fear of being labeled a Facebook stalker. While the wealth of information is an opportunity for Facebook users to be in the know, it also has the potential to ruin relationships for suspicious users. In fact, the findings of the online survey showed that 89% of respondents chose to limit the amount of information they provide to others on Facebook. Most managed their contact information (86%), followed by tagged photos (75%), what appears in the news feeds (63%), wall postings (40%) and work or education information (34%). Photos, the most used and valued Facebook features for respondents, are not just influential in helping users keep in touch. They enable people to keep track of what their friends and significant others are up to and answer a number of questions: What parties are they attending? Whose photos are they tagged in? Who are those attractive friends I’ve never met? Facebook breeds curiosity, which can develop into suspicion. “My boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend is cute, a college cheerleader and a Facebook stalker. Since he started dating me, she has flooded his Facebook wall and inbox with messages. He told me time and time again that he never
responded to the messages and never visited her page. One night, I was using his computer and checked his browser history. I was shocked when I saw that he had been to her page that day. He tried convincing me that an update appeared on the newsfeed, but I don’t believe it,” one respondent said. In addition to finding out information over Facebook instead of through the person you are closest to, one respondent brought up an interesting point when he mentioned how his girlfriend wanted to interact with him on Facebook. “My girlfriend gets angry if I don’t write on her wall, send her virtual gifts or join the groups she sends me. I tell her ‘I love you’ in person, I buy her actual presents but for some reason she thinks I am embarrassed to be her boyfriend because I don’t broadcast information in my status messages. Maybe she thinks that if I tell her I love her in person and on Facebook then I really mean it?” As this respondent likely realizes, his girlfriend is not concerned about the love he has for her but is instead trying to win the support of the social network. The Element of Control While some respondents feel they have limited control on Facebook, some choose to manipulate their Facebook profile to avoid confrontation with people they do not want viewing their information. Two respondents said they have friends who set up ‘fake’ Facebook profiles to monitor their friend requests on Facebook. “I have friends who open up two Facebook profiles – a real profile and then a fake profile under a nickname or a different last name,” said one respondent. “They use their real profile to find people but not accept them, and then use their fake profile to reach out to people they want to be friends with.”
This type of process is time-consuming, but the respondents say their friends think it is worth the extra effort to limit the amount of information they give others. “I think people can’t quite tell people on Facebook that they don’t want them in their social circle. If my mom asks to be my friend on Facebook, I can’t say no; she would confront me about it in person. And the second you let a family member access your page, you can’t uninvite them,” said the other respondent. For this reason, the respondents felt that people created different profiles as a way to control their image and seek out who they wanted to view their profile page. Another interesting element that was presented in the research was that Facebook users actively seek out people they do not want to be in contact with and block them before that person can send a friend request. “I work at a law firm and I found out that the head of the company was on Facebook. My coworkers and I blocked him and all the lawyers before they could find us. If they asked me to be their friend, I would probably shut down my page,” said one respondent. To control online impressions, some respondents will go as far as shutting down their profile page completely while they may stay in touch with other friends through Facebook. While they may not have anything to hide, they admit to feeling awkward about being connected to their boss on Facebook. “I untag photos and delete wall postings that could be misinterpreted, but I am still worried about the timing. No matter how much I limit my profile, that information is still out there and it is based on who sees it first. For that reason, I would rather shut down my page if my boss added me as a friend than take the risk.” Interpreting Messages on Facebook Facebook users carefully craft messages for their audience, and rightfully so as people interpret things different. For example, one respondent mentioned that his friend posted a status
message that startled him: “Frank is seriously rethinking life. This sucks.” The respondent was concerned about the open-ended nature of this note and decided to respond to his friend’s status. In a short time, there were over 15 comments on Frank’s status message. “It turned out that Frank’s status message was about being stuck in the car with his family. He did not have reception, so we couldn’t reach him. It was frustrating to get upset over a status message and it makes you paranoid,” he said. Facebook users also interpret messages differently on the site versus in real life. “Facebook removes a bit of the human instinct because people are no longer people, but information. They are photos, interests, wall postings - they are a page,” said one respondent. When asked how he interpreted information differently on Facebook, the respondent admitted to not considering as many variables as he would in conversation. For example, the respondent remembers seeing a photograph of his friend’s wife that was different from how he remembered her. “She was an attractive woman, but in the photo she looked awful. I showed my girlfriend and we talked about how much she had changed since we last saw her. Later, we found out that she was very sick and felt awful for even talking about her when we did not know what was going on in her life,” he said. Facebook users are presented with an indefinite profile of their contacts, regardless if they keep in touch with them or not. For this reason, experiences like these are common since conclusions are based on information found on their profile page. Friends versus Facebook Friends Justin Smith, founder of Inside Facebook – the first blog focused on tracking Facebook and the Facebook economy – wrote about the findings presented in a recent interview with Cameron Marlow, research scientist at Facebook. Marlow explained how the Dunbar number
relates to Facebook friends. The Dunbar number is the “theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationship” and this amounts to an average of 150 people. The findings of the study showed that while connections to others were increasing online, the same social circles still existed. The study found that Facebook users comment on only 5-10 % of their friends’ walls, photos or status messages. For example, a female Facebook user with 500 friends left comments for 26 friends and messages 16 friends. According to Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & America Life Project, “People who are members of online social networks are not so much ‘networking’ as they are ‘broadcasting their lives to an outer tier of acquaintances who aren’t necessarily inside the Dunbar circle” (Smith 2009). The online survey also asked respondents to report the number of friends they had on Facebook and how many of these friends they regularly interacted with in real life. The breakdown of Facebook friends is as follows: 500+ (38%), 201-500 (35%), 101-200 (15%), 51100 (6 %) and 11-50 (7%). While the largest category was for 500+ friends, over half of respondents said they only spoke with 11-50 of these friends on a regular basis. If Facebook were a Person Respondents were asked to list the characteristics and specific profiles of a person who resembled Facebook. Each respondent had a different answer to the question, “If Facebook were a person, who would it be?” but each description fell under a recurring theme. Below are the respondents’ views on Facebook’s personality and potential (if the brand were human): Characteristics: caddy, all-knowing, cruel, cliquish, vain, paranoid, self-doubting
Profiles: ‐ ‐ ‐ ‐ ‐ A high school mom: she seems to always have the dirt on people, even if she doesn’t know them personally. Blair Waldorf, antagonist on Gossip Girl: she’s vain and insecure and uses power to hurt others. Steve Jobs: he’s constantly updating and adding new features to the existing product. Perez Hilton: he’s cruel and plays favorites, but he always gets the good information first. Ryan Seacrest: he knows about everyone else’s business and then tells the world about it.
It is important that advertisers understand the implications on their brands when choosing to advertise on Facebook. This research suggests that Facebook users do not have a favorable view of the site when comparing it to a person, but they continue to use it anyway as a means to obtain information. Before advertising on Facebook, brands should ask themselves if they are contributing in a unique way to the online environment or just adding to the clutter of information already available on the site. Advertising on Facebook Facebook advertisements have evolved from static banner images to engagement advertisements, providing a way for users to interact with the ad by RSVPing for an event or leaving a comment. While most respondents said they tune out advertisements on Facebook, many are referring to the Facebook flyers that appear in the right hand side of the screen. During the interviews, most respondents did not address the issue that virtual gifts, once meaningless and unbranded, were being overtaken by brands on Facebook. During Facebook’s 2008 holiday promotion, Dell, Sephora and eBay each offered 250,000 free virtual gifts for Facebook users to share and seed conversation. Before this holiday promotion, brands and films like Ben & Jerry’s, “Sex and the City” and “Indiana Jones” had a presence on Facebook (Lakin 2008).
One of the interviewees directly sent the interviewer a Sephora-branded virtual gift during the holiday season with the message, “Sephora=Love.” When asked about why she sent the gift, the respondent said she was not thinking about the brand but instead about the person receiving it. “I send virtual gifts to people when I know that they would like the gift or when it reminds me of a funny story. I think that the branded virtual gifts are really creative on behalf of the advertiser. The news feed shows who is sending these gifts and although some are very irrelevant to me, I think they are somewhat relevant to the person receiving them,” she said. While virtual gifts from Sephora can remind a person about a positive shopping experience, some gifts on Facebook like the Tide laundry basket seem like an obvious brand placement that users would not pass along to friends. However, the interviewee who sent the Sephora gift said she found it valuable that Tide was advertising on Facebook. “I remember seeing the Tide commercials where it shows what your clothes look like after 30 washes when using Tide or when using your regular detergent. I wanted to try this product after seeing the commercial but after a few weeks, I forgot about it. Then, I logged into Facebook and saw that people were sending this Tide laundry basket on my news feed. After reading the funny stories people were writing and seeing this gift pop up on my page, it reinforced my initial thoughts to buy the product,” she said. Several respondents said that they noticed recurring themes in the targeted advertisements on Facebook. “I always saw the same ad for Robbins Bros., an engagement ring store I’ve never heard of. At first, it caught my attention because the headline asked if I wanted an engagement ring that was as unique as I was. I did, so I spent a few minutes playing around on the site. Then I found out that advertisers on Facebook target their ads based on your
relationship status, age and gender. This made me angry and I eventually tuned out completely to ads on Facebook,” one respondent said. Another respondent said that he has seen a lot of sports advertisements related to The University of Texas but that he also does not pay close attention to the text in these advertisements. While it would seem that Facebook users are aware that targeted advertising exists on Facebook, some interviewees did not know that this was common practice. While the respondent just mentioned knew about targeting based on demographics and interests, several respondents did not know that a specific advertisement was specifically targeted to them. Instead, they thought that these advertisements were generally shown to the college network. However, the obvious nature of the targeted advertisements is further exposed once a person knows that a company can choose whom to target advertisements to. Brands face the risk that Facebook users will ignore the right side of their Facebook page and not notice their advertisement. But a recent static image advertisement on Facebook spurred conversation through status messages. Evidently, some Facebook users are not yet ignoring what they were seeing in the white space of their Facebook profile. See Figure 8 for advertisement example and status responses.
In summary, while 87% of respondents in the online
survey said that they do not trust advertising on Facebook, examples like the Tide Total Care virtual gift show that advertisers can create resonating messages for particular users. Of the 72 respondents, only one person said that they find Facebook ads helpful and click on them often. Half of the respondents said that they click on advertisements that they find relevant but admit that there are a number of advertisements they never pay attention to. The other half of respondents (49%) said that they are annoyed by Facebook advertisements, are uninterested in what the brands are selling and think that the ads pollute the community environment. Facebook users who fall in the ‘on the fence’ category are not completely turned away from Facebook advertisements – yet. This group of users can be swayed, as they already click on advertisements they find relevant but tune out advertisements that are of no interest to them. Assuming that these users continue to scan the right side of their screen for relevant advertisements, a great risk exists for advertisers who decide to target one message to a specific target. The process from scan to click depends on 1) if the advertisement gets the user’s attention, 2) if the user finds the message relevant and 3) if the user is motivated to click on the advertisement. However, Step 1 cannot take place if the Facebook user has established tunnel vision because of reappearing, irrelevant messages. It is vital that advertisers eliminate the advertisements that are there for the purpose of ‘presence’ and find different ways to engage with the consumer. Finally, most respondents did not realize the number of times they helped or hurt a brand based on what was said in their status message. It is interesting to see that Facebook users do not recognize the brand presence that is spread by users alone. See Figure 9 for examples of status messages that serve as potential advertisements.
Figure 9 Connecting Brands with Profiles To understand the relationships Facebook users have with brands and learn how advertisers can better address their needs, respondents were asked the following question: “If your profile had to have an advertisement on it and you could choose which company could advertise on your page, which brand would you choose?” Interestingly, all respondents chose a brand that they were directly engaged with and interested in. “I would choose Starbucks. I go there every day and sometimes people are surprised if I don’t have a cup of Starbucks coffee with me when I go into work. It has become a part of my
lifestyle so I wouldn’t mind having their advertisements on my page,” one respondent said. Other respondents mentioned energy drinks, like Monster Chaos and Red Bull, and blogs like Perez Hilton. A 22-year-old male said he would like to have an advertisement for the University of Texas football team on his page because he is a part of that organization. “If I had to choose an advertisement for my page, it would need to represent me and the things I like. I wouldn’t pick something like Sperry boat shoes, those shoes that all the frat guys wear without socks, because that’s just not me. That’s probably the last thing I would want to have on my page for others to see,” he said. Respondents are aware that their digital personas can spread a message about them to friends. For brands, it is important to realize that different things will be relevant to different users and that niche groups exist on Facebook that are beyond the methods of targeting based on demographics alone. Understanding what brands they are fans of and what companies they mention in their status messages provide more telling information than what their age or education level is.
Facebook in Five Years When asked about how users imagined Facebook to change over the next five years, respondents did not have a shortage of ideas. The recurring theme was privacy and respondents felt that as they shared more of their lives on Facebook, more people requested to be their friends. “The ‘friends you may know’ feature is both helpful and annoying. Sometimes I find someone that I would really like to get in touch with, but sometimes someone finds me and I never wish they’d had. I feel guilty not saying ‘yes’ to their friend request because I know that
we have a lot of shared friends,” one respondent said. He went on to explain that he would like Facebook to come out with a tool that helps you keep track of the people you stay in touch with the most on Facebook. This tool would show the friends who you have no interaction with on Facebook and then the user would have the option to shrink their friend list without individually deleting each account. Other respondents said that they expect their Facebook use to change in five years. “Facebook changes so quickly and I’m already tired of keeping up with it,” one respondent said. “I enjoyed using it when it was open to the college network only, but now that my family and brother’s friends from high school are requesting to be my friend, I don’t login as often. I also think that the older you get, you realize who your true friends are and these are the people you talk to most often. You lose the desire to keep up with everyone from high school that you used to be friends with because it’s impossible and usually a waste of time,” she said. One respondent said that Facebook could be strategic in their advertising approach and find a way to pay Facebook users with a large numbers of friends to promote a product or brand on their page. “I look at my closest friends’ pages every day and if they had an advertisement on their site, I would pay more attention to it than a regular ad on the home page,” one respondent said. Similar to the advertising strategies on blog and eCommerce sites, brands could choose Facebook users with the highest traffic to their page and pay them to host the ad and provide incentives based on click-through-rates. Another respondent felt that Facebook would be used for business intelligence purposes in the future. According to this respondent, Facebook is not just an avenue for people to reconnect but also as a tool for helping industries uncover important information. “I work at a
defense firm and every attorney asks me to go look up people on Facebook. We have continuing legal education for attorneys and one of the sessions this year was about using Facebook to uncover the truth. For example, someone can be suing someone because they were hurt in a car accident and then post on Facebook that they were going cliff jumping. This is now used as evidence in court and I think a lot of different industries are starting to use Facebook in different ways than it was originally intended. Finally, while it was not mentioned in the interviews, blogger Justin Smith of InsideFacebook.com, recently suggested that brand profiles would grow quickly if they could be tagged in photos. “With nearly 15 billion photos on hand and 850 million more uploaded every month, Facebook Photos is the most popular photo sharing site on the Web. Why not let users tag pages and public profiles they are a fan of in their photos too for all their friends to see? Currently, users can only tag their friends,” wrote Smith (Smith 2009a). See Figure 10.
Conclusion According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, “In 2008, if you’re not a social networking site, you’re not on the Internet.” Consumers are no longer receptive to advertising because they have to respond to a number of interruptions every day (Cannon 1996). While social networks may come and go, advertisers should understand the best practices when engaging with users in an online community. Because social networking sites like Facebook.com have become an integral part of a person’s self-development and self-branding, brands should encourage this behavior by offering unique content. As Facebook users invent and re-invent their digital personas, brands should do the same. If done effectively, advertising on Facebook creates an opportunity for the marketer to connect with a person’s lifestyle and tap into word-of-mouth behavior. Facebook users thrive on recognition and feedback from friends when using the site. The self-organizing and proactive characteristics cited in Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory match the Facebook environment because people actively seek out information and process the messaging, resulting in behavior. Also, this environment creates an opportunity for advertisers to link their own brands with people’s lifestyles, tastes and values through the process of impression management. If a person presents a product or brand to match the impression he wants others to have of him, social media advertising can reinforce and encourage the positive relationship. It is important to keep in mind that although advertisers can segment users based on demographics, psychographics and interests, they need to keep in mind that they may not always be reaching the audience they are hoping to. Because the Facebook profile is a template that allows users to be creative with descriptors, users are the ones in charge of the environment and
can control their own image. As found in the qualitative and quantitative research, Facebook users have embraced the social technology but continuously work to maintain and manage their relationships through impression management. Brands are quickly personalizing themselves as humans to connect with Facebook users and engage them with the product. We can conclude from the interview summaries that Facebook users do not realize the mass presence of brands on the site, showing that brands are becoming a part of the experience. Facebook users consistently talk about brands in their status messages, wall posts and through the virtual gifts they send to each other. Brands are experiences for Facebook users and they share their thoughts about positive and negative interactions with brands. Advertisers who successfully spread their message on Facebook are sometimes unnoticed, but the subliminal nature of the delivery continues the seeding strategy. The following eight takeaways should be applied and considered by advertisers looking to leverage the opportunities available on Facebook: 1) Today, the barriers to entry are greater: Brands looking to begin advertising on Facebook will need to work harder to be successful compared to brands that entered when the site first launched. Facebook users are familiar with Facebook ads and are generally annoyed with them or are unfazed by their messaging as time goes on. The environment is cluttered with brands and the sought-after users are also the most likely to protest brand presence. 2) Avoid one-hit wonders: The research showed that use over time on Facebook changes drastically with new feature additions and lifestyle shifts. While the first advertiser on the news feed may have seen great success with their campaign, advertisers choosing this outlet today may have a different outcome. Instead of using a virtual gift each time to increase traffic to the site,
develop an integrated campaign plan with various touch points. The same principle applies for brand advocates; their freedom to leave the site at any given time is a threat to a brand’s loyalty base. Establish relationships beyond the online realm to maintain these users as customers when something better comes along. 3) Make it worth their time: Some interviewees expressed that the site was changing too quickly for them to keep up with and that they were losing interest. Furthermore, the majority of respondents said that they have tried to limit their time with the site because they were losing productivity. Because Facebook is classified as a ‘mature’ social networking site, longtime users may start using the site less although general usage is increasing. Their visits to the site could be strictly based on responding to messages and walls posts, resulting in less engagement with applications and brands. To attract this group of users, brands must 1) create unique messages that are worth paying attention to and revisiting in the future or 2) provide form of actual functional benefit for the user. 4) Answer the questions of the suspicious user: Facebook users are skeptical of messages and evaluate profile pages by the information presented there – photos, content and links. Users are naturally suspicious of something they are not familiar with. When building a brand page or application, leave no question unanswered. 5) Listen to what they’re saying because they are more comfortable saying it online: We can conclude from the interviews that respondents are more comfortable in the digital setting than they are in real-life. They are more likely to befriend people on the site than they would in reallife and they have the opportunity to broadcast their thoughts. Listening to what users are saying about your brand is crucial. A wall post on Facebook that mentions a brand is one form of unpaid
media that builds awareness for the product. Monitoring this environment and listening to the conversations happening here should precede response and help advertisers identify brand advocates. To further engage with the advocates, brands should create separate messages based on tiers of loyalty to keep users interested. 5) Seed the message online but ensure that it makes its way into a conversation: The research showed that things found on Facebook do make their way into real-life conversations. Facebook users talk about the information others present on their profile and what they read in the news feed. The same opportunity exists for advertisers who want to seed an online message but make sure that people talk about it outside of the site. Develop a campaign that is focused on the real-life outcome instead of the conversation in the online environment. For example, Jamba Juice seeded a message on Facebook promoting a free giveaway at a university location, but users had to become a fan of the site and take advantage of the promotion during a specific date and time. The online action spurred word-of-mouth behavior. 6) Advertising on a social networking site can work against you: On Facebook, the user is in control and finds ways to get around the limitations created by the site. As seen in the interviews, Facebook users have learned how to manipulate the system by creating fake profiles to manage their requests. For this reason, advertisers may not know if they are talking to the real person in their target audience or if they are just sending messages to the fake profile. Also, brands that lack brand equity may find it harder to be successful because Facebook users will only promote brands that are relevant to their lifestyle and interests. Spamming users with application requests will only result in creating a group of brand detractors. Before developing a campaign for Facebook, advertisers should evaluate their communication objectives, select a segmented
audience and conduct message testing to ensure that the right audience will respond to the message. 7) Don’t just stand there, do something: A brand’s Facebook page or advertisement should be monitored, updated and managed just like an active user maintains his profile. Once the brand becomes static online, the user losses interest. Since the survey findings showed that most people only keep in touch with 11-50 of their 500+ contacts on Facebook, measuring success by counting the number of fans is ineffective. Looking at depth of engagement by measuring the time spent with the page and the influence of comments and feedback is a smarter strategy. Facebook users can only engage with a brand if the brand releases a message that is worthy of notice and differentiates itself from the clutter. 8) Share your brand story: When someone tells another person a story, the other person will likely tell a story back. Social networking is a story-telling platform, where users share their thoughts with other users through the power of photos, messages and interests. On Facebook, one brand fan can represent an entire group or community. In order for the communication to be effective, brands must listen to consumer stories, understand how they can be applied to the messaging and create innovative brand stories along the way.
Appendix A Online Survey Why did you join Facebook? (check all that apply) • • • • My friends joined, so I joined I wanted to meet new people I was interested in the site and wanted to see what the hype was about I wanted to reunite with old friends
I login to Facebook: • Several times a day • Once a day • Once a week • Once a month How many friends do you have on Facebook? • Less than 10 • 11-50 • 51-100 • 101-200 • 201-500 • 500+ Of these friends, how many do you actually interact or talk with in person? • Less than 10 • 11-50 • 51-100 • 101-200 • 201-500 • 500+ Do you limit the information you provide to others on Facebook? (Yes/No) If yes, what things do you manage and limit? (check all that apply) Photos tagged of me My work/education information My contact information What is published in the news feed What is written on my wall Other: _____________
Agree/Disagree Please indicate whether you agree or disagree with each of these statements. • • • • • • • • • • • If my close friends decided to no longer use Facebook, I would find little to no use for it and would discontinue use. Things I see and read on Facebook usually find their way into conversations with my friends. I like to see what people are up to, even if I don’t talk to them often. I usually find out about what is happening in my acquaintances’ lives through Facebook before I find it out through them. I usually find out about what is happening in my friends’ lives through Facebook before I find it out through them. Sometimes I get into arguments with others about the things I find out through Facebook. The way I portray myself on Facebook is exactly in tune with my true personality. Who needs a high school reunion when we have Facebook? Most people on Facebook know about everyone else’s business. I admit, I’ve checked my boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s page to see who was commenting on their wall. I monitor my own page to make sure it remains acceptable to my boyfriend/girlfriend. I trust Facebook advertisements.
Have you ever tried to limit your time spent on Facebook? (Yes/No) If yes, which of the following reasons encouraged you to limit your Facebook use? (mark all that apply). • I was spending too much time on Facebook and realized I was losing productivity. • I was bored and wanted to seek out a different social network. • My friends didn’t use Facebook as frequently as I did. • I would fight with my girlfriend/boyfriend and/or friends about the information I found out through Facebook. • I was looking for a job and didn’t want my future employer to see my page. Were you successful in limiting your Facebook use? (Yes/No) When you see an ad on Facebook that is obviously speaking to your age and interests (for example – females in relationships will often see engagement ring ads), how do you feel? • • • Annoyed. I’m not interested in what they are selling and think the ads pollute the online environment. On the fence. I’ll click on ads that I find relevant, but there are a number I never pay attention to. Click-happy. These ads really speak to me! When an advertiser targets ads to my interests, I almost always click to see what is being sold.
Short answer: If your profile had to have an advertisement on it and you could choose which company could advertise on your page, which brand would you choose?
Appendix B Online Survey Results
7) Please indicate where you agree or disagree with each of these statements. Agree Disagree Item If my close friends decided to no longer use Facebook, I would find 46% 54% little to no use for it and would discontinue use. Things I see and read on Facebook usually find their way into 81% 19% conversations with my friends. 3% I like to see what people are up to, even if I don’t talk to them often. 97% I usually find out about what is happening in my acquaintances’ 89% 11% lives through Facebook before I find it out through them. I usually find out about what is happening in my friends’ lives 46% 54% through Facebook before I find it out through them. Sometimes I get into arguments with others about the things I find 33% 67% out through Facebook. The way I portray myself on Facebook is exactly in tune with my 82% 18% true personality. Who needs a high school reunion when we have Facebook? Most 50% 50% people on Facebook know about everyone else’s business. I admit, I’ve checked my boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s page to see who 82% 18% was commenting on their wall. I monitor my own page to make sure it remains acceptable to my 47% 53% boyfriend/girlfriend. 13% 87% I trust Facebook advertisements.
Appendix C Online Survey Results – Selection of “Other” Responses to Question 12.
Appendix D Interview Guide Research Objectives 1) Find out young adults’ motivations for joining Facebook and becoming active users. 2) Learn how Facebook users interact with the site and which features they find most valuable. 3) Understand how digital personas are created on Facebook and how self-image is affected through use 4) Learn how brands can play a more active role in the conversations happening on Facebook Facebook Use 1. When did you first join Facebook and why? 2. What did you find interesting about Facebook? What influenced you to keep using the tool? 3. At the beginning, was there anything about Facebook that made you feel uncomfortable about joining? 4. If you were hesitant about joining, what finally motivated you to join? 5. How has your Facebook use changed over time? 6. What Facebook features do you use most often (events, photos, updates, marketplace). 7. Have you tried to limit your Facebook use at any time? Why or why not? 8. Have you been successful in limiting the amount of time you spend on Facebook? Facebook and Relationships 1. Who do you interact with on Facebook? 2. Are your friends, family members and co-workers on Facebook? 3. (Self-impression management) How do you alter messages differently to these audiences? 4. What level of control do you feel you have on Facebook? 5. Has something that happened on Facebook (a status message, a photo, a wall posting) started a conversation between you and your friends? 6. How do you find out about the events happening in other people’s lives that you are not as close to anymore? How often do you find out about something on Facebook before having a conversation with that person? 7. When you find out something on Facebook before you find out from that personally directly, how does that make you feel? 8. When you learn about something via Facebook, how many people on average do you tell (not online conversations)? 9. If Facebook were a person, who would it be? (Idea here is to see if people will relate Facebook to gossipers – like blogger Perez Hilton for example).
10. Scenario: Imagine that you found through Facebook out that your friend is engaged. He/she did not call you to tell you the news, but updated their relationship status on Facebook. How do you feel? How many people do you tell? 11. How often do you get into arguments with friends or significant others about information you find on Facebook? Have these negative reactions increased since you first started using the tool? Does your behavior change over time depending on the time spent with your significant other or are you a jealous person by nature? Digital Personas 1. What attracts you to Facebook over other social networks, virtual worlds and communities? 2. Do you integrate your Facebook with other social tools (Twitter, FlickR, YouTube, Facebook Mobile)? 3. If yes, how do you feel about being connected with other 24/7? Do you ever want to unplug? If you did, how do you think your personal and professional life would be affected? 4. Do you feel it is necessary to have a digital persona that is slightly different from your true persona (goal here is to see how people portray themselves different and how they tailor messages to different audiences). Brand Relationships on Facebook 1. How do you feel about brands that have a presence on Facebook (introduce Facebook’s new initiative – engagement ads - to see if members are more likely to engage with these interactive ads). 2. What are the recurring themes you see in the advertisements targeted for your profile? How do you feel about this? (Thinking here is that people feel they are not being targeted correctly. If you are in a relationship and a woman – pregnancy and wedding ads fill the screen). 3. Think about the information on your profile. Have you ever discussed a brand or posted images of a brand to your profile (This most likely everyone will say yes to because of virtual gifts. Now, virtual gifts are branded – and I’ve seen some examples like the Sephora and Dell laptop gift. Also, I’d like to see how status messages are used to spread brand affiliation). 4. If your profile had to have an advertisement on it and you could choose which company could advertise on your page, which brand would you choose? 5. Imagine your experience on Facebook in five years. What will ads look like, will you have more friends, will you use the platform in a different way than you are today?
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Olga Alexeivna Kazakova was born in Moscow, Russia, on July 18 1986, the daughter of Alexei Kazakov and Elena Kazakova. After completing her work at Cedar Park High School in Cedar Park, Texas, in 2004, she entered college at The University of Texas at Austin. She received a Bachelor of Sciences degree in Public Relations from The University of Texas in 2008 and began taking graduate courses under the Select Admissions Graduate Program. In May 2008, she entered the Graduate School at the University of Texas. Olga currently works as a Research Analyst at Volusion in Austin, Texas. She has agency and in-house experience across multiple industries including technology, finance, retail, ecommerce and hospitality. Permanent address: 2215 Macaw Drive Cedar Park, Texas 78613
This professional report was typed by the author.