THE SCIENCE OF SOCIAL MEDIA

Duncan Watts Yahoo! Research

SOCIAL MEDIA SCIENCE?
‡ In 1940¶s Paul Lazarsfeld :
± ³Who talks to whom about what, and with what effect?´

‡ Proven difficult to answer
± Measuring ³who talks to whom´ hard at scale ± Measuring the effect of talking even harder

‡ Web 2.0 brings the answer within reach
- Important implications for web companies, marketers and users
Attribution: D. J. Watts. A 21st Century Science. Nature, 445, p. 489 (2007)

EIGHT YEARS FOUR EXPERIMENTS MANY INSIGHTS

IS IT A SMALL WORLD?
ORIGIN OF 6 DEGREES
‡ 1960¶s: Milgram and Travers ³small world´ experiment ‡ Protocol generated 300 ³letter chains´ - 64 reached target ‡ Led to the famous ³six degrees´ phrase

6 DEGREES WEB EDITION
‡ 2002: recreate w/email ‡ Milgram: one target, 300 chains ‡ Now: 18 targets around world, 24,163 chains, 61,168 hands, 166 countries ‡ 400 reached targets

Attribution
‡ P. S. Dodds, R. Muhamad, and D. J. Watts. An experimental study of search in global social networks. Science, 301, 827-829 (2003). ‡ Sharad Goel, Roby Muhamad, and D. J. Watts. ³Social Search in µSmall-World¶ Experiments´ Proceedings of the 18th international conference on World Wide Web, 701-710 (2009)

IT IS (MOSTLY) A SMALL WORLD
FINDINGS:
‡ Results consistent with Milgram¶s findings
± Half of all chains estimated to complete within 7 steps

‡ But chains more egalitarian than Milgram thought
‡ Do not concentrate in ³hubs´ ‡ Senders do not prefer highly connected friends ± Geography and occupation most important

‡ Also managed to run an experiment with over 60,000 participants, on a global scales, at virtually zero cost
± Discovery of the ³bored at work network´

‡ What to do next?
± Small-world experiment not really a ³lab´ experiment ± Could we create a ³virtual lab´ on true web scale?

FROM CONNECTIONS INFLUENCE:
CULTURAL MARKETS:
‡ ³Hits´ are many X more successful than average ‡ Success seems obvious in retrospect, but hard to predict
‡ ‡ Can inequality and unpredictability be explained by social influence? Problem: experiment would require 1,000s of participants ± Each ³market´ requires hundreds of participants ± Need to compare many markets

Attributions:
‡M. J. Salganik, P. S. Dodds, and D. J. Watts. Experimental study of inequality and unpredictability in an artificial cultural market. Science, 311, 854-856 (2006). ‡Matthew J. Salganik and Duncan J. Watts. ³Leading the Herd Astray: An Experimental Study of Self-fulfilling Prophecies in an Artificial Cultural Market.´ Social Psychology Quarterly 71:338-355 (2008) ‡Matthew J. Salganik and Duncan J. Watts. ³Web-based experiments for the study of collective social dynamics in cultural markets.´ Topics in Cognitive Science, 1, 439-468 (2009).

INFLUENCE IN CULTURAL MARKETS
FINDINGS:
‡ Individuals are influenced by observations of the choices of others
± The stronger the social signal, the more they are influenced

‡ Collective decisions are also influenced
± Popular songs are more popular (and unpopular songs are less popular) ± However, which particular songs become popular becomes harder to predict

‡ The paradox of social influence:
± Individuals have more information on which to base choices ± But collective choice (i.e. what becomes popular) reveals less and less about individual preferences

‡ Manipulating social influence not so easy
± Can create self-fulfilling prophecies at level of individual songs, but not for entire market

INFLUENCE & TWITTER
‡ Music Lab showed importance of influence ‡ But influence in real life diffuses through networks ‡ Twitter is ideally suited to study diffusion ± Fully-observable network of ³who listens to whom´ ± Every tweet corresponds to a ³cascade´ of information ± URL shorteners enable us to track each cascade ± No matter how small or large ‡ Objective is to predict cascade size as function of
± # Followers, # Friends, # Reciprocated Ties ± # Tweets, Time of joining ± Size of previously triggered cascades

‡D. J. Watts and P. S. Dodds. ³Networks, influence, and public opinion formation.´ Journal of Consumer Research, 34(4), 441-458 (2007). ‡D. J. Watts. Challenging the ³Influentials Hypothesis.´ Measuring Word of Mouth, Vol. 3. Word of Mouth Marketing Association (2007). ‡D. J. Watts. ³The Accidental Influentials.´ Harvard Business Review, p. 22-23 (February, 2007) ‡D. J. Watts and J. Peretti. Viral marketing in the real world. Harvard Business Review (May, 2007)

Cascades on Twitter
‡ ‡ ‡ Two months data Late 2009 1.6M users posted 39M bit.ly URL¶s Hence 39M cascades total Average cascade size 1.14
± Median cascade size 1

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Large cascades extremely rare

ORDINARY INFLUENCERS
FINDINGS:
‡ Large cascades are rare, hence:
± Probably impossible to predict them or how they will start ± Better to trigger many small cascades

‡ Highly visible users tend to be more influential
- But only on average ± lots of randomness - Also from a marketing perspective, prominent users may also be expensive

‡ ³Ordinary Influencers´ are promising
± May influence less than one other person on average ± But may also be relatively cheap ± Targeting thousands or millions of unexceptional individuals may be more effective than targeting a few exceptional users

BIRDS OF FEATHER?
‡ Influence is important, but also important is another sociological tendency: that friends are more similar than strangers
± Sociologists call this ³the homophily principle´

‡ Homophily has been observed for many attributes like race, gender, age, income, education, etc.
± Friendships, marriages, workplace relations, etc.

‡ But what about beliefs?
± Seems plausible (look at Congress!) ± But some evidence suggests that ordinary Americans disagree more with their friends than they realize.

‡ How to test both real similarity of beliefs, and also perceived similarity?

The ³Friend Sense´ App on Facebook
‡ Facebook is great for network surveys
± Huge population ± Built-in network ± Personal data declared on profiles

‡ Friendsense generated nearly 12,000 responses from 900 participants, on 47 questions ‡ For each question q, and each pair (A,B), we record
± What A thinks about q ± What B thinks about q ± What A thinks B thinks about q

Results

Friends are more similar than strangers«

But not as similar as they think they are

Implications of Friend Sense
‡ Overestimate of similarity not just that ³people don¶t discuss politics´
± Even good friends fail to detect disagreement more than 50% ± Talking about politics helps, but not much (+6%) ± Minority opinion holders actually make bigger errors than majority opinion holders ± Suggests a combination of stereotyping and projection

‡ What does this mean for influence?
± Influence assumes knowledge of differences. FS suggests awareness is itself unusual.

‡ Goel, Mason, and Watts (JPSP, 2010)

The Future?
‡ All four experiments explore various aspects of Lazarsfeld¶s Question
± Small World measured networks ± Music Lab measured influence ± Twitter measured diffusion ± Friendsense measured perceptions

‡ Haven¶t yet put all the pieces together ‡ But we¶re working on it«

Thank You!