With over 500 million members, Facebook has a huge amount of data at its fingertips. And we are not just talking about basic stats like age, gender, and location. Everyone from marketers to anthropologists would love to get their hands on Facebook’s treasure trove of “Likes”, links, and friend profiles.
Although many would argue that Facebook shares too much information with advertisers, it has so far been fairly stingy when it comes to releasing data to social scientists or other study groups. Instead, it has started to analyze a lot of that information itself. Just a couple of weeks ago we reported on a Facebook intern’s “friendship map”, and now the Facebook Data Team has published the results of a study that examines the word usage in approximately one million status updates.
The updates, which were all from English-speaking U.S. members, were examined using a text analysis software program called Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC). This program allows researchers to determine the rate at which authors or speakers express emotion (both positive and negative), refer to themselves or other people, or mention various topics, like sex, sport, religion, etc. In all, there are 68 different word categories, and analyzing the frequency of these words in Facebook status updates could reveal some interesting insights into how different people use the social networking platform.
Some of the findings provided little surprise. For example, younger people express more negative emotions and tend to swear more. They use more self-references (“I”, “me”, “my”, etc.) and talk more about school. Older people write longer updates, use more prepositions and articles, and talk more about other people.
It should also be no surprise to find that people tend to write about different topics at different times of the day. For example, words about sleep increase at night and peak in the early hours of the morning. Work or school words peak in the mornings, while words about social and leisure activities are higher later in the day. Positive emotional word use is also higher in the morning, with negative word use increasing as the day goes on
The Facebook study found some distinct differences in the word usage of more “popular” Facebook members as measured by their friend counts compared to the words used by less popular members. People with higher friend counts tend to use the pronoun “you” more often, write longer updates, and use more words referring to music and sports. They also talk less about their families and are less emotional.
Not surprisingly, updates with more positive emotional words receive more “Likes” than those with more negative emotional words. However, more negative emotional updates receive more comments, leading the Facebook Data Team to speculate that there might be a sympathy factor at work here. The study also found that there was a clear correlation between how much a member uses certain words in his or her status updates and how much those same words are used by that person’s friends.
The Facebook Data Team doesn’t draw any conclusions from the study, but if you are looking to add more Facebook friends the implications are clear: write longer posts, don’t write too much about yourself or your family, include references to music and sports, don’t be too emotional, and keep your updates upbeat!
Monica Vila is TheOnlineMom -a community devoted to promoting a healthy understanding and appreciation for the positive role technology can play in our lives. She’s constantly chatting on Facebook here or on Twitter @TheOnlineMom where you are more than welcome to join the conversation.