As social networks have proliferated, they have largely made their money selling ads on the huge amount of user generated content that members have produced (for free).
Suffice to say, therefore, they have a strong interest in encouraging as much content to be produced as possible. A recent study makes the rather counter-intuitive suggestion however that the easier it becomes to create content, the number of people that create it.
The study found that such is the desire to be noticed, a certain section of the userbase ramp up their content production to insane levels, which then in turn puts off other members of the network from creating anything at all.
Therefore, the paper suggests that making content production incredibly easy can actually work against the best interests of the social network, as the noise tends to drown out the ‘signal’.
When more equals less
As we’ve seen with many user generated projects, such as the World Without Oil game, most content is generated by a relatively small number of the overall userbase.
On Twitter for instance, just 10 percent of the users are believed to produce 90 percent of the tweets.
Whilst this phenomenon is well known, it’s less well known quite why this imbalance occurs and the implications of it for the network itself.
They use an analogy of a market, with creators of content making the investment in the hope that they will attract customers (or readers).
Unlike a business however, individual content creators often aren’t seeking financial reward but rather the status that comes from being heard.
The larger the social network, the greater the effort required to reach people, and the authors believe it doesn’t take a huge drop-off in the ‘reward’ they receive to see the effort taken to produce content as not worthwhile.
This increase in size tends to result in content that is less tailored, and therefore often less relevant to the receiver.
This then often sees creators deciding that the pay-off is no longer worthwhile, whilst potential creators can be put off by the size of the market. This, the researchers believe, explains why so much content is created by so few users.
They also believe it might be a reason why users often leave a popular network for somewhere smaller and more niche, where their voice can be heard more easily.
How to rectify the problem
We’ve seen the likes of Facebook attempt to change their algorithm so that people receive content from those that are close to them, whilst the last few years have seen a number of nascent social networks launch (and flounder) that claimed to offer a more intimate service.
The researchers suggest that a more useful solution would be to increase the cost of messaging so that creators are forced to target their offering more readily. This, they claim, will benefit both sender and receiver.
When competition is reduced, there’s more incentive to create quality rather than quantity, which tends to result in a higher payoff for the creator, and a better experience for the consumers, who are then likely to stay in the network.
Food for thought however if part of your social media marketing is the creation of user driven content..