What Motivates Users to Get Active on Facebook?

Jesse Farmer led me to a pretty interesting report this morning title “Feed Me: Motivating Newcomer Contribution in Social Network Sites“. The report is a collaboration between Cameron Marlow and Thomas Lento, researchers at Facebook, and Moira Burke of Carnegie Mellon University. The purpose of the report is to explore what motivates users on Facebook to become more active. Below I’ve listed out the hypotheses, testing methods, and the findings.


According to the abstract, “Using server log data from approximately 140,000 newcomers in Facebook, we predict long-term sharing based on the experiences the newcomers have in their first two weeks.” To find out what were the primary motivations for new users, the team submitted four hypotheses:

  1. Singling Out – Newcomers who are singled out in content will contribute more content,
  2. Social Learning – Newcomers who’s friends are highly active will have a higher likelihood of contributing content on the site
  3. Feedback – Users that receive more feedback (through comments, etc) to their submitted content (e.g. photos, wall postings, etc), will be more active on the site
  4. Distribution – Newcomers whose initial content is distributed widely will go on to contribute more content. In other words, those users that have a wider reach will contribute more content.


So how did the research team test each of their hypotheses? I’ll outline how they tested each of the four hypotheses and then will share the results. If you’d like more details on the method of research, you can go check out the study which outlines in detail the group’s approach. So here’s how the group tested each of the four hypotheses:

  • Learning – Learning was represented by the number of photo-uploading stories the newcomers saw in their News Feeds during their first two weeks.
  • Singling Out – Singling out was represented with a binary value (yes or no) “indicating whether the newcomer was tagged in a photo during his or her first two weeks.”
  • Feedback – Feedback was also a binary value “indicating whether or not the newcomer received any comments on his or her initial photos during the first two weeks.”
  • Distribution – Distribution was measured by the “number of News Feed stories shown to friends about the newcomer’s photos.”


After analyzing over 254,000 users, the group found that the single most influential driver of user activity on Facebook was singling out users, but that was only for non-early uploaders. Those that were early uploaders appeared to be most motivated by user feedback (comments on their photos). I’ve outlined the findings by each hypothesis below.
Learning From Friends
The research found that “Friends’ behavior during newcomers’ first two weeks modestly impacts the newcomers’ eventual sharing.” Every doubling in quantity of news feed stories about their friends uploaded photos was associated with a 6.1-10.7% increase in sharing. It clearly influenced the users’ behavior but it wasn’t the most significant driver behind user sharing activity.
Singling Out
According to the study, “being tagged in a photo is not significantly associated with an increase in subsequent sharing for the early uploaders.” For non-early uploaders, being tagged in a photo resulted in a “small increase in sharing.” The research group found these results somewhat surprising. I’m not completely surprised with this finding though. This would lead one to believe that the two groups have different motives.
Those that are quick to share (“early uploaders”) appear to have altruistic motives. Those that aren’t as quick to upload may increase sharing as they learn from others, or as Jesse Farmer put it, non-early uploaders are more “susceptible to peer pressure.”
Of those that uploaded photos to the site, only 38 percent ended up receiving comments on their photos. Of the remaining 38 percent, receiving a photo comment resulted in a 6.2 percent increase in subsequent photo sharing.
According to the research group, “Having more friends view a newcomer’s content is associated with a small increase in sharing. The mean number of stories about the newcomer’s photos appearing in friends’ News Feeds is 43.4, and every time that number is doubled, the expected number of newcomer photo uploads increases by 2.6%.”