Facebook’s ‘invisible audience’: Posts seen by 3 times more people than estimated

Jul 15, 2013 | Facebook marketing, Social media

Facebook posts are seen by three times as many people as its users realise, but they’re just not getting any response, according to new research. The study, from researchers at Stanford University in the US, found that people drastically underestimate how many people are looking at their updates. They found that Facebook users reached 35 […]

Facebook posts are seen by three times as many people as its users realise, but they’re just not getting any response, according to new research.


The study, from researchers at Stanford University in the US, found that people drastically underestimate how many people are looking at their updates.
They found that Facebook users reached 35 per cent of their friends with each post and 61 per cent of their friends over the course of a month.
Facebook does tells its advertisers how many views their content is getting, but the social network does not offer this service to regular users.
The research suggests that is a situation that Facebook wants to maintain because users would post differently if they had a proper breakdown of who was viewing their content.
The researchers found that what users post is based on the reactions that they have received to what they’ve posted in the past.
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‘People would post less if they knew’
The study concludes that people would post less if they realiased just how little response they were getting.
Writing in the report, professor Michael S. Bernstein remarked: “Posting to a social network site is like speaking to an audience from behind a curtain. The audience remains invisible to the user: while the invitation list is known, the final attendance is not. Feedback such as comments and likes is the only glimpse that users get of their audience.”
Though roughly 21% of Facebook users surveyed cited “likes” and comments as the primary indicator of their perceived audience size, the Stanford study notes.
One passage from the study goes on to suggest the psychology behind social network updates:

“Why do people underestimate their audience size in social media? One possible explanation is that, in order to reduce cognitive dissonance, users may lower their estimates for posts that receive few likes or comments. It might be more comfortable to believe that nobody saw it than to believe that many saw it but nobody liked it.”

“Some measure of social translucence and plausible deniability seems helpful: audience members might not want to admit they saw each piece of content, and sharers might be disappointed to know that many people saw the post but nobody commented or “Liked” it.”

The research, carried out with Facebook’s data science team, looked at 220,000 users over the course of a month.
Read the full report here

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