What do we really know about Facebook users?

Facebook has been with us for a number of years now, and its importance has grown with the rise in its number of users and volume of activity . Organizations and marketeers nowadays realise that Facebook needs to be taken into account in their plans somehow, be it for marketing, recruiting or whatsoever.

But do we really know who is in Facebook and for what reason?  This is the key question.


I came across a recent literature review about Facebook by Ralf Caers and colleagues.

They provide a really useful survey of studies published between 2006 and 2010 that address Facebook users, their intentions and behaviour – a total of 114 peer-reviewed studies. While the review is now several years old, it is the latest available to my knowledge and contains many useful insights.

The survey starts with a summary of the insights found about intentions to join Facebook in some scattered studies. Unsurprisingly, playfulness and the critical mass of the site are considered main drivers. However, normative pressure also plays a role, pointing out to  Facebook “becoming mandatory” to conform to social practice. In any case and surprisingly, there were no studies found considering geographical and cultural differences, which appear at first glance to be important.

Then the study moves to surveying user characteristics. Men appeared to be more likely to join than women, but the latter were more likely to maintain a private profile. Does this fit with our existing gender and personality behaviour? Consider that they found evidences that extroversion positively correlates with Facebook use but emotional stability appears to correlate negatively, and maybe you will find some explanation? (or maybe not).

Looking at friend network structure, the authors found studies that seem to state the obvious that Facebook friends are not the same as “offline” friends, but a superset somewhat. An interesting finding reported is the following:

The perceived social attractiveness was highest for users with around 300 friends and lowest for users with either few or many Facebook friends.

This appears to have important consequences when building our reputation on-line. Maybe this is pointing out to the often-heard advice to “build a network that has a meaning”. And that meaning is related to another aspect addressed in the paper: to which extent people disclose information in Facebook and what relation does this have with “me-marketing”. No real firm evidence again. Age, privacy beliefs and personality traits appear to be drivers of the amount and type of information disclosed, but these are only a few initial insights.

Then, the survey enters in literature about the potential and actual uses of Facebook by organizations (in which electronic word of mouth seems to be a popular topic), which is not my interest in this post. So I would only provide this quote that speaks for itself:

It is striking how few articles have yet addressed the role of Facebook in recruit­ment and selection procedures.

I have read some more recent studies in that direction, but they are still far from showing some firm evidence. So the impact of Facebook in recruitment is still to be further explored.

The final call to action of the authors is clear and points in the most promising direction:

[…] the review also reveals that our understanding is still quite fragmented and may lack nuances that characterize different settings, countries, and demographic variables. Now is the time to take scien­tific research on Facebook one step further and integrate items and control variables from previous studies into new and even stronger research designs and to expand these designs to multiple countries and demographic groups.

Now here comes my personal two cents. The result of the survey can be summarized as “we still don’t know why people join Facebook, what they look for when they are in and how they see others”. Which seems odd given the increasing importance given by marketing people to the network.

I just look forward to read an update of Caers et al. survey!





One thought on “What do we really know about Facebook users?

  1. Really interesting article! There is nothing scientific I could contribute but from a hands-on point of view I can definitely attest to the fact that in my case of a small family cafe, we managed to get our business going, mainly online! We managed to reach many many people through Facebook, allowing us to work with a large audience from day 1. This is reflected till today on the 4.900 likes we have on our page. We really believe and try to harness the power of Facebook. Now for the recruitment part, I really hope they will not look at my Facebook account before hiring me! What would be interesting for me is to measure the level of engagement if each user with Facebook as years pass from his registration and relate this with the age group of each user. I feel that I have changed a lot the way I use it and I assume that all of us go through transformations that may also be relevant to life events like marriages, etc. this is just my quick assumption but it feels interesting to look at…

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