Effects of Madding Crowds

When social networks make it easier and cheaper to generate content, it should lead to more content creators, right?
When social networks make it easier and cheaper for users to generate content, it should lead to more content creators, right? Wrong, say researchers from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. In reality, easier access to large audiences on social media has led to more content consumers, but far fewer content creators.

In their analysis of social media behaviors, co-authors Ganesh Iyer and Zsolt Katona find that ease of use on social media does initially lead to some users generating more content. But more content leads to cluttered media feeds, which leads to greater competition for attention. Unable to build audiences, many users stop posting any content—and others never start.

Iyer and Katona note that, by some reports, only 10 percent of Twitter users generate 90 percent of all tweets. Such imbalances could be driving people away from popular networks to platforms with fewer users—such as Path, a new social network that limits the number of friends users can have. The co-authors suggest that if social media platforms adopted features that encouraged smaller, more targeted audiences—and even increased the cost of sending messages—they could “not only encourage sender entry, but also make receivers better off.”

“Competing for Attention in Social Communication Markets” is forthcoming in Management Science. A draft is available at ssrn.com/abstract=2322435.