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Ammara Mahmood

Can understanding Facebook use help online news providers?

Understanding the interplay between social networks and online news providers becomes fundamental for digital marketers. Why? The news publishing industry currently faces important challenges such as difficulties in charging for content and declining advertising revenues. News websites have also incentivized users to engage with their content within social networks and encouraged users to join their Facebook brand pages.

What You Need to Know

Social network data helps predict and describe news consumption at third party news sites. Visitors are 10% more likely to visit a news site if their Facebook friend also visited. However, failure to account for homophily (aka “birds of a feather flock together”) can bias estimates of social influence by up to 40%. Personal preferences, homophily and social influence explain news consumption amongst users connected via social networks.

More Details

What Did the Researchers Do?

Ammara Mahmood and Catarina Sismeiro explore the role of online engagement, homophily and social influence in explaining traffic and news consumption by social network users at an external news website.

They model the impact of a user’s own activity on Facebook and the activity of their Facebook friends on external news sites. The research focuses on two browsing decisions:

  1. A user's decision to visit the content website; and
  2. The decision on how many pages to view.

The authors combine Facebook data from a panel of 1,562 Facebook users. These users are registered with a major news website with browsing activity at the third-party news site. This approach allowed the authors to jointly model website visitation (traffic) and the number of pages viewed over time (engagement) at the news website.

What Did the Researchers Find?

News consumption and being active on Facebook are complementary activities. The results suggest that engagement with online social networks could be associated with specific patterns of news consumption and site visits. This is because individual-specific motivations and characteristics make both behaviors (i.e., the use of social networks and news reading at external sites) more likely.

More importantly, the findings confirm that online news consumption is a shared experience, with the news consumption activity of social network friends associated with similar behavior by other network members. Most of these co-movements can be attributed to social influence dynamics, but homophily also plays a role. Because both social influence and homophily imply the need for alternative strategies, it is critical to appreciate that both are relevant.

How Can You Use This Research?

Digital Marketers can use this research to consider the role of social networks as content curators in a world dominated by information shock. The results confirm that social networks provide a platform to facilitate connections and content seeking behavior.

Publishers can use this research to understand how Facebook-related information can help predict site visits and number of page requests. It also highlights the importance of developing social network communities to facilitate engagement and content curation.

Want to Know More?

Contact: Ammara Mahmood

Article Citation: Mahmood, A., & Sismeiro, C. (2017). Will they come and will they stay? Online social networks and news consumption on external websites. Journal of Interactive Marketing, 37, 117-132.

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