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The first direct social experiment Q&A: Live!

19 Apr 2013

Yesterday we ran a live Facebook and Twitter question and answer session with the physiologist who oversaw our social experiment, Dr. David Giles.

He is an expert in social media behaviour and a Reader in Media Psychology at Winchester University. The Q&A session provided our followers with a real chance to ask in-depth questions about our social experiment.

We had some great questions and some really interesting answers, so we thought we would write a post rounding up the best ones: 

Q) Is social media just a passing phase or have we got it for good? Submitted by CJ.

A) It's hard to see how there will be any reversal in the social media trend - unless there was a major international crisis that somehow prevented us from using computer technology to communicate. Of course the actual media themselves could change - say a new, better Facebook came along that managed to draw a new generation away. Maybe some kind of joint social media/Skype-type interface? But I can't see there's any going back. 

Q) What is it about social media that people find so addictive? Submitted by HW.

A) Social media are addictive because people are addictive! Imagine not being able to talk to your friends and catch up on all the latest gossip - that was the experience for most of the study participants who gave up their Facebook accounts. They really felt that life was passing them by! 

Q) If you could do the whole thing again would you change anything? Submitted by KO'B.

A) If time and money were no object then it would be nice to have had a pre- and post-intervention phase of the study. In other words we could have gathered diary entries from people before and after the month in which they gave up or started up social media. That way we could have seen if people really changed their behaviour in the longer term. For example one or two participants said that giving up Facebook made them realise they spent too much time on it and that they would modify their usage after the study. But have they? It would be interesting to hear from them! 

Q) Will Facebook ever get to a point where you log in to see more brands than friends appearing in your feed? Submitted by AK.

A) Possibly - I guess that could threaten its popularity unless some kind of spam alert could be installed (without loss of advertising revenue presumably!). 

Q) There is one category I think is missing and that is the older Facebook person - like me. We use Facebook to keep in touch with family and friends. Where do people like me/us fit into this scheme? Submitted by DL.

A) There was quite a range of ages among the study participants and I don't think any of the categories are age-related as such. But there probably is room for a type of more casual user who simply 'pops in' occasionally to stay in touch with scattered family members and old friends. Any ideas for a name? 

Q) How long before Google plus takes over from Facebook? Submitted by SB.

A) Depends what it offers the Facebook user - for any medium to supplant Facebook it will have to be extremely attractive and pull lots of people away simultaneously. It would need fantastic advertising. The best bet is to catch the next generation before they all start opening Facebook accounts! 

Q) I live in a rural area and would struggle without social media to stay in touch with people. Did you find that people living in cities found it easier? Submitted by LF.

A) I didn't see any data relating to participants' location, but one or two participants did say that they compensated for lack of Facebook by going round and knocking on friends' doors - so in that sense yes, it would certainly be harder for rural residents. 

Q) Do you think that indirect social sites such as Reddit (i.e. stories and discussion being up-voted) can be just as addictive as a "normal" social media websites? Submitted by JB.

A) They have 'addictive' elements for certain - at least the need to keep returning to the site to check for new material, to be drawn into responding to repeated messages and so on. But the most addictive thing about Facebook in particular is the presence of all one's actual social network. I don't think other sites - including Twitter - can quite compete with that! 

To read the report on the full social experiment click here.

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