Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg Preaches That The Stream Will Bring Us Closer Together

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Facebook’s members may have initially reacted with horror at the new homepage redesign which introduces a Twitter-like stream as the main interface. But Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg thinks that advertisers are going to love it. In a speech today at a digital advertising conference, and a subsequent blog post, she preached the many benefits of the stream and even had some data to back it up.

The average Facebook user has 120 “friends,” but not all friends are equal. Facebook engineers are able to group your friends by the way you communicate with them. There is reciprocal communication in which you both send messages back and forth to each other either privately or on each others’ Walls. There is direct communication, which is one-way and doesn’t always get a response. It is unrequited. And then there is the stream, the magical stream, where communication occurs simply by sharing things in a broadcast fashion, liking or commenting on those items, or even just clicking on them. This forms what Facebook calls your “active network.”

It turns out you communicate actively with a lot more people through your stream than directly. A Facebook member with 150 friends, for instance, engages in reciprocal conversation with only 5 people, in direct communication with 9 people, and in “stream communication” with 20 people.

Sanberg writes in her post:

When our Data Team measured active networks for users on Facebook, it found that, in any given month, users keep up with between 2 times and 4 times more people than through more traditional communication.

The other impact of the active network is that it leads to greater connectedness between the people in someone’s network.

The implication for advertisers is that the new design is going to be great for spreading their messages far and wide—reaching two to four times as many people! No doubt, that is true. Monitoring a stream of constant updates encourages communication because there is always something new to talk about and it has a feeling of immediacy. It does lower the barrier for interactions and makes it easier to connect with people one or two degrees sway from you, but who are brought to your attention because someone in your immediate circle just reacted to something they did or said online.

It is not only Facebook who has come to the realization that forcing the stream on people forces them to communicate more broadly. That is the whole appeal of Twitter. FriendFeed just did its redesign which turned the stream into a deluge, and even AOL has gotten the lifestreaming religion.

But whether or not this will lead to more opportunities for advertisers to reach consumers is still a big unknown.

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