New York, Oct 7: Not just popular opinion leaders but even a single individual who is part of a social group on Facebook can spread information to others just as effectively or more, US researchers have revealed.
Proposing a strategic approach for information spreading via Facebook using cancer screenings as a health intervention, the researchers used Facebook to identify social clusters and opinion leaders and mathematically determine the best way to spread information, using health information as the subject.
What they found is that neither way is better than the other. Rather, for maximum reach, the best way to spread (or diffuse) information is to utilise both opinion leaders and individuals in social clusters on Facebook.
"In the simplest terms, we are asking: can we mathematically determine whether something will go viral on Facebook," said Daniele Struppa, chancellor of California-based Chapman University.
By using Facebook to identify socially-bonded clusters of people, the researchers created a computational simulation consisting of seven prepositions and five algorithmic steps to identify the way to achieve the maximum reach of people, using cancer prevention information as the subject.
The parameters identify Facebook friends and users who share world views, a shared identity and ideology, shared groups, using similar linguistic styles, and endorsing or "liking" similar postings.
"One can argue that Facebook has become an integral part of many people's communication repertoire; people continue to be social when they are indoors," said study co-author professor Lisa Sparks.
They chat online with friends and keep up with them via their Facebook pages.
"Given Facebook's highly diffused status and heavy daily dosage, we believe it is one of the best platforms for understanding how a mathematical model can be used for health interventions," the authors noted.
Common diffusion methods suggest that employing an opinion leader is the best way to spread information.
"However, this research suggests that one person in a social cluster can spread information to others just as effectively or more under certain network configurations on Facebook," Struppa added.
The research group included health communicators, mathematicians, computational scientists and diffusion researchers.
The study was published in the journal Health Communication.