Strategic social networking critical to Web content popularity

Why do some online videos become viral sensations while most languish in obscurity?

A team of researchers at the University of Washington Foster School of Business led by Yong Tan, associate professor of information systems, has begun a series of studies investigating the effect of social networks on the diffusion of Internet content.

The first charts the role of social networks in the rise and fall of videos posted on YouTube, the popular digital content posting site. YouTube enables social networking via communities of “subscribers,” interested in a certain style of video, and “friends,” based on personal or content affinity. Tan and co-authors Anjana Susarla and Jeong-Ha Oh studied video diffusion in the context of a 2,000-member online community comprised of both subscribers and friends.

The researchers found that subscribers are a video’s initial viewers and launch its rise in viewership. Once it’s out there, it is largely the friends who sustain a video’s online viewership. The more that content creators, subscribers and friends are connected outside of the community, the broader the video’s diffusion.

Building smart communities in Web 2.0 world
The bottom line: advertisers and media companies in the Internet age should pay close attention to key consumers of information. Building communities of well-connected people is crucial to building “word of Web” that can break through the imbroglio of online content.

“Our study suggests that a ‘push’ model of content creation, where the subscriber tries to push content by initiating connections to several other users, may be less successful than a ‘pull’ model, where subscribers with high in-degree centrality can act as fashion leaders or opinion makers in the diffusion of content,” Tan says. “Practitioners would do well to consider the role of the prestige of a subscriber in the diffusion of content.”

“As we move toward Web 2.0, everything is becoming a conversation,” he adds. “Companies need to pay attention to this conversation going with and among users.”

“Social Networks and the Diffusion of User Generated Content: Evidence from YouTube” is the work of Anjana Susarla, an assistant professor of information systems, Jeong-ha Oh, a doctoral student, and Yong Tan, an associate professor of information systems and Evert McCabe Faculty Fellow, all at the UW Foster School of Business.