The Effect of Positivity on Network Health: Nobody Likes A Debbie Downer
Posted by Malaika in Blog, Experience Project
Everybody knows a Debbie Downer. You know, those people with the unique talent of killing your vibe no matter the circumstance, the ones who invite themselves to the beach with you yet insist on talking about nothing but ozone depletion, rising sea levels, and melanoma. Their ineffable cynicism doesn’t just irritate us in real life; pessimism can wreck conversations on social networks as well.
At Kanjoya we’ve built a massive dataset of human behavior and expression in our own social network, the Experience Project. The Experience Project connects people based on shared life experiences, and there is a place on the Experience Project for everything from unbearable suffering to sheer delight. Some users come to the site seeking acceptance and understanding, and others just to read and write about experiences that make us who we are. To understand how attitudes influence the vitality of social interactions, we used our own technology, the Crane Emotional Intelligence Platform, to measure how emotions and attitudinal expression affect engagement.
Past research tells us that users who make friends are more engaged and less likely to churn. So naturally, the next question is about making friends: What sort of content makes it easy to make friends? When we analyzed groups on the Experience Project, we found an interesting discrepancy between our top five “lonely” groups and top five “friendly” groups:
On a surface level it appears that members who join groups with serious or negative content are much less likely to make friends than users in lighthearted groups. In particular, the phrases “I Believe” and “I Hate” have a polarizing effect on the probability of making friends. To validate this anecdotal observation, we used Crane’s sentiment analysis technology to measure the emotional hue of Experience Project group names, giving us a more holistic and quantified insight into the relationship between a group’s emotional attitude and its vitality. We scored more than 18,000 group names and calculated the degree to which each emotion correlated with group member retention rate, a heuristic for group vitality. To our surprise, we see perfect alignment between the positivity of the group name’s emotion and the group’s retention rate. In general, members within groups that have positive names tend to engage more and stick around longer.
The Experience Project is the largest online emotional support site. It is a place for understanding and empathy during both positive and negative “emotional inflection points” in our lives. We were surprised to see that virtually every negative emotion present in a group’s name correlates with a decrease in retention. Many of our most popular, most active, and most helpful groups are about serious life struggles, so this wasn’t adding up.
As we analyzed further, we discovered that it isn’t the subject matter that affects retention, but rather the attitude towards the subject matter. Human connections thrive in positive environments. We are attracted to optimism, especially when dealing with difficult experiences.
Take, for example, two groups on the Experience Project about feeling alone: “I Don’t Have Any Friends” and “I Want to Make Friends.” The subject matter is nearly identical, and either group could attract a lonely new member. But the more forward-thinking group (“I Want to Make Friends”) engages new users significantly better than the defeatist group (“I Don’t Have Any Friends”). New members in the optimistic group make more than eight times as many friends and are twenty percent more likely to stick around the network.
We see the isolating effect of pessimism much more clearly when we visualize the broader communities associated with “I Don’t Have Any Friends” and “I Want to Make Friends.” To do this, we drew connections to the top five groups joined by members from both of our groups of interest, and then rounded out the communities by connecting the top five groups joined by each associated group, and so on for three degrees of connection, with bold lines illustrating reciprocal group relationships.
From the network graph above, it is clear that there is a strong two-way connection between groups associated with the defeatist group, “I Don’t Have Any Friends.” Users who join these groups have woven a self-limiting community revolving entirely around loneliness, whereas members of “I Want to Make Friends” join a much more diverse set of groups, creating a rich, diffuse network of positive-minded users relating to each other on multiple levels.
From this perspective, it makes sense that users who join “I Want to Make Friends” are more likely to engage with other members. They have a broader community to connect with and a greater array of experiences to bond over.
Attitudes matter online just as they do offline. And sure, you may be thinking, Well, duh! And we agree. But until now, nobody has been able to quantify the impact of emotions and attitudes on the health of online networks. Kanjoya’s Crane Emotional Intelligence Platform is the first and best analytics platform to model and quantify emotional expression in unstructured text, and companies have used the analysis to improve business outcomes, from better product design to smarter marketing to higher customer engagement. For more information, visit: www.kanjoya.com/crane