There appears to be something of a competitive spirit in online social networks. It’s fostered by the fact that Facebook, LinkedIn and Ecademy (amongst others) reveal how many “friends” or “connections” you have. The theory is that you must be worth knowing if you have more connections and friends.

Now, a new research study from Assumption College, Worcester, USA, suggests that having fewer friends might well be OK. The study was reported at the recent meeting of the American Psychological Association. Interestingly it suggests that people with large numbers of friends have low self-esteem – at least at the outset of using Facebook.

The study looked at first year university students and found that social adjustment and self-esteem was lowest amongst those with most friends. So, perhaps, connecting with those people on social networking sites with loads of connections could well work against you – they might be people who don’t actually function well socially and therefore may be of less help to you.

However, that’s not quite what the study showed. In people who had been using Facebook for a while – final year undergraduates – the research found the reverse results for the first years. In other words, for experienced Facebook users, social adjustment and self-esteem was greatest in those with more than 200 friends.

So what does this really tell us? It suggests that if you connect with experienced users of social networks you’ll be better off. So, look for how long people have been using Facebook or other social networking sites, rather than how many friends they have. The longer they have been using the service, the more likely they are to be the right kind of people to connect with. In other words, as ever, experience counts.

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