The paper published in the January 2013 issue of Memory and Cognition and called Major Memories for Microblogs and it details several experiments involving how well people remember Facebook posts.
The paper’s authors were Laura Mickes, Ryan S. Darby, Vivian Hwe, Daniel Bajic, Christine R. Harris, Nicholas J. S. Christenfeld of the University of California at San Diego, and Jill A Warker of the University of Scranton. Professor Mickes has a new appointment at the University of Warwick in Coventry.
In the first, they tested for how well people remembered the status updates of strangers in Facebook. Study subjects were randomly assigned to see on a screen either Facebook posts or sentences from books for a brief flash. Immediately after they were asked to take a test wherein the posts or sentences were replayed along with 100 ‘lures’ and rate how sure they were that they had seen either the posts or the book sentences. Recall of the Facebook posts was 85 percent while recall for the sentences was 76 percent.
In the second experiment, a fresh set of Facebook posts were compared against the frontal views of 200 neutral faces selected from a government database. (Creepy that the government has a database of faces, right?) As before, the study subjects were randomly assigned to either see flashes of faces or flashes of Facebook posts. And, as before, they immediately took a recall test. And, as before, the subjects’ memory for Facebook posts was higher than for faces.
But maybe the Facebook posts were better remembered because they were a more coherent whole than just sentences snipped from books. Or, maybe the subjects who saw the Facebook posts were encoding the posts at a deeper level than those who got sentences. Mickes et al tested both hypotheses in different but related experiments and found that neither coherence nor deeper encoding accounted for the difference.
Instead, Mickes et al hypothesize that it may the informality of the language in Facebook that accounts for difference.
“These especially memorable Facebook posts and reader comments, generated by ordinary people, may be far closer than professionally crafted sentences to tapping into the basic language capacities of our minds. Perhaps the very sentences that are so effortlessly generated are, for that reason, the same ones that are readily remembered. Some sentences—and, most likely, those without careful editing, polishing, and perfecting—are naturally more ‘mind-ready.’”In this interpretation, Facebook posts are like the lines of dialogue from the 1987 movie The Princess Bride (see at left) that countless 40-somethings have rattling around in their heads. While the more formal language of books is like every magazine or newspaper story that they’ve read since 1987…mostly forgotten.
Before you change everything in your social media strategy, bear in mind that all these experiments were conducted on 20-year-old college kids. If that doesn't describe your audience, your mileage may vary.