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Systems Dynamics Applied to Social Media:

State of the Art

Víctor Iván Cid Solís; Félix Miguel Pérez Rosas; Felipe Rodríguez González; Víctor Javier Pérez Herrera
Systems Dynamics
Professor: Ph.D. Liliana Capacho Betancourt

Abstract- The approach of this paper is a desktop research based systems dynamics, behavior, cases of study from articles
published in data base from ITESM and some articles from Google Scholar. The methodology is to contrast the relevant
arguments and find a patron for create or analyze dynamic models. The findings of this research are the similarities of
the authors studied. The limit of this paper is the lack of applications, but the result is clearly stated. This paper may be
useful for those business interested in the value of investing in social media ads and the effect of their investment.

Online interaction in the form of social media is a core component in the communication and interactive context
of the twenty-one century. Ultimately it has attracted increasing attention from academia and marketing, mainly
because theories from social sciences can be explored and studied at an unprecedented scale [1]. This interest has led
to the development and study of dynamical models which are able to characterize the behavior of online social
In this paper, we look over research on dynamical modeling of social media and is structure as follows: we first
explain the meaning and importance of social media in Sec. II, under the same perspective we also provide an
overview explaining the way it´s been employed Systems dynamics (SD) in the social media´s subject-matter. In
Sec. III we classify current dynamic approaches and subtopics related to social media that are of interest to
researchers. In Sec. IV, we analyze how SD can be a useful tool for content creators and advertising services.
Finally, in Sec. V, we briefly provide some suggestions to encourage future work in the area.
Our final and most important aim is to provide a general review of the state of the art and to motivate future work
in this relevant research field.


System dynamics modeling (SDM) is a computer based modeling method that is based on a system dynamics
view. The goal is to understand complex, non-linear, problems with the help of systems thinking. System dynamics
models are based on the causal nature of the problems and on the wholesome effect that different factors have on the
system. Modeling can be done in a qualitative or quantitative level. On the qualitative level one examines, for
example, causal loops. On the quantitative level one examines, among others, stock-flows tables [2]. The goal of
system dynamics models is to create a model that holds equations that describe the system, and then understand the
dynamic behavior of the system by simulating the working system with the model [3].
In the other hand, social media is commonly associated with social networks because of its similarity, however
there are few characteristics that made them two different concepts. As in [4]. a good definition of social network is:
“Web based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semipublic profile within a bounded system,
(2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of
connections and those made by others within the system”.
With this first approach to social networks is easy to understand its role. Although the focus is on the construction
of a public profile, which is related to the broad content sharing applications such as Flickr, YouTube, Reddit,
Pinterest and others. Additionally, compared to the building relationship applications such as Facebook, Twitter,
LinkedIn and Google+ there are some quite differences that requires another definition. Therefore, social media can
be described as all the technologies or applications that people use to develop and maintain their social networking
sites which involves the posting of multimedia information like images, video and texts [4].
Since the start of the different social media around the world, its usage has been increasing substantially with the
pass of the years earning an important position in the daily life of people and companies, for marketing purposes.
According to [5]. The influence of social media is such that the number of worldwide users is expected to reach
some 2.95 billion by 2020, quantity that is around a third of earth's population.
To understand better why companies, organizations and investigators perform different kind of dynamic models it
is important to see the facts that make social media that important. For example, the region with highest penetration
of social media is North America where around 60% of the population has at least one social media account. This is
an excellent opportunity to gain market share in customers, reach targets, perform real-time analysis, make cheaper
marketing campaigns, improve the customer service, inter alia. However, to reach this, it is necessary to understand
and study the behavior of the different variables and factors that are within the users in the social media world [6].
In the United States, one of the countries that has more movement in social media the people that use at least one
social media site has been increasing since 2006 as can be seen in Fig.1.
The kind of people that use social media varies between the different ages and occupation of the users as can be
seen in Fig. 2.

Figure 2. Percentage of U.S. adults who use each social media


So, taking as reference the two figures above, we can understand why it’s so important to researchers the study of
social media, however the main question remains, how does system dynamics can be employed to study social
media? In the economic sciences there is a well-known model on the way in which a certain population adopts a
new product, this model is known as the diffusion model of Bass. The Bass model describes how a certain sector
adopts a new product, the potential customers are gradually transformed into customers, this transformation is
influenced mainly by the diffusion or publicity that makes each user of the Product ("Adoption from Word-of-
mouth"), like the transmission of a contagious disease and is also influenced by the marketing or publicity of the
company that launches the product. The growth curve of how the product is being adopted over time is a logistical
or sigmoid curve (S-curve). Of this model there are diverse reviews and adaptations made with the System dynamics
methodology and under this perspective we can easily combine SD and social media to came up with models that
explain for example the way some social media platforms perform and grow.
Now, according to [7]. if we think of the behavior of a virtual social media platform, from its beginnings and
through time, we can see several analogies with the Bass model. For example, we could consider that the creator or
creators of the social network have specific themes, content and novel interactions that attract a sector to participate
in them and that the incorporation, permanence or detachment of Its members mainly obey the quality or integral
performance of the network. With these basic ideas we can configure a simulation model that allows to rehearse
different scenarios to investigate the possible life cycle of the network. This kind of model mainly discusses how
much time the social media is going to be alive and tries as well to predict its decay. Unfortunately, at the time of
this review, there wasn’t possible to find more than one application of this type. But there are a lot of different
applications that will be discussed in the following section.


In the systematic review of the models collected in Table I not all of them use System Dynamics as their main
tool, some of them combine SD with other modeling methods like Agent Based Modelling (ABM) or Temporal
Context Aware Mixture Model (TCAM) among others. But the found applications range from modeling individual
user behavior to examining network flow of information.

Modeling method Objective Benefits to Important factor Case of study
Bass model To know the lifespan of a Content creator Time None
[7]. social media Success and
SD To increment the number of Content creator Number of users and FB, TW and LinkedIn
[8]. users in social media views
Success and
Correlation and To know how fast does a Content creator Time YouTube
probability content gets popular, its peak Ad services Trends
[9]. and trends related to it.
SD + ABM State of the Art of the Ad services The combination of None
[10]. modeling methods in modeling methods
SD on its qualitative Social need of Society Quality of interpersonal Facebook
level intercommunication Psychology communication
TCAM + SD Behavior of users Content creator Preferences Do not mentioned
[12]. Ad services Interests
Discrete event Social need of attention Content creator Social rank Discussion sites
Simulation + SD
SD To increment the number of Content creator Success and Bonfiire
[14]. users in a blog sustainability
Probability method + SD To study the behavior of Content creator Trends Twitter
[15]. users in Twitter Ad services

From Table 1, it is seen the coincidences between researchers, like not all the models apply SD but combine them
with other methodologies to get stronger and more reliable results to conclude. It is also seen that almost of the
researches aimed at the content or owner creators and also very notable ad services, which has a lot of value for
companies due to the importance that carries. The time and success factors are the more seen followed by trends.
Some of the objectives could be resumed as a cycle in the next Table:

Objective Lifespan of social Increment number of How fast does a Needs of attention, Lifespan
media users content gets popular intercommunication
and behavior of users
Stage 1 Stage 2 Stage 3 Stage 4 Stage 5
Stage Creation of a social Growing of the social Growing of the Relationship between Closing of the social
media media contents users media

Inside every research there where mentioned key words that after comparing them, the result was that all the
authors coincide with:
Trends, Tag, Patterns, Interests, Popularity, Rating, Traffic, Business potential, Peak, Bursts and Insight.
“Insight” was the most mentioned word in all the papers, followed by “trends, popularity and rating”. This
reinforce the idea of business involvement in social media, which is review in the next section.
Finally, but not less important as all the researches consider SD in their models it is the vital importance to know
the principal levels, rates and auxiliary variables. Like the key words, these variables where compared and resumed
as follows in Fig. 3.

Figure 3. Principal levels, variables and auxiliary variables in terms of key words.
The Figure above represents the frequency of each variable with the size of the bubble, it also shows the
relationships between the variables. It is important to mention that as this is resumed information and does not show
the exact way the models were stablished. But shows that some variables relate to each other or not, for example the
network performance and Word of mouth.
The main levels are “number of users”, “number of followers” and “number of posts”. Then the input and output
rates that affect the levels.
No matter the model or methodology these variables are found in each of them with different names or purposes.

The previous section provided an overall resume of the researches already done but, what where the findings? As
before the majority deliver the same results: Trends can be predicted, popularity can be predicted, behavior of the
users can be predicted, how the users are attracted to specific contents, in which social network should one invest to,
when and where should one place and advertise, popularity is related to content so value, the major posts published
the major the activity and distribution of shares.
As social media grows it is important that companies get along with them, the insight suggested from the findings
in most of the papers is that companies must invest in advertising onto social media.
Social media has had a quantifiable impact on the way business engage consumers over the past few years. If we
think about customer service as the way businesses connect with customers, then social media facilitates these
relationships in a way that it conducts to timely assistance. Before social media started to be popular in advertising,
companies had had to deal with marketing issues in a more expensive, slower and inefficiently way. Using
traditional methods such as: print, television, radio, spectaculars, etc. This type of advertising was annoying for
customers. Now the marketing has become more “conversational”, allowing people to have a voice and a chance to
be heard as they want. The way in which social media is impacting marketing can be summarized as in [16]. in the
next few points:

A. Organic campaigns
marketing has been becoming more natural with social media that campaigns are not seen any more as overt
advertisements. This was difficult to perform in previous decades. Nowadays it is easier to take an ubiquitous
approach to marketing with different social platforms to choose. Permitting companies to always be there for
customers and become part of the social experience.

B. Better insights
Years ago, creating analysis from a big amount of data was difficult, because of the recollection data phase.
Today, marketers have access to unimaginable amounts of data with just a click. For the first time ever, marketers
have the opportunity to study customers over long periods of time with minimal disturbance and effort. They are
able to take decisions based on profile information, posts liked, content shared, friend’s requests accepted, scope of
posts, and more. All of this can be used to developed campaigns with great quality and highly targeted.
C. Bypassing gatekeepers
Ideally, brands should be more responsive and efficient in communication with customers. In the past this was
impossible because of the different gatekeepers in the channel. Whether it was publishing a press release through a
specific platform or working with a member of the media to write an article. Now, with social media it is a reality.
To be clearer about the changes of social media throughout the years, we just must remember the center of attention
of marketing which had been focused on four P´s: product, price, place and promotion. Actually, this P´s has been
expanded to include a fifth for “People”. With so much data, for the first time ever advertisers can invest in cost
effective advertising.

In the world of advertising as in other sectors one of the most important things is the money invested in reaching
the objectives established. Selecting the best advertising mediums for the companies can be difficult with so many
options to select such as print, radio, television, commercials, search engines and the mentioned social media. There
are many benefits of social media that indicates how it is more effective than the traditional. However, in terms of
costs, an important metric that tell us a lot is the cost per thousand impressions (CPM) which measures how many
advertising dollar you have to spend in order to reach 1,000 people. The best CPM of the various advertising options
can be seen in the next Fig 4. made by [17] in a cross-channel media costs comparison.

Figure 4. Cost per thousand impressions of different advertising options

The Fig. 4 from above shows that Social Media is cheaper than any other form of advertising option available
today which can help companies to expose the brand to over than 1,000 people for less than $3. On the other hand,
the common thing to do is to combine traditional advertising into the social media campaigns with the purpose of
obtaining more benefits and reaching more audience.
As was previously stated selecting an option to do advertising can be complex even in social media, because of
the extensive portfolio of options that we have in the medium. These options are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram,
Pinterest, LinkedIn, Snapchat and others.
The cost of a social media campaign varies and depends on the experience level of the social media hired, the size
of the business that is doing the campaign, the services required, the number of people set as a goal and other
factors. Hence an approximately average cost to do a professional social media marketing can cost from $1000 per
month to $20,000 per month [17].
The next table displays a brief description of different campaigns in different social media [18].


Social media Cost Features

Twitter $2,000-$4,000 per month Launching a new Twitter account. With set
up and outsourcing content creation. Also
consumer interaction.

Twitter $1,000-$2,500 per month Restructuring an existing Twitter account.

Limited coaching.

Facebook $2,500-$5,000 per month. Maximum $9,000 Set up new Facebook account.

Instagram $1,000 or more per month Visual platform, companies that consistently
create visually compelling content.

Pinterest $1,000 or more per month Demographic makeup. Upper income and

Snapchat $1,000 or more per month Images and short videos. Difficult to create

TV local $200 to $1,500 for a 30-second spot Visual advertising, mainly videos

TV national $100,000 - 30 seconds to 3.5 million per spot Variation of prices depends on hour, days,
in repetition, channel, popularity etc.


It´s been demonstrated that Systems Dynamics Modeling is a powerful tool and it can be applied to any subject.
This research paper was limited due to the lack of applications and researches of SD in social media compared to
other subjects like inventories or population models.
As a result of this review, there are several issues that can be addressed in the future research, first, there is a clear
need for more research on social media dynamics, nowadays different networks are related to each other, for
example when posting a photo on Instagram it can also be posted in Facebook and Twitter, so there is the need to
study the interactions of these applications and its dynamics, how does these interactions affect to the number of
followers, how does these interactions reinforce the use of social media, for example. Second, we mention how
important is to have advertising in social media, it would be interesting to create a manual of how, when and where
post ads in social media, since behavior, trends and popularity can be predicted with SDM and show the impact in
sales and new clients in companies.

Within the findings of the literature were presented the main arguments to assure an appropriated state of the art.
It was found that SD in social media has a lot of power into the marketing and advertising areas, since a well-
structured model can predict anything you desire to, then as creator of content or ads placement, it allows you to
lead your topics to go viral and sustainable. The other argument is how social media covers the needs of
intercommunication and constant attention, this is a very delicate topic due to the phycological implications that
brings with it. The contrast between this two ideas is too broad, from one perspective the main actor is the business
within social media and in the other the main actor is the user, and although there is no a direct correlation between
both, because the companies do not look for affecting the users and the users do not visit social media to look for
advertisings, there must be place a limit to both.

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