All Facebook users are not created equal. Some post daily, if not more. Others post monthly, if not less. Facebook can be a political forum or a mommy blog, an advertising platform or an eternal yard sale. Research about social media often lumps users together and assumes homogeneous use, but the truth about social media users is varied and complex.
A group of communications professors at Brigham Young University recognized this gap in social media research and chose to focus on individual social media users in a new study titled “I ♥ FB: A Q-Methodology Analysis of Why People ‘Like’ Facebook.” They asked a simple question: Why? Why do 890 million people log on to Facebook every day?
The study’s findings highlighted four categories of Facebook users: Relationship Users, Town Criers, Selfies, and Window Shoppers.
Relationship Builders viewed Facebook as a digital expansion of their off-line social circle. The mommy bloggers of Facebook, the Relationship Builders fill your newsfeed with eye candy: beautiful wedding photos, angelic children, and fabulous vacations. For them, Facebook is about people– another form of social interaction.
Town Criers focus more on news and current events than their personal lives– they put the “media” in social media. Town Criers find their voice through social media, taking a stand and promoting causes that are important to them. For a Town Crier, social media allows him or her to be more influential and shape the world.
Selfies have so far gotten the brunt of social media research focus. The Selfies log on for the attention and the “likes.” The dopamine rewards to the brain are real, and the Selfies know that more followers and more likes equal more happy feelings. We all know someone who is a Selfie, but be aware– the authors of the study say there’s a little bit of Selfie in all of us.
Window Shoppers are largely on Facebook to browse, not to post. They may feel a social obligation to log on, or they may perceive Facebook as the easiest way to stay up to date on friends’ and family members’ lives. For Window Shoppers, Facebook is the online equivalent of people watching.
While these four categories are generalizations, they provide new depth to past social media research. For example, users that browse social media but not post, as Window Shoppers do, are more likely to feel depressed after using social media. Rather than disengaging with social media completely then, which may be unrealistic, these users may benefit from becoming more like Relationship Builders. If one’s social media dynamic is unhealthy, recognizing different motivations and uses for social media can be extremely helpful. In this way, we can take the healthiest aspects of social media use and inhibit the harmful aspects. Furthermore, the unhealthy dynamics of social media use surface off-line as well: low self-esteem, comparing oneself to others, developing unrealistic perceptions and expectations. Understanding the full social media experience can only help us better understand and improve ourselves.
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