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Why people use social media: A uses and gratifications approach

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  • University of South Alabamna

Abstract

Social media is a critical area of interest for marketing scholars and practitioners. Recent research has shown that 88% of marketers are using social media and that they are spending over $60 billion annually on social media advertising (Gil-Or, 2010; Smith, 2011). Successfully making contact with consumers via social media is predicted to show great returns for marketers in the coming years (Okazaki, Katsukura, & Nishiyama, 2007). Despite the importance of social media, there is little understanding of how and why consumers use social media. Uses and gratifications theory, which has its roots in the communications literature, can be an integral part of developing better scales and measurement instruments for social media marketers. The basic premise of uses and gratifications theory is that individuals seek out media that fulfill their needs and leads to ultimate gratification (Lariscy, Tinkham, & Sweetser, 2011). Uses and gratifications theory has specific relevance to social media, but it has not been given prominence in the marketing and social media literature. Therefore this paper seeks to apply uses and gratifications theory to help explain why consumers use social media. In particular, this research seeks to (1) demonstrate the importance of uses and gratifications theory to social media, (2) to apply uses and gratifications theory to social media, and (3) to identify the uses and gratifications that consumers receive from using social media. By applying uses and gratifications theory, this research seeks to provide a better and more comprehensive understanding of why consumers use social media. We begin by briefly summarizing the literature on social media and uses and gratifications theory. Next, we describe the methodology used and the research findings. Last, the article discusses the implications and conclusions of the current research.
COMMENTARY PAPER
Why people use social media:
a uses and gratifications approach
Anita Whiting
College of Business, Clayton State University, Morrow, Georgia, USA, and
David Williams
Department of Marketing, Berry College, Mount Berry, Georgia, USA
Abstract
Purpose This paper seeks to demonstrate the importance of uses and gratifications theory to social
media. By applying uses and gratifications theory, this paper will explore and discuss the uses and
gratifications that consumer receive from using social media. This paper seeks to provide a better and
more comprehensive understanding of why consumers use social media.
Design/methodology/approach – Exploratory study was conducted. 25 in-depth interviews were
conducted with individuals who use social media.
Findings – This study identified ten uses and gratifications for using social media. The ten uses
and gratifications are: social interaction, information seeking, pass time, entertainment, relaxation,
communicatory utility, convenience utility, expression of opinion, information sharing, and
surveillance/knowledge about others.
Research limitations/implications Limitations are small sample size. Research implications are
that uses and gratifications theory has specific relevance to social media and should be given more
prominence. Uses and gratifications theory helps explain the many and varied reasons why consumers
use social media.
Practical implications This paper helps organizations to understand why consumers use social
media and what gratifications they receive from social media.
Originality/value – This paper makes the contribution that uses and gratifications theory has
specific relevance and should be given more prominence within the area of social media. This paper
also provides a rich and vivid understanding of why consumers use social media.
Keywords Social media, Web 2.0, Consumer generated media, Uses and gratifications theory,
Uses of social media, Exploratory study, Qualitative study, In-depth interviews
Paper type Research paper
Introduction
Social media is a critical area of interest for marketing scholars and practitioners.
Recent research has shown that 88 percent of marketers are using social media and
that they are spending over $60 billion annually on social media advertising (Gil-Or,
2010; Smith, 2011). Successfully making contact with consumers via social media is
predicted to show great returns for marketers in the coming years (Okazaki et al., 2007).
Despite the importance of social media, there is little understanding of how and why
consumers use social media.
Uses and gratifications theory, which has its roots in the communications literature,
can be an integral part of developing better scales and measurement instruments for
social media marketers. The basic premise of uses and gratifications theory is that
individuals seek out media that fulfill their needs and leads to ultimate gratification
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
www.emeraldinsight.com/1352-2752.htm
Qualitative Market Research: An
International Journal
Vol. 16 No. 4, 2013
pp. 362-369
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
1352-2752
DOI 10.1108/QMR-06-2013-0041
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(Lariscy et al., 2011). Uses and gratifications theory has specific relevance to social
media, but it has not been given prominence in the marketing and social media
literature. Therefore, this paper seeks to apply uses and gratifications theory to help
explain why consumers use social media. In particular, this research seeks to:
.demonstrate the importance of uses and gratifications theory to social media;
.to apply uses and gratifications theory to social media; and
.to identify the uses and gratifications that consumers receive from using social
media.
By applying uses and gratifications theory, this research seeks to provide a better and
more comprehensive understanding of why consumers use social media.
We begin by briefly summarizing the literature on social media and uses and
gratifications theory. Next, we describe the methodology used and the research
findings. Last, the article discusses the implications and conclusions of the current
research.
Literature review
Social media is defined as “a group of internet-based applications that build on the
ideological and technical foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and
exchange of user generated content” (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010, p. 61). Social media
includes a multitude of sources of online information that are created, circulated and
used by consumers to educate one another about products, services, and brands
available in the marketplace (Murugesan, 2007). Current examples of social media
platforms include social networking sites like Facebook, photo sharing sites like Flickr,
video sharing sites like YouTube, business networking sites like LinkedIn, micro
blogging sites like Twitter, and numerous others. Social media sites are inexpensive
and, more often than not, completely free to use.
Uses and gratifications theory is relevant to social media because of its origins in
the communications literature. Social media is a communication mechanism that
allows users to communicate with thousands, and perhaps billions, of individuals all
over the world (Williams et al., 2012). The basic premise of uses and gratifications
theory is that individuals will seek out media among competitors that fulfills their
needs and leads to ultimate gratifications (Lariscy et al., 2011). Studies have shown that
gratifications received are good predictors of media use and recurring media use (Kaye
and Johnson, 2002; Palmgreen and Rayburn, 1979). Uses and gratifications theory has
also been used extensively within the study of politics and the dissemination of
political messages (Blumler and McQuail, 1969; McLeod and Becker, 1974). While
widely used in other disciplines, uses and gratifications theory can also be relevant in
helping to explain social media uses.
Among the uses and gratifications frameworks available in the literature, this study
focused on four: Palmgreen and Rayburn’s (1979), Korgaonkar and Wolin’s (1999),
Papacharissi and Rubin’s (2000) and Ko et al. (2005). The Palmgreen and Rayburn
(1979) scale was selected because it was the first to look at both uses and gratifications
simultaneously and because it looked at television viewing which is somewhat
similar in nature to social media. The Palmgreen and Rayburn (1979) scale was also
selected because many previous studies have used this scale (Barton, 2009; Leung,
2007). The Korgaonkar and Wolin (1999), the Papacharissi and Rubin (2000)
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and the Ko et al. (2005) frameworks were selected because they looked at uses and
gratifications with respect to the internet.
Review of the four previously mentioned frameworks and scales revealed some
common themes. The seven themes that will be discussed are:
(1) social interaction;
(2) information seeking;
(3) pass time;
(4) entertainment;
(5) relaxation;
(6) communicatory utility; and
(7) convenience utility.
These themes will be explained in the following paragraphs.
Social interaction
Relying on uses and gratifications literature, this usage theme is defined as using social
media to communicate and interact with others. The title of this theme comes from
Ko et al.’s (2005) research on social interaction motivation and web site duration. Their
scale items included “meet people with my interests” and “keep up with what is going
on”. Other uses and gratifications researchers have also had a category similar to social
interaction. Similar constructs in the literature are social motivation (Korgaonkar and
Wolin, 1999), interpersonal utility (Papacharissi and Rubin, 2000), and companionship
(Palmgreen and Rayburn, 1979). After reviewing the literature, we preferred the term
social interaction because it was narrower than interpersonal utility but broader than
companionship.
Information seeking
This uses and gratifications theme is defined as using social media to seek out
information or to self-educate. The title of this theme comes from Papacharissi and
Rubin’s (2000) research on information seeking and internet usage. Korgaonkar and
Wolin (1999) also had a similar construct called information motivation which they
defined as how consumers use the web for self-education and information. Our
categorization of this theme includes both information seeking and self-education.
Pass time
This uses and gratifications theme is defined as using social media to occupy time and
relieve boredom. The title of this theme comes from Palmgreen and Rayburn’s (1979)
research on uses and gratifications for television viewing. Papacharissi and Rubin
(2000) also had a construct called pass time which they used when investigating
internet motives. Items in their scale included statements such as “use the internet
when I have nothing better to do” and “to occupy my time”.
Entertainment
This type of social media usage is defined as using social media to provide
entertainment and enjoyment. Both Palmgreen and Rayburn (1979) and Papacharissi
and Rubin (2000) had an entertainment dimension in their scales. Korgaonkar and
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Wolin (1999) also had a related factor for internet use which they called escapism.
They defined escapism as pleasurable, fun, and enjoyable.
Relaxation
This social media usage category is defined as using social media to relieve day-to-day
stress. Palmgreen and Rayburn (1979) included this dimension in their uses and
gratifications of television viewing. Korgaonkar and Wolin (1999) also included
relaxation in their dimension of entertainment. Based on the uses and gratifications
scale development of Palmgreen and Rayburn (1979) we believe that entertainment and
relaxation are two separate constructs. Relaxation provides relief from stress while
entertainment focuses on enjoyment.
Communicatory utility
This category of social media use is defined as communication facilitation and
providing information to share with others. This form of usage was investigated by
Palmgreen and Rayburn (1979) with television viewing. Korgaonkar and Wolin (1999)
also had a similar construct labeled socialization motivation for using the internet.
They describe their construct as a facilitator of interpersonal communication and
actions and its usefulness in terms of conversational value. This construct is different
from the previously discussed social interaction construct. Communicatory utility
helps facilitate communication instead of providing social interaction.
Convenience utility
This category of social media usage is defined as providing convenience or usefulness
to individuals. Papacharissi and Rubin (2000) had a construct called convenience for
internet uses and Ko et al. (2005) had a convenience motivation factor for interactive
advertising. Korgaonkar and Wolin (1999) also had the word convenience in some of
their scale items such as “enjoy the convenience of shopping on the web”.
Research methods
Due to the limited amount of literature on uses and gratifications theory and its
relationship to social media, an exploratory study was conducted. The exploratory
study consisted of 25 in-depth interviews with individuals ranging in age from 18 to
56 years old. The in-depth interviews were designed to elicit responses in terms of the
uses and gratifications of social media. Individuals were asked questions such as why
they use social media, why their friends use social media, what they enjoy about social
media, and how often they use social media. A total of 25 individuals participated in
the interviews. The breakdown for gender was 52 percent females and 48 percent
males. Responses ranged from 150 words to 1,000 þwords.
Results and discussion
The qualitative comments were analyzed using Lincoln and Guba’s (1985) guidelines.
First, the authors developed a list of uses and gratifications from Palmgreen and
Rayburn (1979), Korgaonkar and Wolin (1999), Papacharissi and Rubin (2000) and
Ko et al. (2005). Next, the authors independently read and reviewed the responses.
After reading and reviewing the respondents’ comments, the authors sorted the
uses and gratifications comments into groups. After discussing the groupings
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numerous times, the authors concluded on ten uses and gratifications themes.
The themes will be discussed in the following paragraphs:
(1) Social interaction. 88 percent of the respondents mentioned using social media
for social interaction. Respondents mentioned that Facebook is “a place to interact
and socialize with others”, that they “have more contact with people via social
media than face to face”, and that “social media gives them a social life”.
The respondents indicated that they use social media toconnect and keep intouch
with family and friends,interact with people they do not regularly see, chat with old
acquaintances, and meet new friends. Survey participants reported that they use
social media to interact with many different types of people ranging from friends,
family, spouses, co-workers, old friends, old acquaintances, and new friends.
(2) Information seeking. 80 percent of respondents reported using social media to
seek out information. These study participants reported that they use social
media to:
.find information about sales, deals, or products;
.find information on events, birthdays, and parties; and
.look at information about businesses.
Respondents also mentioned that they use social media for self-education.
Respondents stated that they use social media to get how-to-instruction, to get
help with math, and to learn new things.
(3) Pass time. 76 percent reported using social media to pass the time. Respondents
stated that they use social media when they have idle time or when they are bored
and want something to do. Many individuals reported using social media to
pass time at work or school. Some of their comments were “I use Facebook when
bored at work”, “I use social media during class to pass the time”, “I use social
media when waiting for class”, and “I use social media when class is boring”.
(4) Entertainment. 64 percent of respondents reported that they used social media
as a source of entertainment. Some of the entertainment activities reported were
playing games, listening to music, and watching videos. Others mentioned
that they use social media for humor and comic relief. Some of their comments
were “listening to jokes”, “reading comments and stuff makes me laugh”, and
“watching the crazies on Facebook, and how they display themselves, provides
entertainment to me”. Some respondents mentioned playing games regularly
with friends via social networking platforms.
(5) Relaxation. 60 percent of respondents used social media for relaxation purposes.
Some of their comments were “it is relaxing to go through profiles”, “looking on
Facebook does not take any thought”, “it is an escape from reality”, and “it takes
my mind off things”. Respondents also mentioned how social media helps them
escape from reality and escape the stress of the real world. Over 16 percent of
respondents mentioned they use social media to escape from the real world.
(6) Expression of opinions. This type of social media use was mentioned by 56 percent
of respondents and is defined as using social media to express thoughts
and opinions. Respondents discussed how they like to make comments such
as liking postings and photos, commenting on updates, and sharing comments
on others postings. Others discussed how they liked to express their
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opinions anonymously, how they liked to criticize others, and how they
enjoyed the opportunity “to vent” on social media.
(7) Communicatory utility. 56 percent of respondents discussed how they use social
media to give them things to talk about with others. Respondents reported that
social media “gives them something to talk about with friends”, that “Facebook
gives them things to gossip about”. Others mentioned that they talk to others
about what they found on Facebook and that they will ask their friends if they
saw what a person said on Facebook.
(8) Convenience utility. This type of social media use was mentioned by 52 percent of
respondents. Several of the respondents actually used the word convenient in their
responses such as “it is convenient and accessible anytime and anywhere”. Others
mentioned that they use social media because it is readily available and has no
time restraints. One individual mentioned that she uses social media because of
the convenience of being able to communicate with a lot of people at one time.
(9) Information sharing. This type of social media use was mentioned by 40 percent
of respondents. This factor is different from information seeking which was
previously discussed. Information sharing is defined as using social media to
share information about you with others. Unlike television and the internet,
social media is interactive in nature and allows consumers to communicate and
share information via a two way dialogue. This information sharing construct
has not been used by other uses and gratifications researchers. However,
information sharing has been used in other marketing studies (Jarvenpaa and
Staples, 2000; Miranda and Saunders, 2003). Respondents mentioned many
different ways that they share information. Many respondents mentioned that
they like to post updates and share pictures. Some study participants mentioned
that they advertise their business on Facebook and some mentioned that they
share information in order to market themselves.
(10) Surveillance/knowledge about others. This sort of social media usage was
mentioned by 32 percent of the respondents and is defined as watching people
or things and watching what others are doing. The title of this theme comes
from Kaye and Johnson’s (2002) study on motivations for using the web for
political information factors. Respondents mentioned many different ways that
they use social media to watch others. Some of the respondents stated that they
are “nosey”, they “spy on people”, they “creep on people”, they “spy on their
kids”, and they “look at stuff about others without them knowing about it”.
Many individuals mentioned that they want to know what others are doing and
that they try and keep up with others.
Conclusions
This paper demonstrates the importance and usefulness of uses and gratifications
theory to social media research. The application of uses and gratifications theory to
social media helps explain the many and varied reasons why consumers use and like
social media. The findings from the in-depth interviews provide a very rich and
comprehensive understanding of why consumers utilize social media. These findings
can help businesses to more effectively market to and communicate with its existing
and potential customers.
Why people use
social media?
367
The current study identifies ten uses and gratifications for using social media. The
ten uses and gratifications found in this study are social interaction (88 percent),
information seeking (80 percent), pass time (76 percent), entertainment (64 percent),
relaxation (60 percent), communicatory utility (56 percent), expression of opinions
(56 percent), convenience utility (52 percent), information sharing (40 percent), and
surveillance and watching of others (20 percent).
This research contributes to the extant literature in several ways. First, the paper
makes the contribution for academics and practitioners that uses and gratifications
theory has specific relevance and should be given more prominence in social media
research and social media marketing. Second, the paper’s qualitative design provides a
rich and vibrant understanding of how and why consumers use social media. Last, this
research provides both academics and the business community with a wealth of
knowledge about the ever expanding world of social media.
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About the authors
Anita Whiting is an Associate Professor of marketing at Clayton State University. She received a
PhD in marketing from Georgia State University. She has published in The International Journal
of Research in Marketing,Journal of Service Research,Journal of Services Marketing, and Journal
of Applied Marketing Theory. Her expertise and research interests are in services marketing.
Anita Whiting is the corresponding author and can be contacted at: AWhiting@clayton.edu
David Williams is a visiting Lecturer of marketing at Berry College. He is currently
completing his DBA in marketing at Kennesaw State University. He has recently published in
The Journal of Public Affairs. His research interests are uncontrolled marketing communications
and social media marketing.
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