The psychology of social media

The psychology of social media

Posted by Pete Loughlin in Social Media 08 Feb 2012

I can tell a lot about you just from the fact that you’re reading this.

You have a professional interest in purchasing or finance or both – that’s not exactly rocket science to work that out – but I can tell more. You’re conscientious. You enjoy the  evaluation of ideas and the analysis of problems and their solutions. You respond relatively well  to stressful situations and you deal well with minor day to day frustrations. No one would describe you as self-conscious or shy.

That’s a lot to deduce from the mere fact that you’re reading Purchasing Insight. But I’m right aren’t I? I’ve just described you.

Purchasing Insight readers are users of social media and, generally, they favor twitter over Facebook. (Compare the number of retweets to Facebook likes.) It’s not that surprising and it fits in with the demographic of the readership (of which you are one) It also fits in to the psychological profile of “informational” users of twitter.

What does your social networking usage say about you?

Purchasing Insight logoThere are over 500 million users of face book and more than 200 million twitter accounts. Social media has changed the world and now, a new study on the psychology behind the way we use it, could help us to focus our use of social media to address our audience more accurately and identify how best to exploit the new medium.

David Hughes at Manchester Business School and his colleagues surveyed 300 people online. Mostly based in Europe, participants answered questions about the way they used Facebook and Twitter and which they preferred. They also answered questions about their personality. The results are revealing.

People who used Facebook mostly for socializing tended to score more highly on sociability and neuroticism. This suggests that shy people use Facebook to forge social ties and combat loneliness. Social use of Twitter in contrast appears to correlate with higher sociability and openness suggesting that social Twitter users don’t use it so much to combat loneliness, but more as a form of social procrastination.

But Purchasing Insight readers are professionals. What about the use of social media as an informational tool? The research found that those who use Facebook as an informational tool tend to score higher on neuroticism, sociability, extraversion and openness, but lower on conscientiousness and “need for cognition”. Informational users of Twitter are the opposite. They scored higher on conscientiousness and “need for cognition”, but lower on neuroticism, extraversion and sociability. Twitter users it seems, use it for its cognitive stimulation – as a way of uncovering useful information and material without socializing.

What conclusions can we draw if any. Well, I’m not sure that the research was thorough enough to draw any firm, actionable conclusions. The population was only 300, mainly younger, western women. But it does give us a pointer. It goes a little way to legitimizing the use of social media as a professional tool and it confirms what active users already know – that it is an increasingly useful, if not critical, tool to remain on top of our professional game.

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