Imagine the scenario – you are meeting a work colleague for breakfast in your local coffee shop. You are halfway through a conversation when the waiter brings over your coffees and croissants. Your friend nods along as you continue to chat.
However, you notice that your friend is casually rearranging the table décor and, once the conversation has a natural pause, takes the opportunity to capture the moment with an artistic photo to be uploaded to Instagram.
Within a heartbeat, the update has been made, the phone is placed back on the table, and the conversation picks up where it left off. After the meeting, you say your goodbyes, and catch a bus.
You take a seat, get out your phone, and spend the entire journey scrolling through your social media channels. Later that evening you sit down to watch Love Island, and again take out your phone. You send a Facebook message to your friend – “it's about to start”. Three dots later, you receive a series of heart emojis.
Social media runs in the background of our lives; a shared communication stream ready to be tapped into whenever needed. But what motivates us to pick up our phone, and click that app logo?
The mainstream media may have us believe that social media usage is out of our control. However, we could take a more positive view. Uses and Gratifications theory suggests that we are active in our use.
It is argued that users selectively choose media in order to fulfil specific motivations. A few years ago, we created the Social Media Motivations Scale (SMMS) in order to tease out some of these motivations (Orchard, Fullwood, Galbraith, & Morris, 2014).
Although not an exhaustive list, our research identified ten possible motivations that may drive our use: procrastination, freedom of expression, conformity, information exchange, making new connections, ritualistic, social maintenance, escapism, recreation, and experimentation.
It is important to note that we may have many motivations for using social media, and these will change throughout the day.
Think back to the scenario – each occurrence of social media reflects a different reason: uploading a photo at the coffee shop may reflect ritualistic use or perhaps free expression; the bus ride is a by-product of procrastination; and the private communication stream stems from social maintenance.
We also found that different people were drawn to different motivations. Our individual differences (that is our personality, age and sex) were found to predict the motivations we held.
For instance, older users were motivated by conformity more so than younger users. On the other hand, younger users were more motivated by procrastination and finding new connections. Females use social media in an attempt to maintain their existing social network, whilst males scored higher on the motivation of experimentation (i.e. pretending to be someone else).
Personality findings were also found throughout. For instance, those high in neuroticism (anxiety) were more motivated by escapism than lower scorers; whilst extroverts were more motivated by recreation and new connections than introverts.
The next step is to see how this all feeds in to actual social media usage. Dr Chris Fullwood and I have collected some more data using the SMMS, and we plan to explore the relationship of the scale with Facebook behavioural scales to explore how motivations feed into in-app feature use and our social dependency with Facebook.
Orchard, L. J., Fullwood, C., Galbraith, N., & Morris, N. (2014). Individual Differences as Predictors of Social Networking. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 19(3), 388-402. doi: 10.1111/jcc4.12068
If you would like to learn more about this area, The University of Wolverhampton now offer an MSc in Cyberpsychology.