What do you look for when you log onto Facebook?
According to three Brigham Young University communications professors, you’ve got a pretty specific goal when you load Facebook and other social media sites—and your habits are most likely fairly predictable.
The professors interviewed a large number of participants, presenting them with various statements describing social media use. The participants were then organized into four distinct groups based on their responses.
“Social media is so ingrained in everything we do right now,” said one of the study’s co-authors, Kris Boyle. “And most people don’t think about why they do it, but if people can recognize their habits, that at least creates awareness.”
The research team identified four categories of Facebook users:
1. Town Criers
These individuals experience a sizable gap between their real worlds and their virtual worlds. Their main goal is to inform their friends and family about what’s really going on, and they prefer sharing news, health articles, and other vital information over selfies and other minutiae.
“They’re pushing out information,” said lead author Tom Robinson, explaining that these Facebook users act as the town criers “from the days of yore.”
2. Relationship Builders
These individuals strongly identified with the following statement: “Facebook helps me to express love to my family and lets my family express love to me.”
This type of person sees social media as a tool for strengthening real-world relationships. They feel satisfaction when they receive “like” notifications, but they’re more interested in interacting in a meaningful way. That might lead to the occasional sappy post, but relationship builders are always thinking about their real-world family and friends.
This group is similar to the relationship builder group, but more inwardly focused. That doesn’t mean that they’re selfish people, necessarily, but they’re on social media to rack up the likes and shares. They may see Facebook and other sites as a means of self-gratification.
Boyle says that these people use Facebook “to present an image of themselves, whether it’s accurate or not.” They identified with statements such as: “The more ‘like’ notification alarms I receive, the more I feel approved by my peers.”
4. Window Shoppers
Window shoppers prefer not to get involved. They don’t post about themselves very often, and, in fact, they don’t post much at all. Instead, they prefer sitting back and watching their friends and family.
“It’s the social-media equivalent of people watching,” said study co-author Clark Callahan.
Of course, most people fall somewhere in between these four groups; you might have selfie qualities but
“Social media is so ingrained in everything we do right now,” Boyle said. “And most people don’t think about why they do it, but if people can recognize their habits, that at least creates awareness.”
“Why are people so willing to put their lives on display?” asked Robinson. “Nobody has ever really asked the question, ‘Why do you like this?'”