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Social Networks: Users’ Hot Buttons

Categories: Perspectives

Posted on 01-29-16 at 10 a.m.

Of course, there is still a certain overrepresentation of people under age 45, but breakthroughs in all age groups are increasingly apparent. Moreover, beyond the demographics, when it comes to the current accelerated expansion of the use of social networks, what especially commands attention is the kaleidoscope of new motivations that attracts people to them.

Indeed, analyses from our Panorama program clearly show that if over half of the population is now active on social networks, their reasons for doing so are increasingly numerous. At first, "early adopters" of this innovation were primarily motivated by the quest for status, to "be someone", to affirm their individual social identities. This motivation is definitely still active, but it is far from the only one that attracts users (those who have seen the movie Birdman will remember the scene where the girl tells her father – a movie star – that he’s nothing in life because he doesn’t even have a Facebook profile!).

The panorama of values that motivate usage has changed enormously since the emergence of these networks. There is now a need to "connect", that is, to share in an emotionally significant manner with others, a need for "humanity", a desire to remain engaged with others, as well as a need to help one another. A desire to improve life around oneself, and to contribute, notably by sharing one’s opinions.

All of this while having fun, playing!

Social networks are now sources of pleasure; they are fun to use (gamification), even, for some, one of the most addictive pastimes. We play at discovering others, to learn to "help one another" to contribute to a better world, as well as curating one’s social identity (through managing one’s profile).

Furthermore, analysis of the use of social networks based on frequency of use also points to a significant segmentation of values that motivate use.

First of all, the most active users, those who use social networks several times a day, incarnate the image of all users: the need to "connect", to share in an emotionally significant way with others, the need for "humaneness", etc. (note that the majority of social media users connect several times a day).

On the other hand, those who go on social networks on an almost daily basis express a need to stay in touch with others because they potentially feel somewhat excluded from society (notably expressing a sense of lack of control over their lives). They want to stay in touch with what's happening in terms of consumption, to know what others consume, to stay “with it", etc.

Finally, note that those who use them less often, those who are new to social networks, have the same motivations as the first generation of users: quest for status and social identity, need for recognition, etc., as if these are entry-level motivations, before being superimposed with other motivations.

In terms of specific networks, with the exception of less frequent Facebook users, all the social networks we analyzed answer the same basic motives: the need to connect, to stay in touch, for "humaneness", to help one another, to contribute, as well as to have fun and "play."

However, in addition, each of the platforms analyzed also answers specific motivations:

Facebook is a portal to assert one’s uniqueness, one’s individuality in society, compared to others, compared to one’s peers. This uniqueness also expresses itself through a certain degree of social activism, as well as through one’s consumption behaviour

Twitter is definitely a strong tool for social protest and the promotion of socio-ethical idealism

LinkedIn answers a need for community and promotion of one’s social status

Instagram is definitely the most narcissistic of all the platforms, the most focused on promoting one’s status, even though it, like Pinterest, expresses the motivation of discovering others

Finally, less frequent Facebook users reflect less frequent social network users in general, who are very focused on status promotion

Thus, in a short amount of time, social networks have developed unique cultural relevance within our society, with multiple roles that overlap and meet multiple needs.

During the same period, social networks became social media. The need to connect found here provides an opportunity for brands to create closer ties with consumers, to mobilize them and increase loyalty. However, they also represent a more immediate risk of punishment, if a brand’s behaviour is not up to people's expectations in terms of social and ecological responsibility. The conversations found on these networks can no longer be ignored by brands and businesses.

Finally, note that in addition to providing very specific answers to people’s individual needs, an undeniable sociopolitical purpose emerges from the diffusion of social media throughout the general population: the opportunity that it provides to contribute to improving the world, to life around us. Although this purpose has been present from the beginning, now it no longer involves just a handful of idealists, it extends to large groups of citizens who want to contribute modestly in their own way towards building a better world.

The opportunity for brands

Brands that assert their presence on social media definitely have the opportunity to offer experiences that meet needs expressed by users’ motivations. For some, fun and status-affirming experiences will be profitable. The content must translate into opportunities to play and assert a certain pride or fantasy.

For others, content that focuses on authenticity, significant emotional connections between people and real commitments in terms of social corporate responsibilities will attract engagement on networks.

Trends in the values and motivations of social network users (2010-2015)*


*Based on data from CROP’s Panorama program, representing the total Canadian population, for which data collection is conducted in late fall every year (n=2400/2500).

By CROP