Social Media Branding and the Uses and Gratifications Theory

The uses and gratifications theory (UGT) is a way of understanding why audiences use media and what they use it for. It can be applied to many areas of society from entertainment to news content. However, it’s relevance in social media cannot be understated; millions of people use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and countless other social networking sites every single day. People post to socialize, vent personal feelings, gather information, and reaffirm their identity and social status. After recognizing the potential and massive opportunity in these channels, brands have since been using social media to build brand identity and reach. If companies can tailor a promotional campaign to the platform and audience, they can maximize their exposure and ideally, expect more revenues. This involves tapping into consumers’ specific uses of that medium, and figuring out a way to satisfy them.

What is your brand going to “give” to the audience when they intercept your content? What is going to draw them in and make them think, “I need to be a part of this!”? It’s needs to have novelty, social involvement, and a satisfactory component. Satisfying the audience’s needs can be done in many ways – but certain social media channels lend more to fulfilling these needs more than others. One of my favorite examples and probably the most simple would be GoPro’s Photo of the Day series on their social media channels.

Each day, GoPro chooses a photo submitted by one of its users and uploads it to its social media and website. The post can garner hundreds of thousands of likes, and has the potential to reach over 17 million people through just Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter alone. GoPro doesn’t just stop at photos either – they now have a “video of the day” and an upload service that allows “creators” to submit their content for consideration for prizes. Using GoPro as an example, what does this social media campaign offer an audience? Well first, the posting of multimedia captivates an audience more-so than text. GoPro provides a momentary glimpse into the life of extreme sports fanatics, practical everyday users, and even celebrities who use the small, versatile camera. The audience sees things they would otherwise not experience in daily life. The shots are of exceptional quality, and usually show moments of intense, delicate staging, or fortunate happenstance. With such rich imagery, the audience is immediately more attuned to this message over a text-only status update from a friend. The audience gains entertainment and information, while GoPro gains exposure, brand trust, and traffic to their sites.

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GoPro utilizes social interaction with the audience by allowing them to submit their content as well as comment on and share content that wins via different social media platforms. Taking advantage of people’s desire to participate and showcase their own creation to the world can only bring more attention to a brand. People want to be a part of something that interests them, and they want to display a persona that reflects their “cool” use of the product. Sharing a thrill-seeking experience, or even sharing a new way to utilize the GoPro’s features gives the opportunity to reaffirm your social status or ingenuity. Even though the audience is unaware of the chances, the sheer possibility of being that one photo to attract high amounts of views and likes and join the club of lucky winners is enough to tug at the wallet (or shutter button if you already own the camera). Perhaps your brand isn’t the powerhouse that GoPro is and you can’t offer amazing prizes or an incredibly versatile product that seamlessly integrates with social media; what can you do to take advantage of social media and UGT?

I suggest finding out which platforms best fit your product or service first. The post by GoPro of the hot air balloon (used above) has 314k likes on Instagram, while on Facebook it has 3.7k and on Twitter less than 1k. It seems as though GoPro’s content and campaign attracts more attention on an image and video-sharing social media service, whereas the other platforms’ performance don’t quite match. Although GoPro utilizes all social media channels, you could save time and effort by focusing your social media presence on the channel that best suits your product or service. For example, if your brand is selling consultations to businesses, perhaps your efforts should be spent connecting with businesses on LinkedIn rather than on Facebook. This isn’t to say you won’t benefit from having a presence in all social media channels, but to cut through the clutter, you must establish your identity in the right realm.

Next, I would develop a brand voice that resonates with your target market. GoPro’s brand voice transformed after the product was seen being used in ways unimagined by the company. They don’t alienate audiences that aren’t extreme sports junkies; they involve them. They participate in charitable causes and forefront showcasing the best of (and in) their audience, from fighter pilots to children with cystic fibrosis.

You can do the same for your audience – it’s just a matter of what light you portray your brand in and how creative you get with your messages. Involve your brand in the everyday life of your audience – get them to generate content using your product or service. It’s easy to overlook the most basic human triggers when formulating a message or campaign to an audience. The natural desire for involvement, entertainment, self-fulfillment and reaffirmation is something we often participate in unnoticeably. Remember that everything you show, don’t show, and post to social media will create perceptions around your brand. How will you structure these perceptions to take advantage of the uses and gratifications theory?


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