The uses and gratification theory, developed in the 1970s, suggests that media users make cognitive decisions when choosing which media to interact with. As suggested by the name, the theory also attributes users choices to the idea that users expect gratification from media. Different media satisfy different needs.
Living in a world enraptured by social media, it is unsurprising that users are constantly seeking gratification from their multiple platforms. While the popular contemporary means of communication, such as Facebook and Twitter, are both considered social media, they are distinctly different platforms. Facebook is primarily a social networking site and Twitter, though also used for social networking, is considered a micro-blog. Facebook allows users to connect with people we consider “friends” and share our world with them through status updates, photographs, videos and the sharing of content. Twitter, on the other hand, only allows for 140-character posts but is unlimited in the people you are able to “follow.” Unlike Facebook, Twitter allows you to follow someone without his or her permission, so to speak.
While being distinctly different, these platforms are both exceptionally popular in the modern world. People are using both Facebook and Twitter to fulfill different needs. While some users are only active on one of the site, it is becoming increasingly popular to create and manage an account on both platforms.
(An infographic I made based on data from the PEW research center)
Due to this fact, it is becoming increasingly important for organizations to understand social media, specifically through the lens of uses and gratification. If companies and businesses are able to understand the needs of their users, they will be more successful in delivering content that is seen by the large majority of their publics. In addition, they will also be able to create content that is more memorable and, ideally, most engaging. This last point is especially important as brands today can utilize social media not only to speak to their publics but also to speak with them.
@tntounsel Don't thank us, thank Mother Earth. She makes the ingredients, we just put 'em in a cup.
— Chobani (@Chobani) October 19, 2015
Brand interaction is more important now than it ever has been before. Therefore, if a brand were looking for advice on how to meet the needs of their clients through social media, it would be important to consider the advantages and disadvantages of both.
Let us first begin by examining Facebook through the lens of uses and gratification. People use Facebook for a couple of main reasons. The first being, they like to connect with their friends and organizations so that they may feel up to date or, “in the know.” The main feed on the Facebook platform is called the “news feed,” lending to the idea that those who use Facebook will be better informed than those who do not. Therefore, people utilize this platform to gain information, especially about their local network and close associations. Above all, Facebook users enjoy feeling informed about the lives of those they consider “friends,” which usually consists of family members, colleagues from high school and college and co-workers.
However, though they are concentrated on their “local” network, they also use Facebook to gain a comprehensive understanding of events and news. The character limit on Facebook is 63, 206 characters long, providing users with more than sufficient room to create comprehensive and detailed status updates. Due to this capability, it is common practices for businesses and organizations to keep their publics informed on special events and promotions through Facebook.
The other main reason that people use Facebook is to fulfill need of being published. Facebook users are eager to share information with their “friends,” constantly posting relationship statuses, photographs of family vacations and updates of their recent accomplishments. Recent developments to Facebook even allow users to post detailed information about what they are “doing now,” accompanied by emojis. For instance, if you wanted to post that you were eating ice cream, the status would come complete with an ice cream emoji. In other words, users have the need to be heard and the need to express and share.
When examining these two major needs, it becomes apparent that brands can use Facebook as a useful tool to meet the needs of their clients. As a future public relations practitioner, I am going to look at this situation in terms of PR. The major advantage brands have when using Facebook is the ability to communicate a lot of information. If users are seeking out more information pertaining to a specific brand, it is very easy for them to search the organization and receive information from the official page. Facebook also allows users to leave comments and ask questions about a brand. This has become very important in modern communications, as consumers want to be able to interact with a brand. They also expect to feel heard. Allowing for honest, two way-communication allows meets the needs of both the brand and the publics. Facebook is a useful tool for generating brand development and positive PR, allowing users to feel informed and interact.
Now let us examine Twitter. It is undeniable that Twitter has been gaining in popularity in the last few years. Although users are limited to 140-character tweets, the platform is still able to meet specific needs of consumers. Like Facebook, Twitter is utilized by people to feel heard. Unlike Facebook, it is socially acceptable to post on Twitter several times a day. On Facebook people tend to limit their daily posts due to social judgement. Another advantage Twitter holds over Facebook is the ability it gives users to connect with people without their consent. Unlike Facebook, on Twitter it is common practice to “follow” people you do not know personally. This means your content has a much wider reach. Therefore, users access Twitter to feel heard and interact with people they may never be able to interact with otherwise.
A brand can certainly use Twitter to its advantage in several ways. First and foremost, people love to complain on Twitter. Often times when a consumer is unhappy with a product or service, they will use Twitter to reach out to the brand. This is a great opportunity for brands to reach back to the consumer and meet their needs through the social media platform. By resolving issues publicly the brand can create trust in their relationships. Twitter can also be used for crisis management, allowing organizations to communicate to their publics quickly and efficiently. During a crisis, an organization would be wise to keep publics informed by constantly sending out tweets and addressing any questions or concerns that arise. Below is a conversation that occurred between Twitter and an upset customer in regards to the recent recall.
@Milagrospeaks We're so sorry to hear this. Please call us at 1-800-775-8370 so we can report your experience and make this right . TY.
— Cheerios (@cheerios) October 20, 2015
In conclusion, the two most popular social media sites, Facebook and Twitter, are both useful tools that can be utilized by brands to meet the needs of their publics. Facebook can be used as a reliable site for users to gain information pertaining to promotional events and products and Twitter can be especially useful when dealing with brand management. I personally believe that brands should have an active presence on both sites at all times, utilizing social media to uphold their brand image as well as meet the needs of their publics. The best way for a brand to get the most out of social media is simply by being an active social listener and responding to publics’ needs.
All images from Creative Commons, Google Images