Friday, December 13, 2013

Social Media Selection Behavior of Information Seekers

Why do social media users select one channel over another?
With each advent of a new social media channel, users may move from established channels toward adoption of the new channel.  Frustration occurs when authority figures  adopt a channel  to improve communication or develop additional access points for information, only to watch younger users’ preferences change.

I will conduct a year-long study to identify social media users’ attributes related to selecting a preferred social media channel. Uses & Gratifications Theory, first introduced by Katz, Blumler and Gurevitch in 1974, will serve as the framework for this study. The theory integrates well with because it assumes that “the media audience plays an active role in the selection of sources to attend to rather than being the passive target of audiences” (Case, 2003, p. 178). Also, research carried out by Papacharissi and Rubin in 2000 will contribute to this study. The authors examined Internet uses, and identified five motives for using it. Research results “suggested distinctions between instrumental and ritualized Internet use”, and as an alternative to face-to-face interaction. (2000, p.1)

For the purposes of this research, the term “authority figure” can refer to teachers – both K-12 and higher education; parents or guardians; or even collectively refer to government entities. It will also be assumed that the term “users” refers to individuals – youth, residents of a municipality, etc. – over whom authority figures have such some form of authority. “Channel” refers to the social media application or method that users may select; Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram are commonly used social media channels or applications.

Questions and hypotheses that will be addressed through the course of this research are:
•    Why do users decide to transition from a preferred channel to a new social media channel?
•    What attributes of a social media channel do users cite as making it more desirable than other channels?
•    How do users identify which social media channel fulfills their various information needs?
For the purposes of this research, examples of user information needs may include utility, pass time, convenience, or entertainment.

Twitter is one of the social media channels that I'll be studying.
Initial quantitative data will be collected via a traditional exploratory survey distributed to a population sample of at least 500 North Texas residents. Questions will be developed to include variables associated with Uses & Gratifications theory. Survey data should provide indicators of why users transition from one channel to another for their various uses. Qualitative interview questions will then be generated to determine the attributes of the preferred channel and how users identify which channel fulfills their needs.

Another data collection method I propose is to utilize social media channels Twitter and Youtube to collect data. Twitter will be used not only to collect quantitative data – answers to the same questions posed in the exploratory survey – but also to solicit interviewees for the qualitative portion of the study. Similarly, video replies to a Youtube video I intend to post be used to collect qualitative responses. This element of using social media to collect data regarding a social media study should provide more direct answers directly in the context of the user.

Why is this important? Knowledge of why information seekers transition from one channel to the next may help authority figures to be more flexible in order to adapt to change from users. Authority figures may also use this knowledge to modify their current social media use to maintain lines of communication with users.

Relationships such as students and teachers in the classroom, or between government and the governed, will benefit from this type of research. Authority figures will be better prepared to craft messages and present information in ways more likely to be found and accepted by users. Likewise, users may find a benefit to this research. By recognizing the factors that drive them from one channel to the next, users may realize authority figures are making efforts in other channels, and will seek out those messages in order to create complete knowledge

Case, D. (2003). Looking for Information: A Survey of Research on Information Seeking, Needs, and Behavior. Collection Management, 28 (4), 95-96.
Papacharissi, Z., & Rubin, A. (2000). Predictors of Internet use. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 44 (2), 175-196. doi:10.1207/s15506878jobem4402_2.

Matt MacVeigh is a TSMRI 2013-2014 Fellow and doctoral student in the Interdisciplinary Information Science program at University of North Texas. He also serves as Marketing & Communications Specialist at the UNT System Business Service Center in Denton, Texas. Follow Matt on Facebook  or Twitter.

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