The psychology of social media: Interview with a psychologist

By Chris Lee

Fitness show-offs, parental bores and cryptic status writers are all among the most annoying social media users, according to a recent survey from Sweatband.com. New Media Knowledge recently looked at why social media users feel driven to re-create viral videos, such as Gangnam Style and the Harlem Shake. One of the contributors to that feature was Xavi Izaguirre of social media consultancy Total Media, a trained psychologist and digital marketer.

NMK caught up with Izaguirre again to quiz him on the psychology of social media users.

What does it tell us about an individual if they post images of their fitness regimes? Is this an affirmation thing? An alpha thing?

Social media is a curated expression of ourselves which we have learned to use in a way that best conveys our desired identities – consequently feeding our egos. On a case-by-case basis, people will post the content that ideally helps to build the identity that they want to project to their social networks. Multiple posts relating to their fitness regime is a form of affirmation and control over their personal brand.

Babies: people are naturally excited about having children but why the overshare? Is it an affirmation thing again? Do we need to look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs here? Likewise with those that update several times a day?

The sharing of baby photos and content can usually be described as a form of self-expression and affirmation. If we were to look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs we could broadly segment social media sharing into two groups: Some forms of sharing occur as social grooming – for example: “I thought of you when I saw this picture”. Other forms of social sharing exist to express our identity, or even as a “world domination” exercise – for example: “look how cool and knowledgeable I am!”

The over-sharing of baby content is usually a form of the latter, rather than the former.

What about “passive” social media users? Those that follow/log-on to Twitter and Facebook but do not contribute – why the silence? Do they lack confidence or, conversely, are they more self-confident as they don’t feel compelled to draw attention to themselves?

According to Twitter, 40 per cent of users have never tweeted. Indeed passive users are a big chunk of Twitter’s user base. Recently there has been a lot of talk about privacy issues and how social media can influence or directly impact on your career. Subsequently, people have become wary of sharing in public. However, people are more prone to share on Facebook as they have relative control over what they post. Considering social media is an extension of our personality, shy and reserved characters are less prone to share than others.

What would your advice be for anyone concerned about how they come across on social media?

My advice to someone concerned with how they come across on social media would be to thoroughly understand the privacy settings of all social networks in order to protect themselves and control who has access to what. Most social networks allow for a great deal of privacy, although those are usually not defined as default. Additionally, a good piece of advice in general would be “behave as if you were with your friends but with your mother in the other room”.

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