For Homo Zappiens:
The Psychology of Social Media
Mario Lehenbauer @ LavaCon, San Diego
#MarioLehenbauer @ The 1st, 2010 Conference on Digital
Media and Content Strategies
This is a shorter version, for more questions about
the contents or sources, feel free to
This is the short version of my presentation
For more information, comments, or if you have
questions about the contents or sources, feel
free to ask/twitter/facebook me!
Facebook: Mario Lehenbauer
• Clinical Psychologist and Health Psychologist
• New Media Consulting
• Industrial and Organizational Psychologist
• Researcher and Lecturer at the Faculty of
Psychology, University of Vienna
• Research interests
– Psychology and New Media
• Psychological Aspects of Social Media Networking
• E-health: Delivering psychological interventions via New Media;
Serious Games and virtual realities
„Getting information off the Internet is like taking a
drink from the fire hydrant.“ (Mitchell Kapor, without date)
Psychology and Digital Media: WHY?
• As of December 2009, 74% of American adults (> 18)
use the Internet
• Six in ten Americans go online wirelessly using a
laptop or cell phone (Pew Internet study, July 2010)
• 75% of U.S. adults have cell phones with apps
• Watch and download videos: 69% of online adults
– Comedy has supplanted news as the most viewed type of video online
• … as marketers it is your responsibility to observe and
interact new trends and interact with the people
The Digital Divide
• Most definitions of web 2.0 employ a user-centric
approach: „Web 2.0 is about making computing
and media social“ (Cooke, & Buckley, 2008)
• Social networking sites (SNS) among the most
popular sites worldwide
• But: WHO is online? What„s about the digital
divide from a psychological perspective?
The Digital Divide (1)
• People with effective access to digital and
information technology vs. those with very
limited or no access at all
– includes the imbalance both in physical access to technology
and the resources and skills needed
– Age divide
– Education divide
The Digital Divide (2)
• Users ages 18-29 continue to be the heaviest
users with 86%
• Older adults are the fastest growing users in the
U.S. (Pew Internet study, August 27, 2010)
– Social networking use among those ages 50 and older nearly
doubled over the past year (22% in 2009 to 42% in 2010)
– Half (47%) of internet users ages 50-64 and 26% ages 65 and
older now use social networking sites
– Between April 2009 and May 2010, internet users ages 50-64
grew 88%; compared with a growth rate of 13% for ages 18-29
What are SNS?
• Web-based services that allow individuals to
– Construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded
– Articulate a list of other users with whom they share a
– View and traverse their list of connections and those made by
others within the system (Boyd, & Ellison, 2007)
Brief history of SNS (1)
• Social networking
applications started in
1997 with sixdegrees.com
• Since then, features have
• Followed by more
successful sites like
– Friendster (115 mio registered
users; 90% traffic from Asia)
– Myspace (66 mio users)
– LinkedIn (75 mio users)
– Facebook (500 mio users)
(Boyd, & Ellison, 2007)
Brief History of SNS (2)
• Top Social Networking Sites
among US Internet Users
(thousands of unique visitors):
– Facebook 70,278
– MySpace sites 70,255
– Twitter 17,592
– Classmates.com 15,136
– MyLife.com sites 9,862
– Windows Live Profile 9,666
– Buzznet 9,273
– LinkedIn 7,470
– Hi5 3,848
(Boyd, & Ellison, 2007)
Psychological Perspective on SNS
• Why is the Internet more successful than any
other media in the human history?
• Short summary of several studies„ outcome you
can use for your Internet strategy
• There are several significant psychological
characteristics (Lehenbauer, 2007):
Availability and Interactivity
• The Internet is available 24/7
• Many people feel mighty, powerful and
successful, to log in any time, and to seed
• You are part of the game (vs. TV and
• Ease of use
Intensity and Fostered Intimacy
• Feeling of intimacy grows faster online than
offline, because all senses are reduced to text
and pictures = more space for own fantasies
– People talk more about their thoughts and feelings
– (sexual) disinhibition
– Online interactions generate more self-disclosures and fostered
deeper personal questions than f2f conversations
• Flow: a person in an activity is fully immersed in
a feeling of energized focus, full involvement,
and success in the process of the activity
• Many people report a feeling of flow when they
engage in online activities
• Feelings of timelessness (Csikszentmihalyi, M.)
• Everyone can engage anonyme in the Internet
• Low-threshold possibility to reach specified sub-
groups online (for research: recreational drug
users, user suffer from social phobia)
• Connected to a whole world fully stuffed with
• Many people feel stimulated by the huge amount
of information to nearly any topic
• A book is finished with the last page.
• The internet? Endless!
• Stimulate your users!
Seeding Behavior (1)
• Why is someone contributing content? Difference
between high-seeding and low-seeding behavior (Courtois,
Mechant, De Marez, & Verleye, 2009)
• Uses-and-gratifications approach in Psychology
• Patterns of gratifications, why people are seeding
– Personal function (self-improvement, fame, representation of one self)
– Informational function (economic gain, information-learning surveillance,
finding the adequate information)
– Entertaining function (entertainment, excitement, relaxation)
– Escapist function (escape from reality)
– Social function (social companionship, social relationships, social
Seeding Behavior (2)
• How do users divide into high- and low-
• In general, seeder/lurker ratio 1/5 high-f
seeders, 4/5 low-f seeders
– Some studies about the net-behavior of digital natives state a
ratio of 10% seeders and 90% leechers
• No gender differences in seeding behavior
• High-f seeders are „gatekeepers“
Seeding Behavior (3)
• WHY and WHEN is someone seeding and sharing
• Make your content AWESOME
• Look for the gatekeepers, your “sharers” on
digg, facebook, twitter…
– Connect with them
Focus on: Twitter (1)
• Twitter went online 2006, microblogging site
• One of the fastest growing sites on the Web in
terms of usage (year-over-year growth at over
• Fostering new relationships in the commercial
– Gauging marketplace reactions
– External communication
– Gathering marketplace information
Focus on: Twitter (2)
• Studies state that Twitter is a potentially rich
and reliable source for informations
– Connect directly, near real time with your customers
• Twitter (and other SNS) increases the production
of the cuddle hormone Oxytocine!
• Again: Build your community, look for groups,
follow people, most people follow you back
Focus on: Facebook (1)
• THE SNS today (Alexa ranking: second most
visited website; www.alexa.com)
– Offline to online trend: meet offline and add online
• Nonymous setting (vs. anonymous)
• „Visibility rule“, a hard place for fakers
• Identity construction (Zhao, Grasmuck, & Martin)
– Not the TRUE self commonly seen in MUDs or Chat rooms
– Not the REAL self presented in f2f interactions
– The REAL self, combined with the highly socially desirable
identity individuals aspire to have offline
Focus on: Facebook (2)
• Again: Seeder/lurker ratio from 1/10 to 9/10
– Depends on studies, from 1/4 to 1/10 seeders
• Main reasons to use facebook: (Pempek, Yermolayeva, & Calvert,
– Facilitate social relationships
– Communicate with friends and relatives
– About 10% use it to make new friends
Focus on: Facebook (3)
• As an employer, checking out an applicant„s
facebook page (Smith, W.P., & Kidder, D.L., 2010) :
– A wealth of information about persons, a potentially useful tool,
– Biased if some applicants have pages, some not
– Legal challenges, if facebook is part of the selection process
• Companies recruit job applicants via facebook
– Policies and guidelines for the use of SNS
Post facebook trends?
• Location based services (e.g., foursquare)
– Users become trackable
• More pervasive and imminent
– Connected to the TV, mobile phone, Navigation system
• Digital natives will keep their social networking
behavior (Pew Internet study, July 9th, 2010)
SNS for Managers (1)
• Main question: To be (online) or not to be
• Do certain types of online social networking
structures predict an entrepreneur„s success?
SNS for Managers (2)
• Several (offline) studies about the network
behaviors of entrepreneurs
– Previous studies indicate: startups are more successful, when
CEO‘s communicate more with their peers
– 100 software startups 1997 before the e-Business bubble burst;
check back 2004; the communication intensity of the CEO‘s was
significantly correlated with probability of survival (Raz, & Gloor, 2007)
– Canadian biotech industries: chances of success of a startup
increases with the size of its alliance network at the time of
founding (Cummings, & Cross, 2003)
SNS for Managers (3)
• The intensity of communication in these groups
is correlated with the success of the group
members (Nann et al., 2009)
• Conclusion: It does not matter if you network
online or offline. Use your network for success!
• It„s all about network, network, network!
SNS for Managers (4)
• Managers who frequently used SNS were more
likely to report feeling empowered
– The information they gain from SNS may be used as tool for
• Gain of expert power: Use and understand SNS!
• You as a manager have to know what
information is relevant for your clients
– SNS offer news, information and story ideas, you can use them
as information source (Diga, & Kelleher, 2009)
Impression Management on SNS (1)
• .. is a central process in interpersonal interactions
• Users try to present themselves in a positive manner
– Online easier than face-to-face
• Careful construction of an ideal self-presentation
mostly on dating sites (Ellison, Heino, & Gibbs, 2006)
• SNS can avoid fakers, friends provide a social context
that can confirm the self-presentation
Impression Management on SNS (2)
• Brunswick lens model: the behavior of
individuals and the artifacts produced by them
reflect their personality
Impression Management on SNS (3)
• Environmental cues can be used as a lens by
• Personality impressions based on facebook
profiles showed accuracy!
• YOU are what you post, blog, twitter,
Studies concerning SNS
• Onlinesample: 20% suffer from social phobia
• Shy people were more likely to report using
chat- and instant messaging services with the
motive of decreasing loneliness
• Twitter increases the production of the cuddle
hormone oxytocine (Fastcompany, July 2010)
Tips from a Psychological Perspective
Tips from a psychological perspective:
• Be real!
• Attention and Appreciation
• Create NEW exciting contents
• Put people in the spotlight!
• Authenticity is
– The truthfulness of origins, own opinions, attributions,
commitments, sincerity, devotion, and intentions
• Be real, and acknowledge your followers for
– Be authentic, and acknowledge people that they are now in the
social media scene, that they are your followers
• Take the time to acknowledge
• Be REAL (don„t hide behind a company logo)
Put people in the spotlight
• People love acclaim
• Find good stuff and share it!
– Good posts
– Good notes on facebook
– Good tweets on twitter
– Good articles in newspapers
• Be part of it and let others be part of it!
Create NEW Contents
• Be awesome!
• Be creative!
• Be funny!
– (People share more comedies on youtube than news)
• Create excitement!
• Be positive!
• Participate, share and let share!
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