The growth and importance of social networking sites (SNS) has been substantial in recent years, as can be seen through the time spent on social networking sites which has increased by 93% since 2006. Lenhart and Madden reveal in their study that the majority of teenage users log in to SNS at least once a day, with 27% of these doing so more often, reflecting the popularity of the sites.
Adoption and growth of this online networking has proven to provide productive psychological pay-offs ranging from self-esteem through to bridging generation gaps. Especially productive for introvert personalities, SNS gives all the benefit of social interaction while relieving the psychological pressure of traditional inter-personal encounters.
Self-worth, belonging and self-esteem have been identified in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as essential for the modern individual. The use of SNS provides these benefits and more through the nature of the platform as SNS allow users to create a profile of themselves online while building a personal network of friends or brands which connect them to other users.
This online socialising provides adequate social compensation on top of offering satisfaction of collective belongingness needs, as shown by Steinfield’s study in 2008. These feelings of belongingness derive from the interconnected aspect of the sites, where users have the limitless potential for links and contacts opposed to the constraints of life offline.
In addition to this psychological pay-off of perceived popularity, social networking provides an array of psychological benefits which reinforce its use and provide positive remunerations to the user. Research by Steinfield in 2008 shows us users profit from enhanced levels of self-esteem, increased feelings of belongingness, ability to initiate relationships as well as to create contacts and events that may be pursued offline.
Social psychological benefits that can be pursued offline are becoming increasingly important factors for the use of social sites as community and many portions of our lives, such as relationships and employment, are moving online. A survey conducted in 2009 revealed that 21.9% of the British workforce worked from the comfort of their homes, and that as a nation just below 38% of couples now meet online, means that it is now more than ever psychological productive and viable to socialise through SNS.
While the use of SNS is widespread, there is still evidence to suggest a growing aging population looking to join the traditional twenty-somethings in socialising through these platforms. However opposed to the larger and heterogeneous connections that are normal for the younger generations, the older adopters are more likely to maintain smaller and offline familial connections to provide a different brand of positive psychological benefit.
Collaborative research by Microsoft and AARP highlights the use of social networking for enhancing offline familial relationships. Results from the research showed that 83% of users believed SNS were helpful in maintaining family relationships, especially with those who were long-distance. Furthermore, a majority maintained that SNS allowed them to have a greater understanding for their family members.
These findings prove how the psychological rewards of social networking are such that users are benefitting from them even whilst unengaged from the platforms, and that the self-esteem, love and belongingness aspects to the use of these sites are being carried offline also.
Needs for validation and security are also met with online networking as purchases, brands, interests and decisions are now posted online for third parties to validate or dismiss; allowing users to benefit from socialisation and approval on decisions and interests. This opinion seeking only strengthens relationships online and offline, and adds to that reward of enhanced social capital.
To conclude, although the main purpose of SNS is to provide ease of communication and sharing amongst its users, it is clear that the use of these sites transcends basic communication and are successful in providing real productive psychological benefits that are retained both on and offline.
How do you feel social networking improves your life?