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What drives millions to social networking sites?

January 6, 2010

Curiosity to know about other people’s lives and self-expression drive millions of people to online networking sites like the Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.

Research on social network sites has focused largely on user personality traits, benefits to individuals such as information sharing, issues of privacy and the like.

Now, Macquarie University doctoral student in marketing, Lucy Miller, is taking a closer look at online social networks from a marketing perspective. These give the sites’ owners and potential advertisers insights into their users thoughts and patterns of behaviour.

Miller found four key motivating factors influencing users. These were curiosity about the lives of others, social engagement, a desire to increase social capital and status, and self-expression.

Users driven by curiosity were less likely to contribute much in the way of content but would likely have a higher tolerance for advertising, Miller found.

Similarly, others had a need to express themselves and would not be as active in seeking friends, instead feeling more satisfied that the site allowed them to be creative and reduce their anxieties.

Still yet others built social capital and status through the large network of friends they established.

Based on her preliminary survey, Miller argues that those differing core motivational profiles and resulting behaviours show social networking sites such as Facebook have distinctly segmented user markets.

Site owners, anxious to retain and increase user numbers, and advertisers wanting to reach those user-consumers, need to be aware of the differences and tailor their approaches accordingly, she said.

Miller also found other less clear factors such as gender and major transitional events in life such as a divorce, death, moving house or changing jobs can also influence and create changes in user behaviours, said a Macquarie release.

She recently presented her preliminary research at the Australian and New Zealand Marketing Academy conference in Melbourne.

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