BYU professors identify 4 types of Facebook users

Heather Peavler
BYU professors analyzed Facebook users and found four categories to identify why social media users use Facebook. (Heather Peavler)

A recent BYU study found most Facebook users can be sorted into four simple categories, despite what seems like a collection of vastly different people.

BYU communications professors Tom Robinson, Kristoffer Boyle and Clark Callahan developed the study with BYU graduate students Erica Rivera and Janice Cho to answer the question, “Why do we use Facebook?” The research study analyzes Facebook users and their purpose behind using the site.

“One of the graduate students was looking at Facebook and Tom asked, ‘Why are you on it? What purpose do you have to be on Facebook?'” Boyle said.

They used the Q-methodology, a combination of factor analysis and interview questions, to analyze the findings of the project.

The responses from the research were grouped into four different categories: Selfies, Window Shoppers, Town Criers and Relationship Builders.

Selfies:

The Selfies use Facebook to share information about themselves. According to Robinson, the Selfie group post selfies, frequently update personal status and increase their self-image over Facebook.

“They are especially drawn to the ‘like’ function,” Boyle said.

In a world filled with likes, Rivera said the Selfie group, “could be detrimental because it shows that they rely a lot on a medium that tells you if you’re good enough.”

Window Shoppers:

Window Shoppers are people who look at other people’s Facebook activity but don’t fully immerse themselves by sharing personal information.

“They feel socially obligated to be on Facebook,” Boyle said. “These are the Facebook stalkers, people who go on Facebook all the time but don’t really share anything about themselves.”

Town Criers:

Town Criers are the cyber version of the traditional town criers. They are people who share their news, events and personal opinions.

“In the colonial times, the town criers would go out into the public streets and ring a bell to announce the news,” Boyle said. “Their priority is to share information.”

Relationship Builders:

The Relationship Builders maintain and construct relationships.

“They are most interested in keeping up with people in their life and strengthening those relationships,” Boyle said.

According to Rivera, Facebook created a platform to continue relationships across the world.

“(The research subjects) talked about how they kept in touch with friends from their mission or grandma or cousins half way around the world,” Rivera said.

The study grouped the research subjects into four categories to identify the reason why people use Facebook. Rivera said each group is unique but can show similarities among groups.

“It also says that humans are much more alike than we think they are,” said Rivera.

Robinson, Rivera and Boyle said people can fall into more than one category or the primary category can change over time.

Media outlets such as KSL, Deseret News and KUTV, have covered the study as well. People are responding to these articles and suggesting more categories than the original four.

“I’ve read through the article to see if an internet troll could fit into one of the categories. However, this is an incredibly small but still a prevalent group within the online community,” said Tyler Williams, a reader of the KUTV article. 

In response to the suggested increase of the categories, Robinson said they will not add additional categories.

Others related to the four categories and identified themselves into categories — such as Victor Mendoza, a BYU student studying psychology, who identifies himself as a Window Shopper.

“To me, I think they hit it pretty spot-on,” Mendoza said. “The classifications made sense to me because I pictured the users who would fit into each category.”

The research group plans to use the same Q-methodology but apply other social media networks — such as Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat — into the formula.

“We will move into other platforms just to see and ask the same exact questions of, ‘Why do people like Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat so much?’ and gather similar research,” Robinson said.

BYU places eighth in the nation for the most engaged users on social media by using hashtags to encourage involvement with #BYUhatsincoolplaces, #BYUabroad and #BYUgrad.

The 2017 Higher Ed Social Media Engagement Report shows BYU in fifth place for Twitter engagement, 12th for Instagram and 70th for Facebook users.

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