The Psychology Behind Social Media

185816204Have you ever marveled at a coworker’s unprofessional remarks, cringe-worthy pictures, or embarrassing comments made on social media sites? New research delves into how employees manage boundaries on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, revealing how these behaviors effect the way they are viewed by professional contacts.

Researchers Ariane Ollier-Malaterre, Nancy Rothbard, and Justin Berg believe there are two key factors that govern an individual’s social media choices—whether they are integrators or segmentors and whether they are aiming to impress or express.

Integrators intend to create connections between their professional and personal lives, blending the two spheres. Segmentors, however, prefer to keep these roles separate. On social media, this may mean using privacy controls, keeping LinkedIn connections for professional contacts and Facebook for personal friends, or simply making their profile unsearchable.

Impressers see social media as way to build a reputation and a base of followers, sharing positive information such as achievements or articles that make them look intelligent. Impressers avoid controversial posts and are careful to share information that paints them in a flattering light. Expressers, however, see social media as a way to be viewed more accurately by others, sharing experiences (both good and bad), writing about unpopular opinions, and posting pictures and articles that may not appeal to everyone on their friend list.

Bringing both boundary preferences and image motives together, the researchers were able to gain insight into how others may view and respect you. For example, an integrator with a high motivation to express may sacrifice respect from colleagues as they gain a reputation for revealing too much or sharing inappropriate information. However, keeping too much private or not accepting a friend request from a coworker is also regarded negatively by those at work. The researchers believe that mirroring the tailored nature of offline relationships may be a wise choice for professional relationships, though this may be the most time consuming way to manage social media profiles.

To read more, visit the Academy of Management Review.

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