A ‘follow’ on Twitter: Flattery. An ‘add’ on Facebook: Stalker

Understanding the subtle behaviour differences and norms that exist on different social platforms is interesting to consider. It’s long been established the mask of social media allows people to present themselves differently ‘virtually’ than how they are in ‘reality’. However, analysing people’s behaviour on separate social media platforms hasn’t been considered to the same extent.

Sometimes, people behave in different ways on different social media platforms. Presenting themselves differently. Interacting with other users in different ways. However, as users of these platforms, people are also the shapers of these social media spaces. Therefore, as much as the social media spaces’ influence our social behaviour, we influence the social platform – creating a socio-spatial dichotomy.

Twitter vs Facebook

A perfect example is the subtle difference between how a random person who ‘follows’ me on Twitter makes me feel versus a random ‘add friend request’ on Facebook. A ‘follow’ on Twitter we feel flattery, excited and complimented. A random ‘add’ on Facebook from someone you don’t know and it’s – ‘do I know you?!’ #stalker! Apart from the language used of friend request versus follow, and the established norms that have developed organically on these platforms, it is the very users of the platform and their behaviour that in turn shapes the way we use and feel about the platforms. A 2012 report by Legal & General into the habits of Facebookers in Europe showed that 90% of users have received a Friend Request from someone they do not know. Of that many, only 15% accept the request with the majority feeling suspicious about a random add. This reaction shows that people in Europe behave privately on Facebook and have a sense of fear and invasion to this space of having a random ‘add’. Whereas a ‘follow’ on Twitter can evoke a different emotion.

And these different behavioural responses are evident across all the platforms we use – Instagram, LinkedIn, Google Plus and popular dating app Tinder.

LinkedIn vs Twitter

An example to demonstrate how I behave with regards to sharing information about myself can be shown by what I share on LinkedIn being substantially different to what I share on Twitter – despite having both platforms ‘public’. This is partly due to the differences in the interface and user experience of these platforms. However, as human behaviour studies show we mimic each other’s behaviour – this also helps to explain why I share certain things about myself on Twitter and not on LinkedIn. It is estimated that 2.5 million gay males share their sexual orientation through Twitter, in contrast to less than 100,000 on LinkedIn. This ‘socio-spatial dichotomy’ of the social media platform shaping user behaviour and our own user behaviour shaping that very social media platform is a good way of explaining why behaviour differs across different social media platforms.

Why this is important for brands

For brands this information and insight is crucial for effective marketing. Behave outside of these established norms and you can irritate. Behave within these norms, and respecting these social media spaces, and you can fully engage with consumers.

It has been recommend that a brand post on Instagram be different to a tweet on Twitter – not just because of the interface differences, but because of the established norms and different behaviours that people can exhibit on these platforms. In November 2013 Michael Kors was the first advert on Instagram – this resulted in backlash as it went against the established norms of this social media space being an artistic and free-spirited community.

I believe applying behavioural economics to social media has never been more important in order to understand how your brand should behave in these different spaces and best engage people.



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