What about consumers who do not use Facebook or Twitter?

In our marketing and social media class, we have been talking about how companies can use social media to grow their business. One prominent concept, inbound marketing, a term coined by the software and marketing company HubSpot, proposes that a company can use social media to create a community of followers who will discuss and promote its products, provide feedback, and draw more customers into the hive. This online buzz snowballs, and the company has less need for traditional marketing.

But what about all of the consumers who do not use⎯and sometimes have a negative view of ⎯social media such as Facebook and Twitter? Are companies reaching them? These consumers may still read online reviews and monitor blogs that do not require sign-in; they may avoid only social media that requires that a user sign up for an account, preferring to remain anonymous and to leave no footprint. What characterizes these “anonymous” internet users?

A number of my friends are in this category. They are 35 to 45 year old single women who make purchasing decisions every day, and have easy access to the internet. They read online reviews, but have strong negative opinions about other forms of social media. I took an informal poll (n = 5!) and heard these reasons:
• Fear of getting sucked in and spending too much time
• Dislike of the self-promoting/self-congratulatory tone of Facebook posts
• Fear that her employees would learn about her private life (adds that she would love Facebook and will join after leaving current job)
• Twitter doesn’t seem interesting and not a lot of friends are on it anyway
• Don’t want to put up information that others would see, very strange venue with such a mix of people (friends, family, colleagues, teenagers, etc.) all seeing same posts (and wouldn’t be able to say “no” to friend-requests)
• Both Facebook and Twitter seem oddly self-serving though disguised in a “reaching out to others” veil
• Deleted Facebook account after grew to dislike some friends because of what they posted (political stuff, etc.)
• May start to use Twitter for class (she’s a professor), but will never for personal use

Are there other reasons I use Facebook every day and these peers do not? I found a 2010 study of 1,482 U.S. adults that points to certain personality traits. Correa, Hinsley, and Gil de Zúñiga(1) suggest that extraversion and openness to experiences are positively related to non-anonymous social network use (i.e. Facebook, Twitter), whereas emotional stability is negatively related. Neurotic people and those with negative affectivity are more likely to use social media. The researchers suggest that unstable people may use media such as chat rooms for support. And anxious people may use social media because they can plan what to post more than they can plan what to say in a face-to-face conversation. Furthermore, Correa et al. find that a high level of anxiety predicts a high level of social media use more than a person’s discontentment with life predicts a high level of social media use. Older people who are open to new activities are more likely to use social media than older people who are not open, while for younger people, extraversion is more of a defining factor than openness. The researchers suggest this is the difference between digital immigrants and digital natives. Contrary to early internet use when the typical aficionado was a “loner,” extraverted men and women now use social media more than introverted men and women. Emotionally unstable men are more regular users than emotionally stable men, while for women, emotional stability does not determine social media use.

Subjects in this study who (like my friends!) are introverted, digital immigrants not open to new experiences, and who experience low levels of anxiety, are less likely to use social media than others. It is important to note that not maintaining a Facebook or Twitter account does not indicate whether a person uses online communities or review boards when researching a product. Nevertheless, I would argue that such participants may read posts about a product, but never actually make their presence known to the company by providing feedback or “liking” a product. There is the potential that companies that rely on social media to manage, market, and make decisions about its products overlook consumers with these personality traits.

(1). Correa, T., Hinsley, A. W., & De Zuniga, H. G. (2010). Who interacts on the Web?: The intersection of users’ personality and social media use. Computers in Human Behavior, 26(2), 247-253.

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