Social media ‘on the go’: Does age has any impact?

by Harry Cutler-Smith

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Social Media ‘On the Go’ & Age Difference, photographer: Harry Cutler-Smith, models: Janet Cutler, George Cutler

Introduction

Social media can, therefore, be seen as an extension of people’s lives with opportunities to construct virtual identities as well as personal, social and professional spaces that altogether extend boundaries of offline contexts. Social media consumption is particularly immersive and complex in the cases when individuals are accessing and using social media on the go, via mobile devices. Although extensive number of studies explored the consumers’ adoption of mobile technology and adoption of social media, adoption of mobile social media (consumption of social media on mobile devices) remains underexplored. Moreover, existing research on social media adoption has identified two generational groups, generation Y (aged 18-25) and generation X (aged 35-60) which have active use of social media, although their motives and attitudes towards social media as well as consumption patterns differ. With the increased use of social media ‘on the go’, no existing studies have investigated the generational gap in the adoption and use of mobile social media (MSM).

Theoretical Background

Social media, defined as technological platforms and channels which enable interaction, exchange of information and content virtually between individuals, groups of individuals anywhere anytime (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010; Kietzmann et al., 2010), represents an increasingly important way for brands and businesses to connect and interact with consumers (Murdough, 2009). The challenge, however, lies in viewing social media as simply another technological tool that facilitates conversations and exchange of information. With time social media has become a platform, which individuals rely on and are dependant upon during their daily lives and business activities. Social media can, therefore, be seen as an extension of people’s lives with opportunities to construct virtual identities as well as personal, social and professional spaces that altogether extend boundaries of offline contexts (Correa et al., 2010). Social media consumption is particularly immersive and complex in the cases when individuals are accessing and using social media on the go, via mobile devices.

Consumption of social media via mobile devices (MSM) is compelling to individuals because of the means of production, distribution and consumption – all found on a single device, which individuals can carry anywhere anytime (portability) and can personalise according to own interest and needs (Humphreys, 2013; Bolat, 2014). Simple rationale for the increased usage rates of MSM is in a convenience deriving from ability to quickly share timely and, therefore, relevant footage, data and content with others (Bolat et al., 2016). Due to SNS being embedded within mobile phones and tablets computers, there was a noticeable increase in mobile phone usage rate over the past decade (Goggin, 2010). This is due to their integration within individuals’ lives. Social media is on the rise due to the fact that it is widely accessible and to some degree essential. Accessing social media on the go enables continuous accessibility and connection with social ties as well as creates opportunities for constant

presence and engagement in the social media context (Bolat et al., 2016). Having said that, research into understanding consumers’ experiences with using and adopting MSM is scarce and fragmented. Studies around social media adoption and usage can be divided within the two main streams, technical in nature papers (Trusov et al., 2009; Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010; Tsai and Men, 2013; Gamboa and Gonçalves, 2014; Moncrief et al., 2015
 ) where social media technical and functional features od ‘media’ component are assessed and papers studying the ‘social’ component with a focus on understanding behavioural aspects of social media use, to name few, social interaction, social ties, social identity (Kwon and Wen, 2010; Shiue et al., 2010) and the application of social media in both the consumer and the business contexts (Baird and Fisher, 2005; Eyrich et al., 2008).

In investigation of social behavioural aspects of social media consumption, however, technical side of SNS is also captured. In particular, Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) (Davis et al., 1989) has been adopted to examine the role of perceived ease of use and perceived usefulness on individuals’ attitudes towards the adoption of social media (Eyrich et al., 2008; Steyn et al., 2010; Hajli, 2014). Moreover, privacy and trust issues which usually lead to negative associations when adopting technology, have dual effect in the social media context where permission-based communication is enabled due to technical ability of SNS users to control their privacy settings (Ashley and Tuten, 2015). Other studies like De Valck et al. (2009) extended TAM by incorporating Theory of reasoned action (TRA) (Ajzen and Fishbein, 1980) to investigate how SNS affects the decision-making processes of consumers. De Valck et al. (2009) found that social ties formed via SNS have a significant impact on consumers’ motivations to engage with SNS. Social media word-of-mouth (sWOM) is proven to have higher impact on consumers’ decisions and evaluations than offline WOM (Tursov et al., 2009; Kozinets et al., 2010). In studying the motives of consumers to use social media existing studies (Porter and Donthu, 2008; Johnson and Yang, 2009; Hughes et al., 2012) adopted the uses and gratification approach (Blumler and Katz, 1974). The most evident motives to use social media are social and informational (Johnson and Yang, 2009; Hughes et al, 2012). Informational motives refer to desire to obtain and consume content. Social motives are more complex and include rational motives of sharing information and emotional motives that include social connections and creating social dynamics (Krishnamurthy and Dou, 2008). Moreover, Leung (2006) have emphasised the impact of psychological motives on individuals’ adoption and use of social media and in particular found that those users, which show signs of boredom, often retreat to social networking in an effort to satisfy their need of entertainment. In addition, numerous studies (Correa et al., 2010; Heinonen, 2011; Hughes et al., 2012) focused on classifying and categorising the social media used based on their psychological motives to engage with social media. These studies concluded that extraversion, neuroticism and openness are the main personality traits of the typical social media user.

Although users’ motives to engage with social media are extensively researched, little is known about individuals’ motives to engage with MSM. In addition to entertainment, social and informational motives, mobile devices offer the users functional value – technical competencies of mobile technology such as transmission and exchange of content in various formats, ease of use of technical functions, multi-tasking functionality of allowing to combine voice conversations, text communication and web-browsing (Bolat, 2014). Hence, it rationale to assume that functional motives positively influence attitudes of individuals to use MSM.

Moreover, existing research on social media adoption (Vanslyke, 2003) has identified two generational groups, generation Y (aged 18-25) and generation X (aged 35-60) which have active use of social media, although their motives and attitudes towards social media differ. These two groups were defined by Prensky as ‘Digital Natives’ (generation Y) and ‘Immigrants’ (generation X), describing the generational gap between the Internet users (Vanslyke, 2003). Existing studies demonstrate that two generational groups differ in the ways they consumer social media. Itom et al. (2008) discuss the impact social media has on the younger generation, for example communication, socialising skills and even self- expression, which are all enhanced through their use of social media platforms (Itom et al., 2008). Whereas digital immigrants adopt social media in order to engage connect with others to fill their need for companionship and to participate in new activities (Prensky, 2001). With the increased use of social media ‘on the go’, no existing studies have investigated the generational gap in the adoption and use of MSM.

 

Based on the above review of existing research, the following conceptual model and hypotheses are being proposed (figure 1), which examines consumers’ adoption and engagement with social media ‘on the go’ (MSM), with particular focus on the role the consumer’s age plays in the adoption of MSM.

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Figure 1. Conceptual model and hypotheses

Methodology

The data was collected using the mixed methods of data collection, the focus groups and the survey. Focus group included exploratory phase of in-depth investigation on differences different age groups experience when using social media on the go by focusing on (1) mapping individual’s daily engagement with social media across devices and (2) asking individuals across two different age groups to ‘show and tell’ how they use and consumer social media on their mobile devices. Following focus group, the survey measurement instrument was modified to capture results of qualitative data analysis. Snowball sampling was applied to ensure the survey gained the most exposure possible. It was shared through online networking sites (Facebook and Twitter). The survey was sent to multiple (20+) specific peers, who were asked to complete and share the survey with as many others within the required age brackets. To lessen the issue of bias responses the initial recipients weren’t chosen at random (family, close friends) and were required to send it only to those who they felt would complete the survey appropriately. The entire online survey consisted of 11 questions, using multiple choice answers and a Likert scale. The statements can be seen in the downloadable measurement instrument.

Thematic analysis and regression statistics were used to analyse mixed data.

Findings

Focus Group

A total of 8 participants from two age groups (18-25 and 35-60) took part in a focus group.

Figure 2 illustrates touchpoints with social media on-the-go: “Home” and “Work” were two locations which came up frequently amongst the group, also a theme of multiple locations of social media usage with generation Y was noticeably higher.

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Figure 2. Information on the location / activity of social media usage (%)

Figure 3 depicts the number of each individual’s use of certain devices. A distinct pattern shows that both generation X and Y all use a smartphone when using social media, the pattern continues but the number of individuals decrease with the use of a games console / smart TV and or tablet device. The younger generation presented slightly higher in terms of using a computer / laptop to engage with social media during their average daily routine.

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Figure 3. Information on the devices participants used for accessing social media ‘on the go’ (%)

Figure 4 illustrates that “Social Networking” and “Social Entertainment” are as the most common purposes among the two age groups, although more common with generation Y (younger age group). “Social Commerce” and “Social Publishing” presented no distinguishing differences with either generation.

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Figure 4. Purposes of using social media ‘on the go’ (%)

Figure 5 demonstrates that only 1 network isn’t used by an individual from the younger age group whereas generation X only use 50% of the proposed networks.

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Figure 5. Social media networks used ‘on the go’ (%)

Analysis of the focus group discussion suggests differences and similarities in motives to use social media on-the-go across two age groups.

Similarities: The first similarity is the devices used by participates, both parts of this study suggest mobile usage is increasing and people tend to access social media on their mobiles. (Humphreys 2013). Culture also impacted on user’s engagement with social media; users from both age groups stated aspects of cultural change which influences their use of social media on the go (Strutton et al. 2011). This linked to the motive of time and location; participates which had family in other countries had relied much more on social media as a platform to communicate; somewhat supporting the authors second research question. The author found that social motives for usage of social media on mobile devices came up more frequently amongst all ages when compared to the other motives; supporting the authors third research question (Humphreys 2013).

Differences: The results from both parts of the focus group have identified trends of differences amongst the two generations; this refers to the diverse factors each age group deem influential to their social media usage. The review of literature suggests (Correa et al. 2009; Boltan et al. 2006) that the level of diversity exhibited by an individual can lower their engagement with social media; literature states that the younger generation are more open to diversity and there for more likely to engage with multiple forms social media (Boltan et al. 2006). The results indicate that generation Y used more SNS than the older generation, suggesting that diversity does have an effect on an individual’s usage of social media. This could also be a result of other traits; extraversion is linked to those individuals who are enthusiastic of adopting social media resulting in higher usage of social media. It was indicated during the discussion that two members of the younger age group were reluctant to adopt new forms of social media, even though they are active users of other SNS. Openness suggests an individual is less likely to change and/or adopt; Correa, Hinsley and Zuniga (2009) state that generation Y score lower in regards to openness to social media. During the discussion the author noted that the older generation exhibited less diversification, but higher adoption to using social media to fulfil the need to communicate (Strutton et al. 2011; Correa et al. 2009). The differences, stated above indicate the authors question on whether there is a difference in the way both age groups use social media on the go is supported. Entertainment factors of social media usage refer to video content, gaming and other forms of social media which allows users to lessen boredom (Leung 2006). From the results of the mapping activity the younger generation scored 50% higher than the older age group when considering entertainment as a motive of social media use. Video streaming such as; YouTube is considered a source of entertainment accessible through social media on mobile devices (Shao 2009). The higher score for use of YouTube with the younger generation could explain. The results from both parts of the focus group have identified trends of differences amongst the two generations; this refers to the diverse factors each age group deem influential to their social media usage. The review of literature suggests (Correa et al. 2009; Boltan et al. 2006) that the level of diversity exhibited by an individual can lower their engagement with social media; literature states that the younger generation are more open to diversity and there for more likely to engage with multiple forms social media (Boltan et al. 2006). The results indicate that generation Y used more SNS than the older generation, suggesting that diversity does have an effect on an individual’s usage of social media. This could also be a result of other traits; extraversion is linked to those individuals who are enthusiastic of adopting social media resulting in higher usage of social media. It was indicated during the discussion that two members of the younger age group were reluctant to adopt new forms of social media, even though they are active users of other SNS. Openness suggests an individual is less likely to change and/or adopt; Correa, Hinsley and Zuniga (2009) state that generation Y score lower in regards to openness to social media. During the discussion the author noted that the older generation exhibited less diversification, but higher adoption to using social media to fulfil the need to communicate (Strutton et al. 2011; Correa et al. 2009). The differences, stated above indicate the authors question on whether there is a difference in the way both age groups use social media on the go is supported. Entertainment factors of social media usage refer to video content, gaming and other forms of social media which allows users to lessen boredom (Leung 2006). From the results of the mapping activity the younger generation scored 50% higher than the older age group when considering entertainment as a motive of social media use. Video streaming such as; YouTube is considered a source of entertainment accessible through social media on mobile devices (Shao 2009). The higher score for use of YouTube with the younger generation could explain the increase of entertainment being a motive for social media usage on the go for generation X. There were no diverse correlations between the device usages amongst either age group, supporting that each age group could revert to different means (devices) in order to fulfil their need for entertainment (Shao 2009). The concerns of privacy is an issue all users of social media should take into consideration, especially in regards to the younger generation; whom are noted for not taking responsible measures when sharing, posting content online. The motive of privacy became a prominent difference compared with the two age groups; the discussion identified that the younger generation wasn’t as conscious to the issues of fraud or invasion to privacy as much as the older generation (O’Keeffe et al. 2011). The differences above indicate particular differences in relation to both age groups; supporting the authors forth research question.

Focus group study suggested that social motives were the main influence towards both age groups consumption of social media on the go; due to literature (Blight et al. 2015; Correa et al. 2009; Humphreys 2013; Hughes et al. 2012) emphasising the impact communication, forming relations and interaction had on user’s activity. Both generations are actively using social media on their mobiles, the fact that both age groups utilise social media to communicate and the differences of opinions both generations apply to the motives to use social media on the go (privacy, entertainment and location).

Figure 6 provides overview on hypotheses testing and confirmation.

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Figure 6. Overview table for hypotheses testing

The overall results from survey suggest that a majority of my hypotheses are supported and from this the authors research questions (1-3) are concluded with positive results. The users’ attitude towards social media was found to have an impact on the user’s actual use of social media on-the-go (H7) with a positive relationship .572 and strong significance between the two variables (ATT and AU1). This is also the case with the further two research questions; impact of time and location on users’ intention and indication on the specific motives which influence engagement of social media on-the-go.

Time and location was found to have a considerable impact on user intention of social media on-the-go (H8b) with a positive relationship .568 the hypothesis is supported; making time and location an important factor for businesses to consider when targeting members of either generation. Excluding the privacy factor and the age moderation of social and information motives; all other motives and factors have a positive impact on user engagement and are supported with the influence of age moderation, concluding the third research question proposed by the author. The fourth and final research question is positively supported in regards to entertainment and functional use, with the age moderation suggesting that age impacts the attitudes towards these motives when using social media on-the-go. The review of literature (Strutton et al. 2011; Bolton et al. 2013) supports the findings of age moderation as entertainment is widely adopted by the younger generation which are considered “Digital Natives”.

The result findings help propose supported methods which could benefit the business world. The impact of the motives on users’ actual use of social media on-the-go suggests that in order to target the younger generation, it is important to incorporate specific factors such as entertainment to enhance the consumers interest to the communication; the impact of entertainment is supported by Shao (2009). The factor of privacy wasn’t continued through to the regression analysis due to its unreliability; however, the discussion from study 1 proved that privacy isn’t an issue considered by either generation. The privacy factor relates to those applications which require users to agree to allowing the publisher access to specific areas on their mobiles and or social media profiles. With the low consideration of privacy as an influence to use social media on-the-go, businesses are able to gain knowledge of consumers as the likelihood of being granted access is high across both generations. The focus group identified a trend of the adoption of technology; a majority of participates from both generations agreed that they wouldn’t use a certain new wearable-tech product as it was deemed unnecessary or too expensive. Although interest to other technologies were indicated from a minority of both age groups which was stated to be more interesting, the author recommends further research into wearable technology.

Implications

The author indicates that the main factor to consider when researching the generational gap is the rate of adoption and the unexpected nature of the user. (Correa, Hinsley and Zuniga 2009; Strutton et al. 2011) identify that consumers of both generations differ in the rate of adoption, but overall adopt to social media and social media on-the-go nonetheless. Both study 1 and study 2 confirmed that generation X uses mobile social media just as much as the younger generation whom are considered more technological savvy. The increased adoption of social media amongst generation X is considered an effect of age blurring; this refers to the phenomenon of older consumers adopting to certain trends which would be commonly referred to as a younger persons thing – i.e. social media and social media on-the-go (Euromonitor 2011).

The increasing rate of adoption of new trends forces marketing departments to consider new approaches to advertise and capture the interests of both the younger and older generation. More research is required when targeting an audience of either or both age groups as trends have a habit of changing rapidly, limiting the time frames marketers have between constructing an effective or ineffective mobile social media advertisement. The author emphasises the importance of understanding the rate of adoption and the ability to identify new trends which influences the engagement of social media on-the-go across both generation X and Y.

Access and read full list of sources used in this study.

Access and read conference paper I have presented with my co-author, Dr Elvira Bolat, in Newcastle:

Bolat, E. and Cutler-Smith, H., 2016. Social media ‘on the go’: Examining the impact of age. In: Academy of Marketing, 4-7 July 2016, Newcastle, UK. Link to the paper: http://eprints.bournemouth.ac.uk/24443/

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