|A wide range of new theories, approaches, and methodologies
have been proposed as a response to the changes occurring in the digitization
of content, the creation and distribution of digital artifacts
(e.g., documents, images, and videos), and the increasing production
and dissemination of news on the Internet. These new trends have also
motivated scholars to revive traditional theories in the field of mass
communication and journalism, which could aid in examining digital
communication. In this editorial note, the uses and gratifications approach
(U&G) is presented as a theoretical lens and empirical means
for studying how audiences engage with digital media. U&G provides
a unique perspective on digital media as it stresses the relevance of media
in the context of everyday life, examining uses, gratifications sought
and obtained, and media practices over time. U&G can help address
critical research questions that emerge as individuals become further
networked and embrace digital technologies for communication, information
exchange, and content creation. Research questions that a U&G
approach to social media can address include:
|• How are information and news from various sources diffusing
through social media?
|• What social media sites and services are relevant for individuals
to keep up-to-date with local and global news?
|• How satisfied are users of social media sites with the information
they receive in terms of accuracy, relevance, currency, etc.?
|• What gratifications do individuals obtain from different information
sources and social media platforms on the Internet?
|The U&G approach allows examining two different sets of questions.
The first set of questions revolve around what types of media
users employ and the second set is concerned with why users adopt
these specific tools and services. Addressing research questions about
why people adopt diverse social media sites and services into their communication
and socializing practices, routines, and habits has become
increasingly relevant. Data collected by the Pew Internet and Everyday
Life Project in 2011 show that social media are being adopted by all age
groups in North America, with 64 percent of adults  and 80 percent
of youth using a social network site (SNS) . Similar trends are observed
in other parts of the world. When examining the usage patterns of
young people, the reliance on social media is high. Of those teenagers
who use SNS, 40 percent log on to a site several times a day and 24
percent about once a day . Quan-Haase and Young (forthcoming)
 argue that “taking into account the widespread diffusion of social
media and its ubiquity, it is important to grasp the role that these tools
play in our society and what social, economic, and political impact they
have on individuals, family ties, communities, and organizations”.
|The U&G approach occupies a unique place within theories of mass
communication and journalism. The digital landscape makes it clear
that individuals are employing multiple sources of information, are
members of diverse and specialized interest groups, and access both
online and via mobile applications a wide range of media . This
proliferation of media types and sources suggests that different media
outlets fulfill distinct and unique needs, making an analysis of U&G essential . Because the U&G approach was developed in the 1940s,
a group of scholars has questioned its utility for studying digital media.
However, Ruggiero  has dismissed these concerns arguing that “any
attempt to speculate on the future direction of mass communication
theory must seriously include the U&G approach”. This suggests that
the U&G approach can make a major contribution to research in an
environment, where audiences are fragmented, the boundaries between
producers and consumers blur , and user-generated content supplements,
enhances, and competes with traditional media.
|The U&G approach developed as a counter perspective to much of
the prevalent scholarship in the 1930s and 1940s on the relation between
the mass media and their respective audiences. This body of work
tended to stress the unidirectional and powerful effect of the mass media
on consumers of content without much regard to audience members’
agency, needs and preferences, cultural and economic backgrounds,
and life styles . This neglect led to a rather narrow and limited
focus on the propagandistic effect of content on audiences and individuals’
uncritical assimilation of mass media messages. For instance, the
hypodermic needle model (also known as the magic bullet theory) conceptualized
audience members as a homogeneous mass that consumes
media messages in an uncritical and superficial manner . These early
models received considerable criticism for their simplistic views of how
audience members use, consume, and make sense of media messages.
These models were further refuted by the writings of McLuhan  and
others at the Toronto School of Communication , as these authors
shifted the debate in mass communication from one focused on simple
effects of messages toward an understanding of media as complex social
|Quan-Haase and Young (forthcoming)  have identified three
central tenants of the U&G approach that distinguish it from other approaches
in mass communication and journalism:
|(1) Conceptualization of the audience. Instead of viewing the mass
audience as passive and neutral, it is conceived of as actively participating
in audience’s media choices and engaged in content selection, evaluation,
and dissemination. The U&G approach distinguishes between
media preferences by specific social groups, such as infants, kids, youth,
|(2) Focus on what people do. The focus is on what people do with
the media, how it becomes relevant in their everyday life, instead of assuming that all consumers engage with the media in the same manner
|(3) Media gratifications sought and obtained. The term media gratifications
refer to the personal needs that a medium can fulfill. Key is
the distinction between those gratifications sought prior to employing
the medium for the first time and those that are obtained after having
adopted the medium . Long-term usage patterns are influenced by
the extent to which specific media can fulfill user needs.
|These three central tenants make the U&G approach relevant to the
study of social media. One of the key areas of study in the U&G approach
is how individuals use media and integrate it into their everyday
live routines and practices. As social media platforms continue to proliferate
and apps for smart phones and tablets increase in diversity and
functionality, individuals are adopting a multiplicity of sites, services,
tools, games, etc. This makes it necessary to understand what digital
tools they employ, when they use them during the day, and how these fit
with their daily routines and practices . With the increasing reliance
on mobile technology from cell phones to smart phones to tablets (e.g.,
iPad, Samsung, etc.), it is of great relevance to explore how individuals
access social media sites on the go and connect both to content, media
outlets, and their social networks. Additionally, how an individual uses
social media may largely depend on their level of concern for privacy
. Privacy concerns about who may access personal information and
how this information is stored may influence how individuals present
themselves on Facebook, Twitter, and other popular SNS, encouraging
certain types of personal information to be disclosed. How much information
and what types of information are revealed will in turn have
an effect on the gratifications obtained from engaging in the platform
|The study of gratifications has primarily focused on those gratifications
obtained after adoption. The primary reason for this focus is
methodological. Predicting what social media platform users will join
next is difficult and as a result it is challenging to examine what motivates
adoption in the first place [5,17]. Nonetheless, considering the large
proliferation of competing sites and services, an examination of why
users adopt a specific social media tool can shed light on what characteristics
and features individuals consider useful and fitting with their
social and information needs . It becomes increasingly important
for scholars to identify what factors motivate individuals to test and
adopt new platforms, and how to compare various platforms in terms
of usability, gratifications, and satisfaction. The open source movement
for instance has played an important role in providing services that are
free of charge and can be modified, re-used, and re-appropriated under
a wide range of licenses . Quan-Haase and Young  compared
the gratifications sought from Facebook and instant messaging and
found friend recommendations as a key motivating factor for adopting
Facebook (“friend suggested it”), followed by mass adoption by one’s
offline social network (“everyone I know is on Facebook”), and social
relationship maintenance (“help others keep in touch with me”). In a
study of the gratifications sought of Bebo1, Dunne, Lawlor and Rowley
 found three key factors that motivated adoption: 1) communication
with others, 2) to make new friends, and 3) to alleviate boredom
|A central area of investigation of the U&G approach is the gratifications
obtained from a medium after continued use. A number of
studies have been conducted that have systematically investigated the gratifications obtained from social media use. For example, a 2001 study
by Leung et al.  examined students’ motivations for chatting on
the instant messaging platform ICQ. This early study found that students
used ICQ primarily for affection: to express appreciation, care
for others’ feelings, show encouragement, offer help, and show concern
for others . More recently, a number of studies have emerged examining
the gratifications obtained from using SNSs, particularly Facebook.
This research has found that affection, while a key motivation for
using IM, is of less importance in SNSs . In contrast to IM, SNSs are
used to pass the time (i.e., for entertainment, relaxation and as a means
of escape) [5,17], for social surveillance and social searching (i.e., to
learn about others without their explicit knowledge) , and for relationship
maintenance (i.e., reconnecting with friends and family and
maintaining a connection with friends and family) . This illustrates
clear differences in gratifications obtained from each type of social media.
While IM is typically dyadic and allows for interactive conversations
in real-time that mirror, in some aspects, face-to-face communication,
Facebook and other SNSs revolve around a profile and a series of
asynchronous messages exchanged via private e-mail messages or wall
posts. In this way, IM exchanges support feelings and intimacy and the
development of close ties, whereas the communications in SNSs serve
as a way for users to have fun and entertain themselves (see Table 1).
|Another social media platform that has received considerable attention
in the media is Twitter. Twitter is considered a microblog that
allows individuals to connect and exchange 140 character long messages.
Even though Twitter is different from Facebook in terms of how
profiles are created and information is displayed, studies on Twitter’s
gratifications show some parallels. Chen  in her study of Twitter
gratifications found that connecting to one’s social network of friends,
family, and colleagues is one of the key factors for continued use. In
the study, Chen  found that Twitter was also relevant for conveying
information. While Facebook also helps in sharing information about social events and events occurring in an individual’s personal life, Twitter
is often geared toward forwarding links to resources in addition to
supporting relationship maintenance.
|In conclusion, the U&G approach continues to play a unique and
important role in studies of communication, sociability, information
science, and journalism. In particular with the increasing adoption of
social media, the U&G approach seems promising in providing a theoretical
framework from which to examine what kinds of social media
are adopted by what segments of the population, and what gratifications
individuals obtain from their use of various social media platforms, sites,
and services. The U&G approach also provides a methodology from
which user preferences and satisfactions can be compared across social
media sites. This will help us better understand what motivates users
to spent large amounts of time on these sites sharing, liking/disliking,
forwarding, adding, and disseminating content.
- Rainie L, Lenhart A, Smith A (2011) The tone of life on social networking sites. The Pew Internet and American Life Project.
- Lenhart A, Madden M, Smith A, Purcell K, Zickuhr K, et al. (2011) Teens, kindness and cruelty on social network sites. The Pew Internet and American Life Project.
- Quan-Haase A, Young AL (forthcoming) The uses and gratifications (U&G) approach as a lens for studying social media practice. In Fortner R, Fackler M (Edn), International handbook of media and communication theory. Blackwell, Cambridge, MA.
- Miller C, Purcell K, Rosenstiel T (2012) 72% of Americans follow local news closely.The Pew Internet and American Life Project.
- Quan-Haase A, Young AL (2010) Uses and gratifications of social media: A comparison of Facebook and instant messaging. Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society 30: 350-361.
- Ruggiero TE (2000) Uses and gratifications theory in the 21st century. Mass Communication & Society 3: 3-37.
- Bruns A (2008)Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and beyond: From production to produsage. Peter Lang, New York.
- Blumler JG, Katz E (1974) The uses of mass communications: Current perspectives on gratifications research. Sage, Beverly Hills.
- Quan-Haase A, Brown B (2012) Uses and gratifications. Danesi M (Edn) Encyclopedia of Media and Communication.Toronto, University of Toronto Press.
- McLuhan M (1964) Understanding media: The extension of man. McGraw-Hill, New York.
- De Kerckhove D (1989) McLuhan and the Toronto school of communication. Canadian Journal of Communication 14: 73-79.
- Katz E, Lazarsfeld PF (1964) Personal influence: The part played by people in the flow of mass communications. Free Press, New York.
- Katz E, Gurevitch M, Haas H (1973) On the use of mass media for important things. American Sociological Review 38: 164-181.
- Quan-Haase A (2008) Instant messaging on campus: Use and integration in students’ everyday communication. The Information Society 24: 105-115.
- Young AL, Quan-Haase A (2009) Information revelation and internet privacy concerns on social network sites: A case study of Facebook. In JM Carrol (Edn). Fourth International Conference on Communities and Technologies. University Park, PA, USA, 265-274. Dordrecht: Springer Verlag.
- Joinson NA (2008) ‘Looking at’, ‘looking up’, or ‘keeping up with’ people: Motives and uses of Facebook. Proceedings of CHI'081027-1036.
- Dunne A, Lawlor MA, Rowley J (2010) Young people’s use of online social networking sites - a uses and gratifications perspective. Journal of Research in Interactive Marketing 4: 46-58.
- Papacharissi Z, Mendelson A (2011) Toward a new(er) sociability: Uses, gratifications, and social capital on Facebook. In S. Papathanassopoulos (Edn), Media perspectives for the 21st century. Routledge, New York 212-230.
- Chen GM (2011) Tweet this: A uses and gratifications perspective on how active Twitter use gratifies a need to connect with others. Computers in Human Behavior 27: 755-762.
- Leung L (2001) College student motives for chatting on ICQ. New Media and Society 3: 483-500.