Types of Social Media Users
One of the many changes brought about by the Digital Revolution was the appearance of social media websites and phone applications that have transformed the way people communicate and share news, opinions, facts, and ideas in the 21st century.
For the first time in history, people went from being passive consumers of information to its creators, as they are now able to share everything they experience not only through text, but also through videos, photos, songs, and a variety of other means. Based on how many social media platforms individuals use and how actively they participate there, users can be divided into the following six categories: no-shows, newcomers, onlookers, cliquers, mix-n-minglers, and sparks.
Before proceeding to explain the differences between these groups, it is important to understand what the term “social media” actually means. This term is often confused with a subtype of social media – social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, but it is, in fact, much broader. Evans defines it as “participatory online media where news, photos, videos, and podcasts are made public via social media websites through submission” (46).
Thus, social media includes not only one’s personal profile created for communication with others, but it also consists of a range of other services like YouTube, SoundCloud, Wikipedia, Pinterest, Tumblr, and phone applications such as Snapchat, Instagram, and Foursquare, to name just a few. These tools use different kinds and combinations of content, such as visual, textual, and auditory, but their common trait is that their users, who can be a teenager in Malaysia or a professor in Germany, are the ones generating their content.
Currently, social media is used not only for daily communication by individuals, but also by politicians, governments, and companies. Statistics best demonstrate its growing importance in everyday life. As of 2015, 65% of adults in America use social media sites, compared to only 11% ten years earlier (Loechner par. 1). The use of social media also becomes more and more widespread, regardless of demographic differences.
For example, in 2005 only 2% of those 65 and older used social media, while currently, this number has grown to 35% (Loechner par. 4). There are no significant gender and racial differences between social media users, and the main demographic difference concerns individuals’ level of income and their place of living – urban or rural areas (Loechner par. 5-7). This difference thus does not mean that these people do not want to use social media, but rather that they do not have the necessary technology or infrastructure for that.
Therefore, when it comes to the classification of social media users, the two most important characteristics are their level of participation (how often they post something or otherwise engage with the website) and the degree of their exposure to different platforms (how many sites they use). Based on these two criteria, Dyer writes about a six-group classification of social media users: no-shows, newcomers, onlookers, cliquers, mix-n-minglers, and sparks (par. 6-11).
Common traits of no-shows and newcomers are low exposure and passive participation on social media platforms. No-shows, or those who created a profile but rarely or almost never use it, make up about 41% of social media users. They are typically elderly people who do not trust new media and are not interested in using it (Dyer par. 6). Newcomers are slightly more active than no-shows as they use social media, namely social networks, to maintain their real-life relationships, and they represent about 15% of users. However, newcomers usually join these websites not because they are genuinely interested but because they did not want to feel “left out” (Dyer par. 7). The network of choice for these groups is usually Facebook.
On the other side of the spectrum are the onlookers, who, while being passive participants, are exposed to more social media platforms. They make up about 16% of all users, and they frequently visit social media websites to learn the news from the lives of others but rarely post themselves. Onlookers are silent watchers because they like to maintain tight control of their personal information (Dyer par. 8).
Their complete opposites are the cliques, making up about 6% of social media users. Just like no-shows and newcomers, cliquers’ presence on social media is usually limited to one network, mainly Facebook. However, they participate actively by sharing photos and posting and commenting on status updates. Cliquers are usually known only within their smaller circle of friends and acquaintances, but they are quite influential within this circle (Dyer par. 9).
Finally, there are two groups of users who are present across several social media platforms where they actively create and engage with content. The more populated group, representing 19% of all users, has been labeled as mix-n-minglers. Apart from their regular day-to-day communication with their friends, mix-n-minglers use social media to learn the latest news and to follow influential people and brands.
When communicating online, mix-n-minglers both maintain old relationships and create new ones with other active users (Dyer par. 10). Sparks, the rarest group of users, representing only about 3% of total users, are just very active mix-n-minglers. For sparks, social media is another tool for self-expression: rather than merely following others, they actively create content and become the ones who are followed (Dyer par. 11). They do not just listen to online conversations – they shape them.
Classification based on participation and exposure is important because, as research indicates, it can also reveal additional information about the personality characteristics of users in each category. On-lookers, mix-n-minglers, and sparks are more likely to be teenagers and young adults, as Millennials (those born in the 1990s and later) grew up in the digital era and are thus considered “digital natives” (Correa, Hinsley, and Zúñiga 252).
For them, social media is part of their entire life experience, while “digital immigrants”, or those in their 40s and older, see it as a change to which they need to adapt (Correa, Hinsley, and Zúñiga 252). Elderly people and adults thus mostly fall in the categories of no-shows and newcomers. Apart from age differences, this classification also reveals different lifestyle choices and personality traits: the more actively people participate in social media, the more extraverted and open to new experiences they tend to be (Correa, Hinsley, and Zúñiga 252).
This classification thus provides many insights for anyone interested in understanding how people use and engage with social media. Most importantly, it can help marketing and advertising professionals reach out to their potential customers by placing advertisements on platforms they frequently visit and by adjusting the content to this specific group. For similar reasons, it also serves as an important networking and political campaigning tool. Therefore, those who would like to use social media for professional purposes should consider the kind of users they are looking to engage – no-shows, newcomers, onlookers, cliquers, mix-n-minglers, or sparks – and then choose the appropriate platform and methods for doing so.
Correa, Teresa, Amber Willard Hinsley, and Homero Gil De Zúñiga. “Who Interacts on the Web?: The Intersection of Users’ Personality and Social Media Use.” Computers in Human Behavior 26.2 (2010): 247-53. Web.
Dyer, Pam. “The 6 Types Of Social Media Users.” Social Media Today. 2012. Web.
Evans, Dave. Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day. Indianapolis, Indiana: John Wiley & Sons, 2012. Web.
Loechner, Jack. “65% Of All American Adults Using Social Media.” MediaPost. 2015. MediaPost Communications. Web.