How Does Social Media Impact Happiness?

Marketing professors will use grant to study why people use social media and how it impacts their well-being

Donna Hoffman and Tom Novak

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (—Two University of California, Riverside marketing professors have received a two-year grant for nearly $414,000 from the National Science Foundation to study why people use social media and how it impacts their happiness.

The research by Donna Hoffman and Tom Novak, both professors of marketing and co-directors of the Sloan Center for Internet Retailing at the School of Business Administration, could have wide-ranging implications for companies, which are increasingly focusing marketing and advertising dollars on social media.

“With social media invading our lives, we want to know why people are using it and implications of that, particularly with regard to people’s well-being and psychological health,” said Hoffman, the Albert O. Steffey professor of marketing.

In recent years, there has been a great deal of research focused on social media, but most studies have focused narrowly on reasons and motivations for using a particular type of social media. Hoffman and Novak aim to move beyond that to create a broad, conceptual framework that explains what drives social media use and how usage goals are related to a feeling of well-being.

The research will test a model of the relationship between goals people are seeking by using social media and their well-being. The model permits examination of many research questions, including whether certain social media goals render individuals more vulnerable to unhappiness.

For example, do unhappy individuals pursue social media goals in the hope of improving their lives? And, are these goals different than those pursued by individuals more satisfied with their lives?

The model allows researchers to build a common set of constructs and can increase the understanding of why people use social media, along with its benefits and consequences.

Those common constructs can be used by consumer psychologists and marketing professors to examine the relationship between social media goals and consumer response to marketing efforts in interactive media environments. Social psychologists and personality researchers can extend the framework to include other constructs to include social media goal pursuit and well-being. Computer information systems researchers can use the model to further understand how social media systems are impacted by individual differences.

The researchers expect to survey thousands of social media users. Many will come from their eLab, an online community of 5,000 people worldwide that complete surveys with a chance to win a cash prize. They will get the remainder of the participants from a national survey company.

Hoffman and Novak will be joined on the project by: Randy Stein, a postdoctoral scholar who arrived at UC Riverside in July after getting his Ph.D. at Yale University; Yuanrui “Bonnie” Li and Yun “Bill” Jie, two doctoral students in the School of Business Administration’s just established Ph.D. program; and two yet-to-be-recruited undergraduate students. Management of the grant will be based in Hoffman and Novak’s Sloan Center at UC Riverside.

The research is the latest project for Hoffman and Novak, pioneers in the field in studying marketing in online environments. Their work in this area dates back to the mid-1990s and has been recognized with numerous awards for laying foundations for future research.

Hoffman believes the model they plan to create in the coming years using the National Science Foundation grant could have a similar impact in the social media world.

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