What can uses and gratifications theory tell us about social media?

This is a learning module for the class Contemporary Social / Mass Media Theory taught at Purdue University bySorin Adam Matei

Of the couple dozen theories that aim to explain how mass media impact society, how many of them are still valid today, when mass media is slowly metamorphosizing into social media? Or, in other words,  if there has been a shift from one-to-many, to many-to-many communication systems, have the theories  that explained the former, such as media dependency, agenda setting, or knowledge gap, still applicable to the latter? The course from Mass Media to Social Media, which I teach at Purdue University scrutinizes this problem in great detail.

This article is part of a series of reading and discussion resources dedicated to this course. Please explore the links below and join our conversation by commenting below or by referencing the readings and the ideas in your future papers.

Uses and Gratification Theory Assumptions

Uses and gratification is often seen in counterpart to the more deterministic media theories, which assume that media have, qua media, certain effects. In other words, it qualifies or event overcomes the difficulties involved in the claims that mere media exposure leads to certain behaviors, sometimes without a user’s conscious control. Uses and gratifications theory proposes that users/media consumers are actively choosing specific media content according to their needs. If there are any effects, these are consciously or at least actionaly intended. However, uses and gratification theory can be seen to operate at two levels of abstraction and complexity. At one level U&G theory can be seen as a giant mosaic, made of pieces that the researcher can combine according to his or her needs and imagination. At the other, it can be seen as a puzzle, where the bewildering complexity of the pieces that make the media use tableau can only fit together in a given way. The first understanding is more prevalent, while the second is the more theortically grounded.

Blumler and Katz, who formulated some of the earliest conceptualizations of the U&G theory, take a non-prescriptive and non-predictive perspective on media effects. They postulate that individuals mix and match uses with goals, according to specific context, needs, social backgrounds and so on. Thus, individuals are seen as active participants in the media consumption process. According to Derek Lane “uses and gratification theory suggests that media users play an active role in choosing and using the media.  Users take an active part in the communication process and are goal oriented in their media use.  The theorist say that a media user seeks out a media source that best fulfills the needs of the user.  Uses and gratifications assume that the user has alternate choices to satisfy their need.”

Yet, these statements reduce the theory to its bare essentials. The more important nuance introduced in the theoretical conversation by Katz in some of the later specifications of the theory, is that uses and gratifications are both connected to a set of human needs, which are by necessity limited in number.  These are Lasswellian communication needs, having to do with orientation, understanding, or passing on the tradition or store of knowledge of a community. The explanatory power of the theory emerges only when accepting the postulate that given certain needs, only some media will be able to satisfy needs. Gratification can thus be predicted with some degree of certainty if we know what needs are served by what specific media characteristics. The connection between media characteristics and need satisfaction is also directive and to a certain extent necessary. Not all needs can be satisfied by just any medium. Furthermore, the chain of effects linkage need->media->gratification is moderated at times by context of use.

Uses and gratifications core concepts


Katz, Elihu, Blumler, Jay G., Gurevitch, Michael, Public Opinion Quarterly; Winter73-Winter74, Vol. 37 Issue 4, p509, 15p

Interest in the gratifications that media provide their audiences goes back to the beginning of empirical mass communication research. The last few years have witnessed something of a revival of direct empirical investigations of audience uses and gratifications, not only in the United States but also in Britain, Sweden, Finland, Japan and Israel. These more recent studies have a number of differing starting points, but each attempts to press toward a greater systematization of what is involved in conducting research in this field. Each major piece of uses and gratifications research has yielded its own classification scheme of audience functions. When placed side by side, they reveal a mixture of shared gratification categories and notions peculiar to individual research teams. The differences are due in part to the fact that investigators have focused on different levels of study (e.g., medium or content) and different materials (e.g., different programs or program types on, say, television) in different cultures. Instead of depicting the media as severely circumscribed by audience expectations, the uses and gratifications approach highlights the audience as a source of challenge to producers to cater more richly to the multiplicity of requirements and roles that it has disclosed.

Social and Psychological Origins of Media Use: A Lifestyle Analysis, Donohew, Lewis; Palmgreen, Philip; Rayburn II, J. D.; Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media; Summer87, Vol. 31 Issue 3, p255-278, 24p, 2 Charts

This study examined how social and psychological factors, including the need for activation, interact to produce different lifestyles and patterns of media use. The research identified four lifestyle types whose members differed significantly on a broad range of variables, including newspaper and newsmagazine readership, and gratifications sought from cable television. Persons with a high need for activation had lifestyles involving greater exposure to media sources of public affairs information than those with a lower need for activation and less cosmopolitan lifestyles. Results suggest that the roots of media use are far deeper than previously believed.


Ruggiero, T. E. (2000). Uses and Gratifications Theory in the 21st Century. Mass Communication and Society, 3(1), 3–37. doi:10.1207/S15327825MCS0301_02
Some mass communications scholars have contended that uses and gratifications is not a rigorous social science theory. In this article, I argue just the opposite, and any attempt to speculate on the future direction of mass communication theory must seriously include the uses and gratifications approach. In this article, I assert that the emergence of computer-mediated communication has revived the significance of use and gratifications. In fact, uses and gratifications has always provided a cutting-edge theoretical approach in the initial stages of each new mass communications medium: newspapers, radio and television, and now the Internet. Although scientists are likely to continue using traditional tools and typologies to answer questions about media use, we must also be prepared to expand our current theoretical models of uses and gratifications. Contemporary and future models must include concepts such as interactivity, demassification, hypertextuality, and asynchroneity. Researchers must also be willing to explore interpersonal and qualitative aspects of mediated communication in a more holistic methodology.

Human Communication Research, Volume 3 Issue 3, Pages 214 – 221

Four conceptual problems require resolution if the uses and gratifications approach to mass communication studies is to be maximally productive: a vague conceptual framework; lack of precision in major concepts; a confused explanatory apparatus; and failure to view perception as an active process. Consideration of the current state of the uses and gratifications approach suggests the need for conceptual analysis if the approach is to unambiguously inform the research enterprise.

A Social Cognitive Theory of Internet Uses and Gratifications: Toward a New Model of Media Attendance
Authors: Robert LaRose; Matthew S. Eastin
DOI: 10.1207/s15506878jobem4803_2
Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, Volume 48, Issue 3 October 2004 , pages 358 – 377

Recent research explaining Internet usage has both extended and challenged the uses and gratifications approach to understanding media attendance by discovering “new” gratifications and introducing powerful new explanatory variables. The present research integrates these developments into a theory of media attendance within the framework of Bandura’s (1 986) Social Cognitive Theory. Respondents from 2 Midwestern states were recruited by mail to complete an online questionnaire. Structural equation modeling techniques were used to test a.new model of media attendance in which active consideration of Internet uses and gratifications, moderated by Internet self-efficacy, joins habitual behavior and deficient self-regulation as determinants of media behavior. The model explained 42% of the variance in Internet usage.

Key assumption: “Where uses and gratification researchers have explored gratifications, SCT proposes expected outcomes and where uses and gratifications researchers posit needs, SCT proposes behavioral incentives.”

Guosong Shao, (2009) “Understanding the appeal of user-generated media: a uses and gratification perspective”, Internet Research, Vol. 19 Iss: 1, pp.7 – 25

This paper argues that individuals take with UGM in different ways for different purposes: they consume contents for fulfilling their information, entertainment, and mood management needs; they participate through interacting with the content as well as with other users for enhancing social connections and virtual communities; and they produce their own contents for self-expression and self-actualization. These three usages are separate analytically but interdependent in reality. This paper proposes a model to describe such interdependence. Furthermore, it argues that two usability attributes of UGM, “easy to use” and “let users control,” enable people to perform the aforementioned activities efficiently so that people can derive greater gratification from their UGM use.

Staying connected while on the move: Cell phone use and social connectedness
Ran Wei University of South Carolina, USA, ran.wei@sc.edu
Ven-Hwei Lo National Chengchi University, Taiwan, loven@nccu.edu.tw
doi: 10.1177/1461444806059870 New Media Society February 2006 vol. 8 no. 1 53-72

As people integrate use of the cell phone into their lives, do they view it as just an update of the fixed telephone or assign it special values? This study explores that question in the framework of gratifications sought and their relationship both to differential cell phone use and to social connectedness. Based on a survey of Taiwanese college students, we found that the cell phone supplements the fixed telephone as a means of strengthening users’ family bonds, expanding their psychological neighborhoods, and facilitating symbolic proximity to the people they call. Thus, the cell phone has evolved from a luxury for businesspeople into an important facilitator of many users’ social relationships. For the poorly connected socially, the cell phone offers a unique advantage: it confers instant membership in a community. Finally, gender was found to mediate how users exploit the cell phone to maintain social ties.

Sorin Adam Matei

Sorin Adam Matei - Professor of Communication at Purdue University - studies the relationship between information technology and social groups. He published papers and articles in Journal of Communication, Communication Research, Information Society, and Foreign Policy. He is the author or co-editor of several books. The most recent is Structural differentation in social media. He also co-edited Ethical Reasoning in Big Data,Transparency in social media and Roles, Trust, and Reputation in Social Media Knowledge Markets: Theory and Methods (Computational Social Sciences) , all three the product of the NSF funded KredibleNet project. Dr. Matei's teaching portfolio includes online interaction, and online community analytics and development classes. His teaching makes use of a number of software platforms he has codeveloped, such as Visible Effort . Dr. Matei is also known for his media work. He is a former BBC World Service journalist whose contributions have been published in Esquire and several leading Romanian newspapers. In Romania, he is known for his books Boierii Mintii (The Mind Boyars), Idolii forului (Idols of the forum), and Idei de schimb (Spare ideas).

22 thoughts on “What can uses and gratifications theory tell us about social media?

  • September 8, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    An interesting part of Uses and Gratifications theory is the emphasis on the human being as a (seemingly) rational and active self-aware entity (Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch 1975:511), and I am thrilled to see this theory as being the very opposite to the Hypodermic Needle Theory. It is an important departure from the notion that the media is in complete control of its mass messages which are then relayed onto a docile audience. It is also important in the sense that the theory allows for more human agency rather than portraying the mass media as being an all-encompassing, all-knowing behemoth with abilities resembling the Panopticon, delimiting human agency and disciplining the very soul of human beings (Foucault 1975). Lastly, the theory urges us to look deeper into the very nature of human beings by exploring the many facets of the needs to “be connected” socially and psychologically through communication (Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch 1975: 513).

    The fact that such an important aspect was theoretically discussed this far back startles me. Plus the posed research question that we ought to study human needs in order to determine how much the media do or do not contribute to their creation and satisfaction (ibid. 1975:521) reigns important as ever, especially when looking at the many channels of social media through which we consume, participate, produce, and reproduce in real-time. Control is apparently now in the hands of the users of these new media. This raises the question: with this increase in human agency and control, are mass media messages potentially less effective when percolated onto so many social platforms? And in continuance: Do these messages explicitly have to appeal to social and/or psychological human needs (or entertainment cf. Shao 2010:11) in order to have an effect on individuals?

    I think these questions raise an important caveat when researching and using U&G theory. It seems to “grant” too much agency to human beings, and furthermore, I’m missing the power aspect of this theory when looking at relations between human beings and mass media. This is especially evident in Shao’s (2010) article, stating human beings basically use social media to fulfill needs. As I stated at the beginning of this discussion, human actors are granted much more agency, which is very positive! However, I think research on U&G theory would benefit from being more critical by trying to identify power relations between mass media and human beings (users). I would like to end this point by posing the question: If social media is that based on user needs and gratification, and seemingly has its own and indeed sustainable “ecology of control”, (re)created by the users, do we even need mass media? Or perhaps more importantly, should mass media now be called social media?

    Foucault, Michel (1975). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, 2nd ed. Vintage 1995.

    Guosong Shao, (2009) “Understanding the appeal of user-generated media: a uses and gratification perspective”, Internet Research, Vol. 19 Iss: 1, pp.7 – 25

    Katz, Elihu, Blumler, Jay G., Gurevitch, Michael (1975). Uses and Gratifications Research. Public Opinion Quarterly; Winter73-Winter74, Vol. 37 Issue 4, p509, 15p

    • September 12, 2012 at 4:16 pm

      Excellent points. Three questions: Can a needs based theory slip into behaviorism? Is U&G behaviorist? When you talk about power relations, are you also talking about “false needs,” created by media, to which then media steps in to fill?

  • September 9, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    UG Theory is actually my favourite media theory because I believe that many people, if not indeed most, do respond to media based on how they want to consume, participate, or produce content, as stated by Shao.(2009) Shao’s paper in particular resonates very strongly with me, as I believe with the proliferation of UGM, content on the Internet has become very rich (but not necessarily truly creative…) exactly due to the reasons of UG Theory and how it appeals to users of UGM. But at the same time, users are not critical about how they use media, and as such there is an interesting juxtaposition on how although UG is an “empowering” sort of theory, people simply are not empowering themselves.

    I agree that with the proliferation of social media, media content has the potential to become much more varied. Social media flattens the media hierachy; everyone is now a potential producer of content. As Shao describes, UGM such as Youtube makes it very easy to publish content.

    Not only that, the content has the ability to reach very far, With the internet, the reach of the individual is multiplied many times over, and with social media, this reach becomes even more extensive as retweets, shares and repins enable content to be spread rapidly within the same network.

    So with the flattening of the hierarchy, multiplied with the potential spread, the content that we see on the internet should theoretically be multitudinous and extremely varied. But for many typical users of social media, this is actually not the case!

    For most users, they tend to create for themselves a social media echo chamber. Facebook and other social networking sites are an excellent example of how these echo chambers work. Facebook’s algorithm adjusts the posts you see on your home feed to be from friends you interact with the most. These friends are likely people with whom you share a common background. Their views on certain issues are likely to be similar with yours. Your opinions reinforce each others’. Google too bases its results on your past searches and previous behaviours. Twitter also recommends new people to follow based on who you already follow and your own interests. As such, you tend to create for yourself a little social media bubble where people have very similar opinions and interests to you.

    Another big issue that has come up recently is that instead of creating brand new content, users tend to focus on content curation instead, which again reinforces the echo chamber as similar content comes up again and again as it is shared on social media via shares, retweets and repins. One only needs to look on Pinterest to see this in action as the same pin shows up repeatedly across the same page. Another example of this phenomenon are memes – which does lead to some interesting thoughts of how the echo chamber can sometimes extend far beyond our chosen social circles.

    So critically, people who realise this should attempt to break out of these little bubbles. But the truth is, many choose to stay within it instead! (See: blog circles, social media “gurus” who follow each other, interest circles, etc)

    So perhaps that brings us back to the question, does this mean for many, media consumption is still a “pastime rather than purposeful activity”? (Bogart, 1965)

    Personally I think that the Echo Chamber is merely an extension of the UG Theory. These Social Media users have actively chosen to stay within the echo chamber, because it does fulfill some form of psychological motivation and need, such as affirmation and reinforcement of certain values, (Dembo, 1972) and for enhancing social connections (Shao, 2009). Although we have chosen to be within our social bubble, it is still an active process – we are still deriving different sorts of gratification from the way we are choosing to use our social networks, UGM, and the Internet in general.

    What do you think…? Is the Echo Chamber proof we’re still not actively consuming/processing media?

    Bogart, L. 1965. The mass media and the blue-collar worker. In Blue-collar world: studies of the American worker, eds. A. Bennett and W. Gomberg. New Jersey, Prentice-Hall.

    Dembo, R. 1972. Life style and media use among English working-class youths. Gazette 18.

    Guosong Shao. 2009. Understanding the appeal of user-generated media: a uses and gratification perspective, Internet Research, Vol. 19 Iss: 1, pp.7 – 25

    Katz, E., Blumler, J.G., Gurevitch, M. 1975. Uses and Gratifications Research. Public Opinion Quarterly; Winter73-Winter74, Vol. 37 Issue 4, p509, 15p

    Prof, the following for your eyes only, would appreciate it you could delete from comment if you choose to publish:

    Prof, I was under the impression that the 5 comments required on your blog are due anytime before the end of the semester and as such did not comment on the first three modules. The syllabus also says rolling, and there is no indicator of timing. I noticed last week you mentioned that you did the first grading of comments which included “absent”. is there then a schedule for these comments? If so, what is the schedule for the rest of the term, and is there a way I can make up for my missing comment? I apologise for the inconvenience. Thank you.

    • September 12, 2012 at 4:25 pm

      As I am reading this I see a number of possible side questions. Can you explain in a few words the relationship between U&G theory and interactivity as presented in Shao? Where does it fit in the diagram presented above? Specifically, what needs does UGM gratify?

      Also, can you expand on this idea “content on the Internet has become very rich (but not necessarily truly creative…) exactly due to the reasons of UG Theory and how it appeals to users of UGM.” What do you mean?

      Finally, can you also explain this idea in terms of its relevance for U&G theory “So perhaps that brings us back to the question, does this mean for many, media consumption is still a “pastime rather than purposeful activity”?

  • September 9, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    As mentioned in the study by Elihu Katz, Jay G. Blumler, and Michael Gurevitch, “media researchers ought to be studying human needs to discover how much the media do or do not contribute to their creation and satisfaction.” and “it is their job to clarify the extent to which certain kinds of media and content favor certain kinds of use.” The second part might be easier to prove since the content is more fixed that media has a “grammar”. The finding of the Uses and Gratification Research is that certain bodies of content serve certain functions or that one medium is deemed better at satisfying certain needs than another. While we can really see a media and distinguish one kind of media from another, it is meaning for us to categorize media by their different attributes and see how it works. But when facing the needs of human, the idea of human is much more a thing that forever mysterious.

    “Persons have poor comprehension both of the causes of their choices and of the ends these choices serve”, stated by Zillmann and Bryant(1985). How can we really seek the idea or the reason of selection in one’s mind when even the person who owns it doesn’t know it? Maybe we can try to work backwards, from gratification to needs, while the gratification, the real effect of media, is actually there, but only when needs is before the gratification as a source. The question generated is that which one is generated first, needs or gratification? In my opinion, needs before the gratification is not a whole story. Schramm Lyle, and Parker said that the term “effect” is misleading because it is the children who use television rather than television that uses them. I agree that the children are the one who make the choice, but why not a television has an effect on them? Why cannot a child open a television without any needs and then be attracted by the program and find out his needs inside him? People do not always do rational things and do everything with a clear idea, and that’s why people can always find new stimulates. This behavior without thinking might be from a potential need for arousal, but different since it is unconscious. But I believe that if we can admit the effect of media, and treat the gratification as a source and the needs as an effect or result, which opposite to the uses and gratification, we might be able to find more about human needs.

    • September 12, 2012 at 11:23 am

      I think Di XIE’s comment raises a very important question. To add to this question, by reversing and thereby treating needs as an effect or result, we would open up for treating the media as an agent that could impose structures on other agents such as human beings.

      Think about the power of advertising. If they are succesfully able to create a need, which is so fundamental to human action and motivation, they would i.e. have much more power than U&G Theory suggests and we would then have to look at reciprocity and power relations between different media and humans and their interactions in order to see whether we have the capabilities and agency as human beings to “weed out” the needs from the non-needs.

      This leads to a provocative question: as we are constantly exposed to new media in our everyday lives, and if we assume these to have an influence on our needs, are we getting closer to a state where our needs are fundamentally becoming less and less our own, but instead, mediated and mass-produced by media?

      • September 13, 2012 at 10:20 am

        So, in another word, the question becomes where the needs come from. For example, a new baby might just has a need for milk, but 20 years later, this baby will become a perfect grown-up with his own dream. Where is this dream, also can be called needs, come from? From an idol in childhood? From the expectation of parents? Or from the political situation, economical education, or any other sources? The only thing I can sure is that the generation of one’s needs is not totally by one’s own, but be influenced by all kinds of sources. So, to put this further, I think the question now is that how media participate in this generation of needs and whether the growing social media begins to participate more.

    • September 12, 2012 at 5:21 pm

      The statement that people can be drawn to gratifications they have no needs for is very astute. I like it. I would’ve focused completely on it and I the future I suggest that you focus on similar strong ideas and discuss them in a very focused way. Good job.

  • September 13, 2013 at 1:09 am

    While our class just studied the Hypodermic Needle Theory and Two-Step Flow, Uses and Gratifications Theory decidedly shifts the focus of our class discussions from the producers to the consumers. In this comment, I would specifically like to expand on the idea of shifting to the user, as well as explore the implications for social media. In this regard of examining U&G, rather than looking solely at the effects of the medium and message of the sender, we consider the uses and gratifications of the recipients. Katz, Blumler, and Gurevitch (1973) specifically note that “our position is that media researchers ought to be studying human needs to discover how much the media do or do not contribute to their creation and satisfaction.” While this concept is not new (this multiplicity of human needs is conceptually present in many places from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to Wilson’s multiple goal theory of interpersonal communication), it is a new direction for us in this class.
    In line with this thinking, Donohew, Palmgreen, and Rayburn (1987) explored whether different lifestyles were predictive of uses, and indeed they were. I felt at times that this piece edged close to conflating correlation with causation; however, the findings were very intriguing. At the heart of their study were intrinsic motivations in individuals like need for arousal or activation. According to their thinking, these base motivations led to values which then prompted lifestyles which then were predictive of media uses.
    As I read Donohew et al., I couldn’t help but wonder about shifting values. What I mean by this is: we intuitively know that values shift. I have a teenage daughter, so I can attest to this. So what drives value shifts in people? The article’s assumptions are that values are based on more fundamental urges … which are seemingly assumed to be stable factors. But what if they are not stable, but rather are influenced by things like the media. If this is true, then the whole system is much more dynamic and complex. In this case, uses and gratifications dynamically interact with the media.
    Swanson (1977) discusses something very similar when noting that one fault of Uses and Gratifications Theory is that it does not address perception as an active process. Swanson specifically notes and posits that mass media ultimately can be described as “created by audience members in the active organizing and interpreting process of perception.”
    I believe this is an important sentiment for us as we consider the transition from mass to social media. Not only must our gaze shift from a one-to-many to a many-to-many paradigm, but we must also consider the complex and dynamic relationship each individual has in concert with the media itself.

    Donohew, L., Palmgreen, P., & Rayburn II, J. D. (1987). Social and Psychological Origins of Media Use: A Lifestyle Analysis. Journal Of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 31(3), 255-278.

    Katz, E., Blumler, J. G., & Gurevitch, M. (1973). Uses and Gratifications Research. Public Opinion Quarterly, 37(4), 509.

    Swanson, D. L. (1977), The Uses and Misuses of Uses and Gratifications. Human Communication Research, 3: 214–221. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2958.1977.tb00519.x

  • September 13, 2013 at 10:54 am

    I found the Swanson (2006) article about the uses and misuses of uses and gratifications theory to be an interesting lens through which to view the rest of the articles in this unit. In particular, Swanson’s argument that uses and gratifications theory suffers from a vague conceptual framework and a lack of precision in major concepts seems to be reflected in several of the readings. However, while I can see where Swanson is coming from, the other articles seem to suggest that his ideas are not widely accepted, and that it might be impossible to achieve the kind of precision and clarity he hopes for in defining uses and gratifications theory.

    Swanson (2006) claims that most uses and gratifications studies have used one of three frameworks, but that these frameworks are contradictory. From a functional framework, uses and gratifications fulfill functions of a personal system. From a structural/cultural framework, uses and gratifications are affected by cultural patterns. And from an action/motivation framework, uses and gratifications are unpredictable and vary by situation. However, additional articles attempt to impose even more frameworks onto uses and gratifications theory, including activation theory (Donahew, Palmgreen, & Rayburn, 1987) and social cognitive theory (LaRose & Eastin, 2004). These articles also vary in their definitions of concepts like “need” and “gratification.” For example, through their use of social cognitive theory, LaRose & Eastin (2004) clearly define “needs” as “behavioral incentives” and “gratifications” as “expected outcomes.” This differs substantially from some of the other articles that use more widely accepted definitions of uses and gratifications.

    This wide variety of approaches makes it clear that Swanson’s hopes for uses and gratification theory would be difficult to achieve. However, while he sees this as a weakness of the theory, I see it as more of a strength. One of the most important aspects of uses and gratifications theory seems to be its versatility in a variety of contexts. It can be used to study a variety of media (i.e. TV, Internet, mobile phones), but it can also be approached in a variety of ways in conjunction with a variety of outside theoretical perspectives. Establishing one clear framework and one clear definition for each concept might make it easier for uses and gratifications researchers to communicate with each other, but it also might severely limit the possibilities for uses and gratifications research and downplay the complexities of media use. Perhaps studies like those conducted by Donahew et al. and LaRose & Eastin would not be as rich, or even possible, if Swanson’s ideas were to be widely accepted.


    Swanson, D. L. (1977). The uses and misuses of uses and gratification. Human Communication Research, 3, 214-221.

    Donahew, L., Palmgreen, P., & Rayburn, J. D. (1987). Social and psychological origins of media use: A lifestyle analysis. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 3, 255-278.

    LaRose, R., & Eastin, M. S. (2004). A social cognitive theory of Internet uses and gratifications: Toward a new model of media attendance. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 48, 358-377.

  • September 14, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    What can uses and gratification theory tell us about Social Media?

    With the advent of Social Media we have an environment very similar to those predicted by Weaver (1993) and Ha & James (1998), wherein there are a plethora of niches and sources for information on highly specialized material generated by users which range in tone from exceedingly familiar to professional (Ruggiero, 2000). Within that variety I think we have a wide assortment of perspectives to approach the use of U&G Theory in evaluating Social Media. While Shao (2009) indicates that there is a lack of empirical evidence to support an exploration of U&G from the socio-demographic perspective, Ruggiero (2000) argues that lower socioeconomic status, isolation and stressors can create a high attachment to media. In accordance with Ruggiero, I think Social Media is an exceptional example of demassification, asychroneity and interactivity – all of which pertain to individual control over media. I believe U&G tells us Social Media was born out of user’s need for control over how, when and which gratifications are achieved. As such, I think U&G, in conjunction with other relevant theories, including Mood Management Theory and Utility theory, could serve as an excellent basis for Social Media research and tell us a great deal about the forces behind our choices in level and type of interactivity with Social Media (Shao, 2009).

    Do we need mass media given that Social Media is based on U&G and has sustainable “ecology and control”? (Bjorn)

    I believe Mass Media is needed given the self-sustaining nature of Social Media and its basis in U&G. As with many other sources of stimuli, use of Social Media and accomplishment of gratification may be impacted by self-efficacy and the idea that Social Media is all inclusive may be a bit pre-emptive (La Rose & Eastin, 2004). Some users with low arousal need may also feel less fulfilled if they are forced into a more interactive scenario than what is required to bring them pleasure (Donahew et all, 1987). On a personal level, I use what would be designated as Mass Media if I feel the need for validation of information gathered via Social Media, and I choose Mass Media sources based on what I have been told at home and in school are trustworthy sources. That also relates back to my need to self-identify as an academic or intellectual.

    Is U&G a behaviorist theory? (Matei)

    I think Hypodermic Needle Theory was much more aligned with the Behaviorist perspective, in that the user would just exhibit behavior based on media influence without conscious choice. I feel DiXie’s comment on seeking need through evaluation of gratifications leans toward a behaviorist perspective and perhaps a potentially strengthening evolution to current U&G methods. However, U&G Theory does not currently comply with strict behaviorist standards. It relies heavily on designated typologies and self-reported needs that should be gratified, while behaviorism discounts these conscious reflections and bases results on observable behavior despite personality. This difference is also identified as a weakness in the theory in the readings, based on self-identified need as misinterpreted (Swanson, 1977).

    I am torn as to whether I agree that research under this theory should shift down a path that I think may de-emphasize human agency a great deal. I struggle to imagine that the hypothetical child approaches the TV with a total lack of need; the need may be as simple as the need to connect with his environment which leads him to the TV in the room, then perhaps the program inspires additional needs. I can, however, see the empirical strength in working backwards toward a need to alleviate the weaknesses of the variance in typologies and self-reported needs.

    Donahew, L., Palmgreen, P., & Rayburn, J. D. (1987). Social and psychological origins of media use: A lifestyle analysis. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 3, 255-278. http://web.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.lib.purdue.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=a58a25f6-d6b9-4f28-bb4a-1ce6b9f82c34%40sessionmgr113&vid=1&hid=112

    LaRose, R., & Eastin, M. S. (2004). A social cognitive theory of Internet uses and gratifications: Toward a new model of media attendance. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 48, 358-377. http://www.tandfonline.com.ezproxy.lib.purdue.edu/doi/pdf/10.1207/s15506878jobem4803_2

    Ruggiero, T. E. (2000). Uses and Gratifications Theory in the 21st Century. Mass Communication and Society, 3(1), 3–37. doi:10.1207/S15327825MCS0301_02

    Guosong Shao, (2009) “Understanding the appeal of user-generated media: a uses and gratification perspective”, Internet Research, Vol. 19 Iss: 1, pp.7 – 25

    Swanson, D. L. (1977). The uses and misuses of uses and gratification. Human Communication Research, 3, 214-221. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.ezproxy.lib.purdue.edu/doi/10.1111/j.1468-2958.1977.tb00519.x/pdf

    • September 15, 2014 at 3:18 pm

      Superb weaving of theoretical concerns within a broader framework. This is the type of well considered, well thought out commentary that we need. If you answer specific questions, address them individually to each comment by hitting reply…

  • September 14, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    In 1960 it was said that the media served four primary functions: surveillance, correlation, entertainment, and cultural transmission. (Wright, 1960) A decade later, these uses were broken down further. “To match one’s wit against others, to get information and advice for daily living, to provide a framework for one’s day, to prepare oneself culturally for the demands of upward mobility, or to be reassured about the dignity and usefulness of one’s role.” (Katz, Blumler, Gurevitch, 1974, p. 20) Although technology has advanced drastically since these initial observations about Uses and Gratifications Theory, I believe that they still apply today, specifically to social media.
    According to a 1983 study (Donohew, Palmgreen, Rayburn) which examined 376 cable subscribers use of media, individuals can be separated in to four main groups: disengaged homemaker, outgoing activist, restrained activist, and working class climber. Although these groups may now be referred to in different terms (i.e. stay-at-home-mom), they still exist today. Just as each group utilized cable television differently in 1983, so social media use differs among individuals.
    In modern times, the so-called “disengaged homemakers” would be most likely to join an online game like Second Life in order to socialize and receive outside stimuli during their boring days home alone. They would also most certainly fit in to the “participator” group of UGM. (Shao, 2009) Another “participator” in user-generated media would be the “working class climber” group. These individuals would likely leave strongly-worded comments on everything from YouTube videos to Facebook statuses, but never produce anything original. Of the four groups, the producers would be outgoing activists. These men and women would write blogs, design websites, and produce clips on YouTube to promote their views. Lastly are the restrained activists, the consumers. These people would likely follow political blogs, watch videos, and read articles, all the time absorbing information, but without a trace.
    Although technology has advanced and radio stations have evolved in to YouTube channels, the Uses and Gratifications Theory remains relevant. The most significant difference between the theory now and 50 years ago is that there are more options. “As new technologies present people with more and more media choices, motivation and satisfaction become even more crucial.”(Ruggiero, 2000, p. 14.) In other words, to be successful, sites must ask very little of their users while gratifying them elaborately. (Shao, 2009)

    Katz, E., Blumler, J. G., & Gurevitch, M. (1974). Uses and Gratifications Research. Public Opinion Quarterly, 37(4).
    Donohew, L., Palmgreen, P., & Rayburn, J. D. (1987). Social and psychological origins of media use: a lifestyle analysis.Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 31(3), 255-278.
    Ruggiero, T. E. (2000). Uses and Gratifications Theory in the 21st century. Mass Communication and Society, 3(1).
    Guosong Shao, (2009) “Understanding the appeal of user-generated media: a uses and gratification perspective”, Internet Research, Vol. 19 Iss: 1, pp.7 – 25

  • September 15, 2014 at 10:40 am

    If Katz, Blumler, and Gurevitch (1975) are correct in their conclusion that U&G “highlights the audience as a source of challenge to producers to cater more richly to the multiplicity of requirements and roles that it has disclosed,” then wouldn’t social media—with its multiplicity of users, roles, and requirements—be responding to this call, and therefore validating the importance of U&G?

    When the original media consumer also becomes a participant and producer (Shao 2009), she is not dependent on a massive, detached industry to intuit and meet her individual needs—she can create or interact with the media best suited to gratify her needs. Then, theoretically, the social media landscape should reflect the needs of its audience/participants in a way that original mass media never could. For researchers such as Katz and Donohew et al., social media platforms would be an incredibly fertile research area showcasing the direct uses and gratifications of its participants.

    Shao’s (2009) diagram is a helpful visualization. He draws out the various interrelationships between user consumption, participation, and production and demonstrates how they reinforce each other, leading to more specific/refined uses and gratifications. Shao also demonstrates how social media is easy to use and easy to control—allowing for greater manipulation in “use” and therefore greater gratification as a result.

    In addition to social media intensifying, refining, and representing user needs and gratifications, it also makes available much of the other information necessary for U&G analysis. As Donohew et al. identified the need to analyze different lifestyles of media consumers because “media needs have rarely been visualized as springing from a combination of multiple and interacting circumstances” (1979, p. 258), social media displays the demographic information needed for a contextual analysis of its users. It also tracks and makes public consumer behavior, social interactions and many other influencing factors. In sum, many of the “multiple and interacting circumstances” are captured online—ripe for analysis.

    Though Swanson describes many of the confusions or shortcomings within the body of U&G research, I believe social media U&G analysis may lead to the clarification of some of his concerns. Many of the complex contextual factors can be more easily quantified and tracked online. Scholars are no longer largely dependent on participant perspectives, they can track participants’ media usage as they consume, publish, and self-disclose online. Though there should be increasing clarity in the theoretical frameworks and concepts of U&G, I believe the age of social media is an extremely relevant era for this sort of research. Furthermore, as the online population continues to grow, discovering how people use media and why may tell us much about our increasingly technological society.

    Donohew, L., Palmgreen, P., & Rayburn, J. D. (1987). Social and psychological origins of media use: A lifestyle analysis. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 3, 255-278.

    Katz, E., Blumler, J.G., Gurevitch, M. (1975). Uses and Gratifications Research. Public Opinion Quarterly; Winter73-Winter74, Vol. 37 Issue 4, p509, 15p

    Shao, G. (2009) “Understanding the appeal of user-generated media: a uses and gratification perspective”, Internet Research, Vol. 19 Iss: 1, pp.7 – 25

    • September 15, 2014 at 3:24 pm

      Very insightful. One question. How does social media change the main critique addressed to UG research, namely, its descriptive bias?

  • September 15, 2014 at 11:16 am

    Uses and gratifications theory at its heart seeks to understand media audiences and why they use or view media as they do, and assumes that those audience members seek to fulfill one of their many needs through their interactions with media. While the articles this week sought to categorize those needs to explain how people use media, I agree with Katz, Gurevitch, and Haas (1973) that all of our uses/needs of media (i.e. cognitive, affective, tension release, etc.) stem from a central, overarching need as humans to connect with others and the world around us (as cited in Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch, 1973, p. 513).

    So, what can uses and gratifications theory tell us about social media?

    It may be a mistake to seemingly oversimplify these needs, but I hold to the fact that all of these different categories of needs, i.e. fit under the central umbrella of connecting – even disconnecting at times (Katz et al., 1973) – from the people and society around us. For example, at a holiday dinner when my family is driving me crazy, I may want to disconnect from them and get on Facebook or Twitter to see what my friends are up to. Yet, at other times such as while I’m at school, I want to chat with my family using social media to keep up with the happenings in their lives.

    UG theory offers a way to explain the proliferation of social media – why various social media outlets are so popular, why others have failed, etc. – but I don’t know that we can truly use this theory to explain social media use to the general public. Ruggiero (2000) posits that through demassification (p. 16), individuals pick and choose what content to consume, giving them a more personal interaction with media. If each individual has a unique, personal experience (something new media tries to accomplish), then how can we generalize those experiences? One person may be using Facebook to stay connected with old friends, while another uses it to find news, while others use it for those reasons and more; so their uses and gratifications can overlap or be wholly different. But, both of these uses could be explained as a need to connect; the first, to be connected to old friends, the second, to stay connected with society.

    Katz, E., Blumler, J. G., & Gurevitch, M. (1973). Uses and gratifications research. Public opinion quarterly, 509-523.

    Ruggiero, T. E. (2000). Uses and gratifications theory in the 21st century. Mass communication & society, 3(1), 3-37.

    • September 15, 2014 at 3:26 pm

      Right on the money… Question: in a sentence, what is Social Media for? I am not saying it’s not in your comment, but I would love to see it in one pithy, aphorism like sentence.

      • September 16, 2014 at 4:03 pm

        Connections. That’s the (pithy) word that comes to mind. Not exactly sure what you’re wanting here, and that’s only one word, not a sentence. So, it could be something like: Social media is about feeling connected to others.

        • September 17, 2014 at 1:50 pm

          Personally, I am not looking for the one good sentence, but for the most concise sentence. This is as good as any…

  • September 15, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    Uses and gratifications (U&G) theory has been developed from a socio-psychological communication perspective that explores how and why individual uses mass media (Ruggiero, 2009). The theoretical framework is based on the assumption that audience chooses media to achieve felt needs. These needs are represented as motives for using particular medium, and are connected to the social and psychological outcomes of the individual (Papacharissi & Mendelson, 2007). It can be explained as motivations as gratification sought and outcomes as gratification obtained. According to the early study (Palmgreen et al., 1980), however, they found that gratification sought does not always results in gratification obtained. Being in line with the result, I found approaches that focus on motivations (as gratification sought) of media uses and it has been applied to different types of media use. For example, Donohew et al. (1987)’s study -about origins of media use and a life style analysis- discussed gratification sought (GS) as behavioral orientations and motivations when people watch cable TV.

    Further, I would like to talk about modern applications of U&G approach. Due to the radical development of technologies that helps high Internet accessibility, people can access to the Internet and be connected with others anywhere and anytime using smartphone. U&G approach explains that an audience’s underlying needs motivates media use and the approach can identify the motives of diverse activities associated with smartphone use (Joo & Sang, 2013). The approach is based on assumptions: (a) audiences are active, (b) audiences make ‘motivated choices’ based on previous experience with the media use and (c) media is one of several ways to satisfy needs on daily life (Livaditi et al., 2003). I think media uses through smartphone would be different from the conventional media uses that have been discussed above. Smartphone users can exposure themselves to media contents without any motivated choices. They can be connected to the media with smartphones even because they want to spend a few minutes waiting for coffee at Starbucks. It may be explained by ‘Immediate access’ from Leung and Wei (2000)’s study about U&G gratifications and cellular phone. But, I think there are still lots of uncovered variables with media use and gratification approach with new technology.

    Donohew, L., Palmgreen, P., & Rayburn, J. D. (1987). Social and psychological origins of media use: A lifestyle analysis.

    Joo, J., & Sang, Y. (2013). Exploring Koreans’ smartphone usage: An integrated model of the technology acceptance model and uses and gratifications theory. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(6), 2512-2518.

    Leung, L.; Wei, R. (2000). “More than just talk on the move: A use-and-gratification study of the cellular phone”. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 77 (2): 308–320.

    Livaditi, J., Vassilopoulou, K., Lougos, C., & Chorianopoulos, K. (2003). Needs and gratifications for interactive TV applications: Implications for designers. In Proceedings of the 36th Hawaii international conference on system sciences.

    Palmgreen, P., Wenner, L. A., & Rayburn, J. D. (1980). Relations Between Gratifications Sought and Obtained A Study of Television News.Communication Research, 7(2), 161-192.

    Papacharissi, Z., & Mendelson, A. L. (2007). An exploratory study of reality appeal: Uses and gratifications of reality TV shows. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 51(2), 355-370.

    Ruggiero, T. E. (2000). Uses and gratifications theory in the 21st century. Mass communication & society, 3(1), 3-37.

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