What is the psychology behind our use of Twitter? Why does it work for its increasing millions of users?
I love the fact that there’s already a fair body of analysis already. John Grohol does a great initial post on the Psychology of Twitter and a follow-up Psychology of Twitter Part 2, that nicely summarises some other thoughts. I’m pleased to flag that my post here is one of those that applies the Psychology 101ish Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in a blunt way as an introduction. Moses Ma does a far more advanced analysis than me with Understanding the Psychology of Twitter and goes on to analyse More on the Psychology of Twitter, including neuroscience and psycholinguistics!
This is quite a functional post I’ve had in bits of draft for a month or so, and is a bit of a sledgehammer analysis I want to refine over time. The thing that’s nagged away, and eventually pushed me into pulling this together is because my tiny amount of knowledge about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs comes back to me whenever I see a comment from someone who ‘doesn’t get’ Twitter (or those of us who use it at varying levels of intensity, and wonder why)
It is a theory in psychology, proposed by Abraham Maslow in a 1943 paper. I’ve always liked it particularly in a work/management context as a really simple guide to assessing the needs of individuals I’ve been managing. I also like it because of how well challenged it is.
Looking at the layers in the diagram from bottom to top, the first four are known as deficiency needs. The top layer often referred to as the only real motive: the aesthetic need. The aim of realizing one’s own maximum potential and possibilities. It was originally argued that needs are fulfilled sequentially from bottom to top. Subsequently this has been challenged and embellished: particularly using the concept of the ‘starving artist’ who ignores deficiency needs for the aesthetic.
As a full set of human needs I think it works quite well. None obviously come to my mind that ‘modern society’ is causing to advance or mutate (again, one of the arguments against the theory). Quite simply, I think it can be used as a needs checklist to assess an individual’s status. I use the word status to deliberately not apply either the subjectivity or judgement of using the word ‘deficiency’, and to avoid presupposing that an individual wants a need fulfilled (the starving artist point)
So to Twitter.
Well, for whatever grand claims, your ‘Physiological’ and ‘Safety’status are unlikely to be directly impacted by Twitter (although I suppose any communication medium can aid relationship forming and the subsequent ‘physical’ side that could come with it…………..). Your ‘Safety’ status, particularly in relation to employment and resources, could be argued to be being increasingly impacted by Twitter as business and recruitment tools and self-branding methodologies are developed.
Without meaning the statement to be over sensationalist, or over-extending for the sake of a blog post, I think ‘Love/ Belonging’, ‘Esteem’ and ‘Self-actualization’ are facilitated by the nature of the tool itself (in terms of its ease of use, immediacy, 140 character limitations/ opportunities and multiple channels/ mediums): you don’t need to invest much to get a return if you have a need.
As best illustrated by two statements in the Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell book, Human Givens:
‘we cannot be mentally healthy if we’re isolated’ and ‘one human given is that we are social creatures and need connection to a group of people who accept us’,
whether you have a deficient need or not, Twitter breaks down the barriers. It opens up a global set of conversations. Whether you’re alone or engaging in a different conversation than the people surrounding you at that time, it enables a connection. Your perceptions of others and respect from others can shift tremendously with the right contribution: but globally. The boundary-less relationships speed up. As with many aspects of online life, preconceptions, limiting beliefs, filters, restricting values and predjudices can be effectively removed by the substance of someone’s contribution. This recognition or engagement in turn can drive self-esteem, confidence and sense of achievement.
Spontaneity and creativity of thought are massively facilitated if you choose to participate with any expectation of engagement/ popularity because your balance of contribution has to be the same as in any successful interaction within a social grouping: both personal and valuable. Mass morality has been let further off the leash via the rapid feedback and ‘wildfire’ nature of the tool. Social media loosened the collar and now live feed and interaction is taking participation around common human values to the next level.