Offline Behaviors Online

Why do people do what they do, online?

There are numerous motivations behind the behaviors people exhibit in participatory media. Many follow long-held concepts that scientists recognize as common among all nations. In a survey of national cultures, sociologists in the mid 20th century highlighted three key issues imposing consequences on the integrity of societies (Inkeles & Levinson, 1997, pp. 45-51): relation to authority, conception of self, primary dilemmas and conflicts, and ways of dealing with them. Building on that milestone in culture-personality literature, Geert Hofstede published a highly-praised study that identified the values of people dealing with common problems, covering more than 50 countries. Hofstede’s conclusions were strikingly similar (Hofstede, Hofstede, & Minkov, 2010, p. 30). I’ll review their central themes, as they relate to online behaviors.

Like itSocial Inequality – According to Hofstede, the way people perceive their relationship with authority affects their behaviors. Social media users are constantly interacting with and testing their perceptions of authority, such as alienating a private businesses for corrosive practices or rallying against fraud and waste in government agencies. Websites archived countless remnants of emotionally-charged content during the surge of demonstrations and protests in the Arab World (Parvaz, 2011). Feeling the pressure of social media against organized crime, Mexican gangsters murdered and disemboweled two people in September for their online activities, and then hung a sign on their bodies to warn others about their disclosures (Castillo 2011). Last year, as the government battled street protests threatening to topple President Hosni Mubarak (Richtel 2011), nearly 90 percent of Egypt’s Internet access was shut down, according to network monitoring service BGPmon (2011).

People will test the resolve of your organization. Online debates about your brand or personality will become highly contested when people perceive a lack of social responsibility. More specifically, the recognizing of factors that contribute to the breakdown of community stability, justified authority and a fair diffusion of resources. Social media is tool people leverage to demand transparency and accountability, which limits the establishment of elite networks and empowers democratic participation.

While 40 percent of the sampled Facebook users made a friend request, 63 percent had received one.

The relationship between the individual and the group – Web discussions are full of people trying to achieve a meaningful position in a group, as well as a meaningful personal identity. This struggle between group and personal values has created an interesting privacy paradox. Users of social network sites often state that they are concerned about their privacy, yet they readily disclose personal information. So who’s most concerned with personal privacy over group collaboration and sharing? Utz & Krämer found that narcissism predicted profile protection, while reviewing the roles of trust and narcissism online (2009). They found that egocentric behavioral characteristics offline predicted profile protection online. Narcissistic people are preoccupied with presenting themselves favorably in front of a large audience. For that reason, they may become uncomfortable when contributing from far outside the boundaries of anonymity.

The motivation behind transitions from online reader to contributor — and back-and-forth between roles — is unclear. Some online decisions seem trapped between two polarities: desired personality traits for the physical environment and their desirable characteristics for cyberspace. Most Facebook users are readers, people who receive more from their Facebook friends than they give, according to a new study by Pew (Hampton, Goulet, Marlow, & Rainie, 2012). The study, combining server logs and survey data, found that 40 percent of Facebook users made a friend request but 63 percent received one. Far more users had the “like” buttons clicked on their content, than they clicked on others. In the sample surveyed, people sent an average of 9 personal messages, but received 12. Twelve percent tagged a friend in a photo, but 35 percent were tagged by others. Some individuals quickly act as group leaders and readily share in online social spheres. More research is needed to understand the situations surrounding ramps in online participation. For example, when caught in challenging situations, some people may begin rallying cooperation and collecting social tools. Social media managers attempting to establish increased awareness must identify the motives behind a group’s reader-to-contributor transition.

Concepts of masculinity and femininity – According to survey data, gender roles affect online participation statistics. Genders are declared or assumed via profile settings (names, avatars, or check boxes), or from real world interactions. Pew surveys have discovered an equal representation of women and men online (2011), but the female gender appears far more active. On average, women make nearly twice as many status updates than men on Facebook (Hampton, Goulet, Marlow, & Rainie, 2012). Harvard students examined the activity of a random sample of 300,000 Twitter users in May 2009 (Heil & Piskorsk 2009). While reviewing how people used the service, they found that men and women follow a similar number of Twitter users, but men have significantly more followers. Moreover, they found that a man is nearly twice as likely to follow another man than a woman. Among reported cases of cyberbullying, girls have been more likely than boys to say that they have experienced embarrassing, hostile and aggressive actions online (Lenhart, 2007). Gender associations clearly affect online social capital, especially the value of social relations and the role of cooperation and confidence.

Ways of dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity – Offline and online, people scramble between methods for controlling aggression and expressing emotions. While solutions are sometimes clear and convictions unbreakable, other times people are stuck in uncertainty, lending themselves to the crafty arts of persuasive tactics and propaganda. The number one reason people “defriend” a connection on Facebook is frequent asinine posts, according to a PhD student at the University of Colorado Denver, who recently surveyed more than 1,500 Facebook users (Kelly, 2012). The second most popular reason to defriend: constant posts concerning religion or politics – topics deeply rooted by cultural values. Crude, racist comments and inappropriate posts is the third top reason.

Frequency is another key reason for consumers ending brand relationships on Facebook, according to jointly conducted research by Cotweet and Exact Target (Exact Target, 2011). The researchers found various reasons for “liking” a brand on Facebook, such as expressing an endorsement, connecting with like-minded consumers and joining a platform to learn more about the company and its products. Twenty-six percent of consumers say they have “liked” a company because they were interested in a one-time offer, and then “unliked” it. Nearly 40 percent of surveyed consumers said they “unliked” a company because content became boring or repetitive. More than 60 percent of consumers have “unliked” a company due to excessive postings. In a clear sign of consumer uncertainties, the same amount of consumers who “unliked” a company because it didn’t offer enough deals (24 percent), “unliked” a company because posts were too promotional. People have different ways for dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity online; some ignore it, others will readily disconnect themselves from it.

Online social platforms contain countless unknown and misunderstood triggers that affect online behavioral patterns. There are many motivations to consider due to the astounding size of the groups participating in social media, which connects people the world over. While historic research into human behavioral patterns offers us some insight, humankind’s ability to collaborate and socialize has never been so powerful. We’re continuing to tread in unfamiliar waters, while discovering and testing theories that center on changes in personal and collective values.

Works Cited

BGPmon. (2011, January 31). BGP instability. Retrieved December 12, 2011, from :

Castillo, M. (2011, September 14). Bodies hanging from bridge in Mexico are warning to social media users. Retrieved December 12, 2011, from CNN:

Exact Target. (2011). Report 8: The Social Breakup. Retrieved February 3, 2012, from

Hampton, K., Goulet, L.S., Marlow, C. & Rainie, L. (2012, February 3). Why most Facebook users get more than they give. Retrieved February 3, 2012, from Pew Internet & American Life Project:

Heil, B., & Piskorsk, M. (2009, June 1). New Twitter Research: Men Follow Men and Nobody Tweets. Retrieved February 2, 2012, from The Harvard Business Review: men_follo.html

Hofstede, G., Hofstede, G. J., & Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind (3rd ed. ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Inkeles, A., & Levinson, D. (1997). National character: a psycho-social perspective. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.

Kelly, D. (2010, October 5). Business School student finds top reasons for Facebook unfriending: Posting too much about religion and politics is risky. Retrieved February 3, 2012, from University of Colorado, Denver: Pages/facebookunfriending.aspx

Lenhart, A. (2007, June 27). Cyberbullying. Retrieved February 2, 2012, from Pew Internet & American Life Project:

Parvaz, D. (2011, November 2). The Arab Spring, chronicled Tweet by Tweet. Retrieved February 2, 2012, from Al Jazeera English: 2011113123416203161.html

Pew Internet & American Life Project. (2011). Demographics of Internet users. Retrieved February 2, 2012, from Pew Internet & American Life Project:

Utz, S., & Krämer, N. (2009). The privacy paradox on social network sites revisited: The role of individual characteristics and group norms. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 3(2), article 2.

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