New research shows that people who share and discuss news on social media sites with friends tend to connect more with the story than those who casually read the news.
The findings are published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.
“There seems to be growing concern that young people may be becoming more disengaged, particularly from mainstream media sources, and be more out-of-touch,” said S. Shyam Sundar, Ph.D., distinguished professor of communications and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University.
“However, sharing and discussing news content on social media sites like Facebook can actually drive greater involvement with news and information.”
For the study, researchers looked at the way Facebook users shared news stories with their friends and how affected they were by the stories. They found that feedback from friends appears to drive the connection.
“One of the main findings of this study is that engagement in news stories through social media requires discussion with friends on the site,” said Anne Oeldorf-Hirsch, Ph.D., assistant professor of communication at the University of Connecticut.
“Sharing the story does not increase involvement beyond just reading it on the original news website. Increased involvement depends on valuable feedback from friends.”
The research involved 265 active Facebook users with a median of 400 friends each. The participants were randomly assigned to 14 different sharing conditions. Researchers monitored the posts, as well as the reactions to their posts.
Depending on the conditions that were assigned, the participants were asked to share a story from CNN’s Latest News section on their own Facebook page, on a page of a friend who might be interested in the link, or through a direct message to the interested friend.
In some cases, the participants added a question, or a statement with the shared link, and tagged their friends. The researchers said that future studies could investigate better ways to use social media for civic engagement.
How sharers perceived their friends’ feedback was also important, noted the researchers.
“Simply receiving likes or superficial comments from a lot of friends is not sufficient,” Sundar said. “Feedback ought to be perceived as relevant, thoughtful, and engaging, in order to make Facebook users feel like they are involved in the story and influential in their network.”
While reporters and editors once served as gatekeepers for information, social media sites are increasingly allowing users to serve as their own gatekeepers, noted the researchers. The rewards one receives by acting as an opinion leader may reinforce future sharing.
“By sharing news of interest to their friends and engaging them, the users reap the benefits of greater interest and involvement in that content themselves,” said Oeldorf-Hirsch.
“Those sharing stories also gain a sense of influence, which could drive them to become opinion leaders in their networks.”
Furthermore, friends who asked questions about the story significantly increased involvement with the information as well.
“Involvement was significantly greater when those sharing the story asked a question about it rather than stating their own opinion,” said Oeldorf-Hirsch.
“So one recommendation may be to encourage users not only to share news stories, but to ask questions about them, or ask their friends’ opinions about them.”
People who shared a story tended to stay more involved with the material for a longer period compared to participants who just read the story. The participants who shared stories felt significantly more involved with the content a week later, Sundar added.
Based on these findings, developers of social media sites may want to encourage not just sharing, but facilitating discussions about the content their users share, noted the researchers.
Source: Pennsylvania State