The Coming Age of the Social Couch Potato

By Adam Sewall on Sep 19 2011 at 9:00 AM

When Beyonce announced her pregnancy at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards, her unborn child stole the limelight, setting off a frenzy with a record 8,868 tweets per second that evening.

Social media has given companies a new marketing tool, but why do their audiences respond? The motivations vary. Some are looking to network. Others want to send a helpful tip, entertain or elicit a reaction. At the end of the day, they want to connect. 
In the U.S., 65 percent of adults are on social networks, according to Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project. For perspective, only 8 percent of Internet users were on social networks in 2005. To understand why people are sharing, let's take a look at some stylized types of personalities hooked on social media, with data from a report on the psychology of sharing by the New York Times Consumer Insight Group.
The news junkie: This personality type always has open the homepages of the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. When sharing articles, 94 percent of social-media users say they process information more thoroughly and thoughtfully, the New York Times found. In addition, news junkies say reading other people's responses helps them understand and process information and events. 
The entertainer: It could be a video of a baby panda sneezing or an op-ed on how to address the jobs situation, but this personality type always shares the most entertaining and valuable offerings from the vast Internet. In addition, 94 percent of social-media users say they put a lot of effort into curating the content they share.
The advocate: Whether it's electing a politician, passing a piece of legislation or even promoting a consumer brand, this personality type wants to get the word out, garnering support for causes and issues he or she cares about. Of sharers, 84 percent say they do so because of the awareness that is raised.
The social butterfly: Sharing information online is a convenient way to stay connected to people who otherwise might be forgotten. Also, 73 percent of users say they share because it helps them connect with others with similar interests.
But beyond these caricatures of social-media users, it’s important not to overlook human nature, the desire to connect and socialize. Sixty-nine percent of sharers cite doing so because the act makes them feel more involved in the world. The proliferation of social media has made it easier than ever before to connect and share content with people down the street or across the globe. 
How do these trends translate to the world of online video? Generally speaking, users who share create the opportunity for others to discover. To take a basic example, if one friend comments about a particular show or movie, that comment becomes instantly discoverable by his or her connections. This is one of the main themes that underpin the promise of social TV, and it offers huge benefits to both viewers and publishers. 
Viewers will get a dynamic and engaging TV experience that recommends content relative to their social graphs. 
Publishers—who can use social TV to drive larger, more engaged audiences—will be able to apply the associated social data to continually improve and personalize the viewing experience. 
Done right, social TV will be a win-win for both viewers and publishers. And, who knows? Depending on how the field progresses, it may be fitting to add a fifth category to the caricatures above: the social couch potato.

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