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Theory of planned behavior in social network adoption

This is an excerpt from Social Media and Sports With Web Resource by Galen Clavio.

Perhaps the most appropriate psychological theory to consider when looking at social network adoption is the theory of planned behavior (Ajzen, 1991). The basics of this theory are that a person's intention of doing something can be predicted by looking at their attitudes toward that behavior or action, the "subjective norms" of their community or peer group, and the person's perceived level of behavioral control. Figure 5.1 shows a diagram of the influence and decision chain in the theory of planned behavior.

Figure 5.1 The theory of planned behavior.

Figure 5.1 The theory of planned behavior.

If that sounds confusing, it's not. In plain language, the theory states that a person's intention of doing something is affected by three primary factors:

  1. How they feel about the activity or behavior
  2. How they think the behavior is perceived by others in their social environment
  3. How easy they feel it will be to perform the behavior

These factors fit quite well into the social media realm because they get at many of the elements of online behavior that we are most curious about.

Look at the above points and think about how they apply to social media usage based on what we've learned so far. Facebook's early success in capturing college students relied on a combination of these factors. For Facebook to be something that college students wanted to use, it needed to

  1. present itself as an attractive and entertaining activity for that group,
  2. there needed to be buy-in from people who could influence the actions of others, and
  3. it needed to be simple enough that people without much computing skill would still want to use it.

In this light, Facebook's strategy of rolling out enrollment first to elite universities, then to large public schools, then to high schools, and then to the general population was quite clever. The process created a constant buzz around the idea of using Facebook that propelled each successive wave of users, it created an established class of influencers that kept a positive subjective feeling about using Facebook, and it made it easy for older users to accept the idea of getting accounts because there were already people on the network that those older users would want to connect with: their children. Once parents were connected to their children on Facebook, those parents would soon invite their friends and relatives, who would again be more likely to have a positive attitude toward Facebook use because people they knew were already on the network.

Applying Theory to Practice

The above section shows you how the theory of planned behavior helps to describe the audience movement across various social media networks. You can also apply this line of thinking to how audiences approach your social media channels, both in comparison to other organizations and across the various platforms you use.

The approach that you take toward a prospective or actual audience should be grounded in observation and analysis for the following items:

  • Your brand's target audience
  • How much of a demographic spread can be found in your audience
  • What type(s) of social media you want to use
  • What type of content you want to deliver
  • What factors will affect your audience's ability to consume that content

Your Brand's Target Audience Identifying the audience should be the first thing you think about when deciding to create and share content on social media. Without knowing the audience you want to target, you run the risk of creating messages that are either too broadly constructed or lack appeal to any single group. If you are working for a brand or organization, you should be able to draw from market research and past media content creation experiences. If you are building your own brand as a journalist or commentator, think about who is most likely to consume and enjoy the content you are creating. For instance, if you are an aspiring NBA writer, your audience is logically going to consist of NBA fans. But think about who those people are and what their demographic makeup is as well as the geographical region of the country (or world) that you wish to aim for.

Demographic Spread That last element feeds into understanding how broad or narrow your audience happens to be. When one examines the Twitter feed of the popular English American soccer podcast Men in Blazers, one finds a specific consumer is being addressed. The intended audience appears to be educated American soccer fans between 18 and 49 who root for both an English Premier League team and the United States men's and women's national teams and who appreciate pop culture references, soccer-specific jokes, and inside jokes that relate back to the podcast.

While the focus of this account is specific, the account's content choices and the podcast's overall popularity have led it to over 200,000 Twitter followers as of late 2019. Your audience may be this specific or broader, depending on the factors governing your brand or organization. Be conscious of how wide or narrow a net you wish to cast, letting your audience spread be a guide.

Social Media Content and Delivery The type of social media and type of content should generally be considered together. Think about what content you want to generate, such as writing, images, preproduced video, live video, podcasts, or something else. Then think about what social media platforms are most effective at serving that type of content to an audience, keeping in mind what your target audience happens to be.

Audience Consumption This leads to the factors that affect the audience's ability to consume your content. As we covered in chapter 4, the way that social media platforms and networks are constructed can have a big effect on the willingness of certain audience segments to spend time there.