Spotlight: Harsha Gangadharbatla

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Spotlight: Harsha Gangadharbatla

We recently spoke with Dr. Harsha Gangadharbatla, Founding Chair and Associate Professor in the Department of Advertising, Public Relations and Media Design at the University of Colorado. Harsha specializes in Advertising and conducts research in the area of business and technology. He has authored numerous articles, including Facebook me: Collective Self-esteem, Need to Belong, and Internet Self-efficacy as Predictors of the iGeneration’s Attitudes Toward Social Networking Sites, which was published in the JIAD and is one of the most cited articles in the journal. His article highlights some interesting findings in social media and its implications for marketing, so we wanted to pick his brain about what went into his research and glean his thoughts on the future of social media.
What was your initial motivation for conducting this research?

Social networking sites have existed for a long time on the Internet. However, back in 2006 when I originally started this project, Facebook had just opened its doors to the general public and it was all the craze among college students.

My initial motivation for this study was to understand why college students were joining and using these sites and what, if any, implications exist for advertisers.

Your study is among those most frequently cited within the Journal of Interactive Advertising with close to 400 citations according to Google Scholar.  Obviously this means many others have found the research valuable.  What do you feel has resonated from this study that so many have found the research useful?  Is there some aspect of the study you think is particularly valuable that users are searching for?

More than finding anything really insightful, the study benefits greatly from being the first to examine motivations for social media adoption and usage. As with most widely cited studies, the findings are quite simple–Individuals’ need to belong, internet self-efficacy, and collective self-esteem all positively influence their attitudes and adoption of social networking sites.

If there’s anything valuable, it’d be in being one of the first articles to point at and provide empirical evidence for something that’s rather obvious.

A recent Pew Research report released states that 76% of all teens use social media today compared to only 55% when you published your study.  What do you believe has contributed to this growth over the past 8 years?  Will we see ever see 100% teen use of social media one day?

Much of success of social media can be attributed to something humans have always had–a need to belong. And that’s what my study found as well. Of all the factors examined, individuals’ need to belong and the collective self-esteem they derived from being a part of a community were the strongest predictors of attitudes and adoption.

The human need to belong and connect with others is not a result of new technologies but rather I’d argue that many of our technological innovations are driven and made popular because of this need.

A similar trend that has changed over the years within social media is the rise and fall of specific platforms.  For example, you referenced a 183% increase of Myspace users from 2005-2006.  Of course, Myspace has since fallen out of popularity among social media channels.  Why do you believe this happened, and what factors contribute to the emergence of new types of social media?

While the general human need to belong and connect with others hasn’t changed (and probably won’t change), who people want to connect with might be evolving and/or following historical patterns. So, there might be an increase in overall social media usage but specific platforms rise and fall depending on who they cater to: for instance, teens probably don’t want to be on the same network that their parents are on. The fact that their parents and grandparents are on it in itself makes that network uncool. So, you see them using Snapchat or Instagram instead.

There are also other factors, which my study hasn’t investigated, that could be contributing to emergence of new types of social media. For instance, we are becoming a highly visual culture–much to the chagrin of teachers everywhere who want people to read–so that might explain the popularity of social media apps like Instagram. Other factors could be socioeconomic, geographic and cultural factors (WhatsApp is a good example as it’s more popular in India and developing world than in the U.S.).

With newer mobile based platforms like Snapchat, WhatsApp and Instagram, what are some key trends you see emerging for the future of social media?

Social media are here to stay. As I’d mentioned, the fundamental need for people to connect with others is not going to go away anytime soon. Humans are and have always been social.

As for emerging trends, that’s a tough one–I’d say look for broader geopolitical, economic and social trends and some of those can help predict what the future of social media might look like. Will there be an increased need or desire to consume media with others (e.g., sporting events and Netflix shows)? If so, we might see the rise of social platforms that facilitate co-viewing of content online. The same for shopping–do we want to take our network with us when we try on clothes and shoes? If so, we might see an increase in social shopping features on mobile platforms.

Lastly, it’s also very interesting and ironic to me that our technology (e.g., Virtual Reality and Holograms) is evolving to make our social interactions online more and more face-to-face and realworld-like but, at the same time, people are less and less inclined to sit down and have actual conversations with others.

Editor’s Note:
Check out our Research Brief of Dr. Gangadharbatla’s article: 
Social Gratification Through SNS
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