Medium is the Message: Unraveling the Social Media Platforms' Effects on Communication and Opinions

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Virginia Tech


The number of social media platforms (SMP hereinafter) is ever-increasing, and all of these platforms compete for more attention and content. The global social media market is expected to grow to $223.11 billion in 2022 (Social Media Global Market Report, 2022). In an era characterized by the meteoric rise and evolution of Social Media Platforms (SMPs), understanding the interplay between platform features and user behaviors is both critical and complex. In this dissertation, we aim to elucidate the relationship between SMPs and society, with the ultimate objective of fostering a healthier social media ecosystem. This dissertation is comprised of two incisive essays, both of which are underpinned by robust theoretical frameworks. The first essay adopts an expansive purview of the SMP ecosystem. Grounded in Uses and Gratifications Theory and media studies, it establishes a user typology based on the previous typologies and examines the interaction between user motives, SMP scores, and SMP features. Employing the Analytic Hierarchy Process, a sophisticated decision-making tool, the study quantifies utility-driven choices across platforms. A notable revelation is the heterogeneity in user reliance on SMP features, contingent upon their underlying motives. This essay offers critical insights into the multifaceted nature of SMP utilization. The second essay focuses specifically on Reddit's ChangeMyView community, an exemplar of constructive discourse in the SMP environment. It constructs a theoretical model premised on the Elaboration Likelihood Model and the concept of pre-suasion, and utilizes a mixed-methods approach to explore the persuasive strategies using Content Analysis. We also utilize ChatGPT in the Content Analysis to corroborate our inferences. The findings confirm our theorization about the role of the Delta reward system in fostering reflective engagement with content, which leads to informed opinion formation. Collectively, with these essays, we aim to provide extensive insights into the dynamic interplay between SMPs and users. Both essays hold significant implications for research community, SMP decision-makers, organizations that use SMPs, and a broader audience interested in optimizing their social media repertoire. Through a theory-driven and empirical lens, employing several epistemologies, this dissertation provides a holistic depiction of the SMP ecosystem.



social media, social media design, social media user typology, social media use, cross-platform analysis