Social Media: to Enhance or to Compensate?


Self-disclosure on social media is not just about building trust and forming relationships. 'Social Enhancement & Social Compensation' is another theory concerning people's online presence and behaviour that associates the offline popularity of a user & how it relates to their behaviour on social media. Popularity studies show that in the beginning stages of adulthood, peers replace parents as the most important social influence on teens. And therefore, teens become much more interested in acceptance of their "friends" rather than their family. During this time, being popular and/or attractive  - simply "cool" - among peers plays a crucial role in the youth social interactions. The "cooler" they are, the more popular they become, and that's desirable - and not just for teens!

According to Zywica & Danowski (2008), people can be categorised into two main groups in terms of their behaviour on social media: Social Enhancers and Social Compensators.

Social Enhancers

Social enhancers are the ones who are considered popular in real life (offline). These people bring their popularity and enhance it through online activity on various social networks like Instagram, SnapchatTwitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. This, basically, is the "rich getting richer" in terms of popularity and attention.

The point about social enhancers is that they use the tools at their disposal to get more and more attention, which is what everyone is really looking for, especially online, and that's a win. Although the origins of that popularity can be questioned in terms of ethics - and 'how' in general (alternative fact?!). But the reality is that pretty much no publicity is bad publicity! #debatable

Social Compensators

On the other hand, social compensators are the not-so-popular ones who more often than not try to make up for their "loss" by unconventional means. Anything from sharing improper photos to talking provocatively (no matter right or wrong) to get attention and call it being "cool" can be the signs of social compensation. For social compensators, it's about the image they create using social media.

Although these behaviours are meant to increase their self-esteem & sociability, they can have long-term harmful effects. Oversharing or posts, tweets, photos, videos and everything else can be accessed by their potential employers or people who are not in their life at that time. This can cause bigger problems for them if they don't know what they're doing.

It may seem like that social compensators are more vulnerable, but there's another side to their story. These people can also become successful in their efforts in becoming popular. This means using social media, they can join the communities that they can be popular in, or improve their sociability in their real life using their "new friends" from their new communities. This can lead to improvement in their social skill and can reflect in their offline life.

The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.
— Oscar Wilde

From a Branding Perspective

A better understanding of users behaviour online and the reasons behind it can immensely help brands in their efforts to have real connections with their fans.

As a brand, you can better decide on how you can empower your target audience. Knowing that some are enhancers and some are compensators can help you gain deeper insight about them - in addition to age, gender, and location, etc which are not exactly how you determine your target audience by the way - and provide them with value. Remeber, each group should be treated in their own way; and you as a brand will definitely have both these types in your audience.

A Selfishly Selfless Approach

But why should you care? Well, because empowerment is the way to make people pay attention and care you as a brand. If you, as a brand, selfishly want others' attention, you must selflessly give and empower them. This is the way to create awareness, interaction, and trust, which is the ultimate goal if you're in a branding mindset.

Want it or not, everyone on social media is a brand. Whether their presence is to enhance their personal brand or to compensate/create one, they often like being associated with other, especially "better," brands as it can improve their image, therefore they try to do it.

With a great product or service, trust-based advocacy - whether it's purchase loyalty or attitudinal loyalty (Chaudhuri and Holbrook, 2001) - will become your ultimate growth engine on social media if it empowers your audience.

How would your empower your audience? 💭 Let's discuss it in the comments, shall we?


Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash