Facebook or Twitter: What does your choice of social networking site say about you?

Social networking sites have changed our lives. There were 500 million active Facebook users in 2011 and approximately 200 million Twitter accounts. As users will know, the sites have important differences. Facebook places more of an emphasis on who you are and who you know. Twitter restricts users to 140-character updates and is more about what you say than who you are. A new study asks whether and how the way people use these sites is related to their personality, and whether there are personalty differences between people who prefer one site over the other.

David Hughes at Manchester Business School and his colleagues surveyed 300 people online – most (70 per cent) were based in Europe, others were from North America, Asia and beyond. There were 207 women and the age range was from 18 to 63. Participants answered questions about the way they used Facebook and Twitter and which site they preferred. They also answered questions about their personality based around the “Big Five” personality factors of Extraversion, Neuroticism, Conscientiousness, Openness and Agreeableness, as well as the dimensions of sociability and “need for cognition” (this last factor is about people’s need to be mentally engaged and stimulated).

Perhaps the most glaring finding is that personality actually explained little of the variance – less than 10 per cent (rising to 20 per cent alongside age) – in the way participants used these sites. This suggests that other factors not explored here, such as intelligence and motivation, have a big influence.

However, the associations with personality were interesting. People who used Facebook mostly for socialising tended to score more highly on sociability and neuroticism (consistent with past research suggesting that shy people use the site to forge social ties and combat loneliness). Social use of Twitter correlated with higher sociability and openness (but not neuroticism) and with lower scores on conscientiousness. This suggests that social Twitter users don’t use it so much to combat loneliness, but more as a form of social procrastination.

What about using the sites as an informational tool? There was an intriguing divergence here. People who said they used Facebook as an informational tool tended to score higher on neuroticism, sociability, extraversion and openness, but lower on conscientiousness and “need for cognition”. Informational users of Twitter were the mirror opposite: they scored higher on conscientiousness and “need for cognition”, but lower on neuroticism, extraversion and sociability. The researchers interpreted these patterns as suggesting that Facebook users seek and share information as a way of avoiding more cognitively demanding sources such as journal articles and newspaper reports. Twitter users, by contrast, use the site for its cognitive stimulation – as a way of uncovering useful information and material without socialising (this was particularly true for older participants).

Finally, what about people’s overall preference for Twitter or Facebook? Again, people who scored higher in “need for cognition” tended to prefer Twitter, whilst higher scorers in sociability, neuroticism and extraversion tended to prefer Facebook. Simplifying the results, one might say that Facebook is the more social of the two social networking sites, whereas Twitter is more about sharing and exchanging information.

These results should be treated with caution. The sample was biased towards young females and the data were entirely self-report. Nonetheless, the findings suggest there are some meaningful differences in the personality profiles of people who prefer Twitter vs. Facebook and some intriguing personality links with the way the sites are used. “Different people use the same sites for different purposes,” the researchers said.

  ResearchBlogging.org Hughes, D., Rowe, M., Batey, M., and Lee, A. (2012). A tale of two sites: Twitter vs. Facebook and the personality predictors of social media usage. Computers in Human Behavior, 28 (2), 561-569 DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2011.11.001

Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.

12 thoughts on “Facebook or Twitter: What does your choice of social networking site say about you?”

  1. Hey, what about G+? Why isn't anybody talking about G+? The crowds are very different between the three, it'd be really interesting to see a study that includes G+.

  2. As being a student atm i feel social networking sites take over your lives so to be honest i feel its appropiate for me to have an account later on again

  3. I like this article and think it's right in general. I deleted my Facebook account years ago because I was bored of seeing who was 'painting their nails' or 'eating chocolate' or other such uninteresting status updates. And now I have had Twitter for a few months and have learned so much just from links that the BPS and lecturers have posted; it's always really great to learn new scientific studies and breakthrough research. 1-0 to Twitter in my eyes…

  4. I always liked Facebook more than myspace, and it didn't take long for twitter to win me over because I like to simplify, and read a lot. I would agree that I procrastinate most on twitter though, probably because I use this site most in general. I started using it when I first had a LOT of time on my hands, no big change there except a long break from all online activity – and I missed twitter most. I'm still getting the hang of G+ and tumblr, and I keep all of my accounts active currently for different purposes (yes to Facebook for most socializing, myspace for nostalgia, and G+ for general potential).

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  6. EEGiorgi,
    Google+ was actually included within the scope of this research study, but not a single person in the sample of 300 preferred G+.

  7. Personally, I like to give anything a try. I have a Facebook and a Twitter account, and I used to actively use Myspace as well. My preference however, lies with Facebook. I agree with the results of the social use of Facebook and satisfying the “need for cognition.” I tend to enjoy reading everything that my friends post, simply for stimulation and to give me something to do. For some reason, when I have nothing else to do, I always find myself on Facebook watching to see what is going on with my friends (which may explain some semi-neurotic behavior)haha. Athough, I do agree for the most part with the results, the results are biased and not scientifically proven, so a definite conclusion cannot be reached. It's definitely something to think about though.

  8. Interesting study! Although the coverage looks generic and at a very high level, it would be worthwhile digging little deeper and widening the scope and target audience. After all there is so much buzz about the social networking sites and they seemed to have invaded even our bed rooms!

  9. I wonder how many people have facebook accounts because they feel “everyone” on the internet has a facebook account and so they should as well. Or simply for business networking/marketing purposes?

  10. I wish i could delete my social network sites. The marketing is annoying. I miss the old days where u put an ad out and there is no back talk or comments from people who are not your target market. Oy.

  11. I think G+ isn't studied because it has significantly less users and is no where near, nor will probably ever be any where near as popular as Facebook and twitter. The phenomenon of the explosion of popularity of Facebook and twitter can provide much larger samples and is more compelling to investigate. I myself am studying Facebook and need for cognition for my dissertation

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