The Uses & Gratifications theory: about media gratifications
The advent of the Uses & Gratifications (U&G) theory in the 1970s caused a paradigm shift in media theory and research. While previously it was believed that media could have unlimited effects on people, the U&G theory introduced the concept of an active media user. The central question in this theory is not what the media do to people, but what people do with the media. Even in the era of the internet and social media, the U&G theory remains valuable. Not only is it useful to predict media use but also for explaining the adoption of media. In this blog article, I explain the U&G theory and discuss how it relates to inbound marketing.
The basis of the U&G theory
One of the key principles of the U&G theory is that the media user is active: he or she consciously and purposefully chooses a particular medium to fulfill specific needs. The medium competes with other forms of gratification, such as other media, social interaction, or hobbies.
Gratifications sought versus gratifications obtained
Within the theory, a distinction is made between gratifications sought and gratifications obtained. Gratifications sought, also referred to as motivations or needs, refers to the gratifications that media users expect to obtain from a medium. These media expectations are leading in the behavior and use of media. Gratifications obtained refers to the gratifications that media users actually receive from a medium. The theory suggests that if the gratifications sought are not obtained, the media user will be dissatisfied and may turn to another medium.
By focusing on gratifications sought in research, one can discover people's motives for using a particular medium. This is particularly important in the adoption of new media forms. By investigating gratifications obtained, one can learn about how and to what extent people use a medium. The development of media habits also plays a role in this. While we consider the media user as active, we must keep in mind that certain habits can grow through repeated behavior. Eventually, people become aware of what to expect from a medium and which needs it fulfills. Such habitual behavior can be interrupted by the emergence of new media alternatives.
Over the years, many different gratifications have been formulated in research. For television, newspaper, the internet, and now also for social media. First of all, an interesting distinction can be made between three main categories of gratifications that are applicable to the internet and social media:
- Procedural gratifications: the (functional) experience of the internet as a means of fulfilling needs. For example, surfing, searching on Google, visiting websites, and using social media platforms
- Content-related gratifications: the use of the internet or social media to satisfy the need for information and materials
- Social gratifications: the use of the internet or social media to engage in and deepen various social connections
Different mediabehaviorsFurthermore, a distinction can be made between gratifications from different media behaviors that are highly relevant for new media:
- Consuming content: for information and entertainment
- Participating through interaction with the content and others: for enhancing social connections and virtual communities
- Producing content: for self-expression and self-actualization
Brand-related social media use
Finally, there are several more specific gratifications to mention. In this blog article, I mention gratifications related to brand-related social media use based on the studies by Muntinga et al. (2011) and Sung et al. (2010).
- Entertainment: media use for fun, relaxation, or pastime
- Information: media use for information exchange or seeking advice and opinions
- Remuneration: media use for earning certain (financial) rewards or incentives
- Integration and social interaction: media use for connecting with other people and building relationships
- Personal identity: media use for self-identification, self-enhancement, and impression management
- Empowerment: media use for exerting power over other people or companies
- Brand loyalty: media use for expressing passion for the brand to others
- Usability: the feeling that social media (components) are easy to use
U&G and Inbound Marketing
With inbound marketing, it's all about creating content that your target audience finds interesting and then distributing it through the channels where your audience is most active. The U&G theory, especially the gratifications sought, aligns well with this approach. Try to discover the needs of your target audience, understand their media use patterns, and identify what they expect from their media consumption. This way, you can ensure that the gratifications sought are also obtained. The satisfaction you create for the media user may provide a solid foundation for acquiring new customers.
Do you think the U&G theory can be useful for your company's inbound marketing strategy? Check out our Inbound Marketing page and learn how to effectively implement this marketing philosophy within your organization.
Inbound Marketing: A powerful magnet for leads
Muntinga, D.G., Moorman, M. & Smit, E.G. (2011). Introducing COBRAs. Exploring motivations for brand-related social media use. International Journal of Advertising, 30, 1, 13 – 46.
Sung, Y., Kim, Y., Kwon, O. & Moon, J. (2010). An Explorative Study of Korean Consumer Participation in Virtual Brand Communities in Social Network Sites. Journal of Global Marketing, 23, 430–445.
Quan-Haase, A. & Young, A.L. (2010). Uses and Gratifications of social media: A comparison of Facebook en Instant Messaging. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 30, 5, 350 – 361.