The Uses and Gratifications theory was posited as a more comprehensive way to discuss and analyze the roles of media effects in our lives. The Uses and Gratifications theory views the audience as an active participator when consuming media. This is a significant shift in audience perspective. Before the Uses and Gratifications theory, the audience was seen as a passive observer when consuming media, where every member of the audience interprets the media in the same manner. The Uses and Gratifications theory recognizes that audience members can have different tastes and preferences when consuming media. This shift in classifying how an audience can have different interpretations with a piece of work is central to the Uses and Gratifications theory.
Uses and Gratifications theory measures the impact of media through the difference between gratifications sought and gratifications obtained. Gratifications sought was the initial reasoning an individual consumes a piece of media or adopts a new medium. Gratifications obtained is the reasoning for continued use or enjoyment from that same media or new medium. The difference between gratification sought and gratification obtained is central to the Uses and Gratifications theory, because the difference between the two gratifications could potentially draw more people to the media or medium or repel new people from adopting the media or medium.
The Uses and Gratifications theory can be used as a lens when examining why people adopt social media platforms. Research conducted by communication scholars Alyson Young and Anabel Quan-Haase shows us that people satisfy different gratifications depending on what social media platform they use. Quan-Haase and Youngs’ research was conducted in two distinct parts. First, they examined how individuals use social media. They examined the type of social media used, how long people interacted with the platform, how frequently the individual stayed on the platform, and through what screen did the person consume the piece of media (through their laptops, iPads, cellular devices). Quan-Haase and Young also examined the motivations for continued use of social media, and the gratifications that were obtained.
This research revealed that people satisfy different social needs depending on the platform that they were using. People who use Facebook usually joined the platform due to a friend recommending them to sign up for a profile. This initial gratification sought is different than the gratification sought through adopting the instant messaging platform ICQ. Individuals adopted ICQ to influence and care for their friends in a positive and intimate manner (Quan-Haase and Young, 2014). The results from this study highlight how different social desires can be obtained through a diverse use of various social media platforms, highlighting how consumers utilize each platform for fulfilling different social gratifications.
The Uses and Gratifications theory examines how people interact with media. Instead of studying how media influences the people who consume it, the Uses and Gratifications theory instead studies, “… who uses what media, how often they use the media, and in what social, historical, and economic contexts” (Quan-Haase and Young, 2014). This shift in studying how individuals interact with media is central to the Uses and Gratifications theory. On top of studying how consumers interact with media the Uses and Gratifications theory examines an individuals’ personal set of values to help determine their media consumption habits. For example, someone who is single, lives alone, and only works part time has vastly different media habits than someone who is married with children and works a full 40-hour workweek.
A practical application of the Uses and gratifications theory can be seen with the streaming service Twitch. Twitch is a platform that enables content creators to livestream themselves playing video games, while a live audience watches the content creator play any video game he or she chooses. In addition, the livestream users can participate in a chatroom, where other people rom around the world can talk with each other and communicate over a shared interest. Streamers can also enable their viewers to donate to their channel, acting as a revenue stream for the content creator. Some streamers have large enough fanbases that contribute enough money so that the streaming becomes the full-time job of the individual playing the video game.
Twitch is so successful because of how much choice a consumer has over their gratifications sought. Streamers can service a plethora of gratifications sought, enabling the viewer who wants to actively donate and participate in online discussion the forum to do so whilst enabling viewers who want to take a more passive role in their viewership. A spectrum of obtained gratification can be sought for all viewers.
The success of Yelp is built upon the difference between gratifications sought and obtained. Yelp, the online review site for restaurants and other service-based businesses enables consumers to either recommend or criticize a business based off the expected gratifications sought and the actual gratifications obtained. If a customer finds that their gratification obtained was lesser than the gratification sought, the customer can leave a negative review if the business. If the customer finds that the gratification they obtained superseded their gratification sought, the customer can leave a positive rating of the experience they had with the business.
This enables potential customers of a restaurant to log onto a prospective establishments Yelp page and look at the data recorded on the gratifications sought compared to gratifications obtained. This enables customers to make more educated
decisions towards where they eat out at and helps inform the consumer over what their gratification level should be at any given establishment. This will enable the customer to have less negative dine-in experiences, thus maximizing gratifications sought when compared to gratifications obtained.
Quan-Haase, A. & Young, A. (2014). The Uses and Gratifications (U&G) Approach as a Lens for Studying Social Media Practice. In The Handbook of Media and Communication Theory. Edited by Robert S. Fortner and P. Mark Fackler. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118591178.ch15
Image Attribution: Yelp icon: Morgan, 2013, Attribution 4.0 International (CC by 4.0)’Yelp Page: jwalsh, 2007, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC by 2.0)
Written by Cole Wilhite, 2018