The simplicity of the platform and brevity of posts are key factors in determining how students can become addicted.
In a world where people struggle with a seemingly diminishing attention span, Snapchat could be the best form of communication.
Posts last just 10 seconds. That's it. No deep thoughts or analytical narrative to the posts. Quick, simple and move on to the next topic.
But a study by Texas Tech University associate professor Narissra Punyanunt-Carter, graduate student J.J. Delacruz and alumni Jason Wrench in the College of Media & Communication shows the interest and popularity of Snapchat goes beyond just its simplicity.
"People use Snapchat a lot because of its entertainment and functional needs,” Delacruz said. "For certain people, it enables them to overcome communication apprehension by using a different means of communication where they don't have a threat in their face. At the same time, there are people who are addicted to it. So for counseling purposes, there is a need to establish the motivations to see if maybe they need to use something other than Snapchat, mediated or not, as a way to fulfill their interaction needs.”
In other words, Snapchat, because of its brevity, can provide the perfect medium for those who are hesitant about communicating their life to a public audience, but at the same time can become addictive because those same properties allow for multiple, quick posts that only last a few seconds.
"I noticed people were using it all the time. They are constantly on it,” Punyanunt-Carter said. "It's very different from the traditional social media because it only records 10 seconds worth of snaps that are very, very quick. So if I have a lot of friends, that's very time consuming to sit down and watch all their posts on most social media platforms.”
Finding their motivations
For the study, Punyanunt-Carter and Delacruz recruited students in the College of Media & Communication through the department's Sona survey system, where students earn extra credit in certain classes for participating in online surveys. They also administered the survey to those who responded to requests through TechAnnounce, totaling almost 500 students altogether.
The survey asked students who use Snapchat about their reasons for using the medium, including needs and motivations. It also asked about general social media use motivations, such as personality characteristics and what made them tend to gravitate toward Snapchat as a social medium. It also asked questions to help researchers analyze differences between males and females.
The brevity of Snapchat posts was a key factor for two big reasons. One, people using Snapchat felt much more trustworthy with how they shared content with others. Two, because the content disappears quickly, users are able to share their lives and don't feel the pressure to present themselves in any extraordinary form – they can just be their normal, real self.
"They thought that was a good way to maintain ties with people they were already very close with, interpersonally,” Delacruz said. "It wasn't so much about whether or not they were being controversial as much as just not putting much thought into what is out there. Maybe it's just an ugly selfie or whatever, or maybe it's something that, because the judgement is not there like it is on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, there's no controversial topics.”
There's also an element of familiarity with Snapchat that makes it a preferred medium. Not with the medium itself, but with those on the medium. Delacruz said Snapchat is not the preferred social media platform for starting a new relationship because the posts don't last long. That is something more for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
However, it is an optimal platform for those with whom the user already has a relationship, and therefore don't have to impress in their post. It is used to maintain relationships and establish trust between users.
At the same time, Snapchat seems to change faster than other social media platforms, adding things like filters that Facebook and Instagram later added as well.
"It takes away the pressure of coming up with a great message or great topic, or coming up with a way to present yourself that is socially acceptable,” Delacruz said.
While Snapchat can be a useful tool to help overcome apprehension about communicating on a public forum, it can also swing the other way and become addictive.
Understanding the motivations for users who are addicted to it is a crucial part of the study. By knowing what motivates Snapchat users, researchers can help others identify potential alternative outlets for communication.
"Knowing their motivations would definitely help people who advise those with the addiction,” Delacruz said. "It can help them have a better understanding of how to be confident and effective communicators.”
Punyanunt-Carter would like to expand future research beyond just Snapchat and into other forms of communication.
"I'm going to look further at interpersonal communication behaviors and how these types of social media platforms affect interpersonal relationships and, perhaps, the sense of identity,” Punyanunt-Carter said. "I want to understand the interpersonal and intrapersonal communication elements on social media. There's a lot that needs to be done.”