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Social Media Value: Facebook Usage Patterns in the UK

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Free «Social Media Value: Facebook Usage Patterns in the UK» Essay Sample


The life is changing rapidly and today people connect with each other in a very different way. Over time, communication has changed due to information technology revolution and easy access to the internet. There is a wide variety of online tools for communication, with social media sites being the most attractive and modern platform for connecting people throughout the world. Facebook, the largest social media site, is the ubiquitous online environment and an essential part of daily internet life for a significant proportion of the world’s population. Nika and Sofi (2014) argue that Facebook has positioned itself in such a way that most people find it hard not to use it. Facebook strengthens the existing social ties while supporting the formation of new ones. Haq and Chand (2012) assert that the widespread use of social media sites has changed social relations and learning. With the rising popularity of Facebook, social behavior trend has started to change both positively and negatively. According to Kittinger, Correia, and Irons (2012), there is an explosive use of social media sites, particularly Facebook, among students. Young people spend a lot of time on Facebook connecting with others either for socialization or for educational purposes. Facebook provides an efficient way of sharing information and maintaining social connections, but excessive use may negatively affect educational and social outcomes.

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Statement of the Problem

In modern society, internet access and use of social media sites appear strongly associated with individuals’ personal, social, and educational outcomes. Facebook is increasingly ubiquitous amongst university students. With the increase in popularity of Facebook and easy access to the internet, it is possible that people, particularly students, extensively use these sites

and develop a problematic usage pattern. Fırat, Altınpulluk, Kılınç, and Büyük (2017) revealed that extensive use of Facebook is associated with negative consequences, such as poor communication skills and educational outcomes. People with poor communication skills strain to build and maintain interpersonal relationships, and this may affect their social life. Ryan, Chester, Reece, and Xenos (2014) found that extensive use of the internet limits the amount of time students engage in learning activities. If Facebook usage patterns significantly influence student engagement in learning activities, then they may impact users’ academic performance.

Contrary to these findings, Junco (2012) found that the use of Facebook improves educational outcomes by increasing students’ engagement in learning activities. Although previous studies in this area have found mixed results, it is clear that Facebook usage patterns affect educational outcomes. Thus, Facebook usage patterns have an impact on other aspects of life such as employment status and income. Given the present ubiquity of Facebook and its digital divide, addressing this research gap with a focus on usage patterns may present significant benefits. The knowledge about factors that determine whether Facebook usage patterns positively or negatively influence the users’ educational and social outcomes can be used to develop interventions to encourage responsible use of Facebook to avoid its negative consequences and maximize its benefits.

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Study Purpose

The study seeks to uncover Facebook usage patterns among university students. Specifically, the study seeks to examine Facebook usage patterns among university students in the UK in terms of age, gender, and program (undergraduate, master, and Ph.D.). The study will focus on time spent on Facebook, number of times a user logs in, and reasons for using Facebook. Despite the increasing research in this area, no study to date has attempted to investigate differences in Facebook usage pattern in a sample of university students in the UK based on gender, age, and program. There are a few studies that have examined the use of social networking sites among students in the UK but no study has exclusively focused on Facebook use in a sample of University students in the UK based on these variables. This study will bridge the gap in knowledge. It will identify the frequency and duration patterns and their effects on the students’ educational and social outcomes. The findings will also show whether individual variables (gender, age, and program) influence the frequency of use and time spent on Facebook.

Research Questions

The general research question is:

  1. What usage patterns does University Facebook users exhibit and do they have an impact on the educational engagement level?

The specific questions are:

  1. Which features of Facebook are used most often and how are they used?
  2. Do individual variables (age, gender and program) influence Facebook usage patterns?
  3. What is the impact of Facebook usage patterns on educational outcomes and social behaviors?
  4. Is there a significant correlation between Facebook duration patterns and educational engagement level?

1.3 Research objectives

The general objective of this study is to investigate Facebook usage patterns among university students in the UK. The specific objectives are:

  1. To examine Facebook usage frequency
  2. To examine Facebook usage duration
  3. To examine how individual variables (age, gender, and program) influence Facebook usage patterns
  4. To examine Facebook features that are used most often
  5. To examine the impact of Facebook usage patterns on social outcomes
  6. To investigate the impact of frequency and duration of Facebook usage patterns on educational outcomes

Literature Review

Facebook was founded in February 2004 at Harvard University and was initially limited to the students but was later recognized as a resource for connecting with people regardless of geographical location. Within one day, 1,200 students had a Facebook profile, and the network was extended to other users (Islam & Mostofa, 2015). Today, there are more than 1.44 billion Facebook users worldwide (Nika & Sofi, 2014). People spend over 40 minutes on average on Facebook daily to interact with others to maintain or establish relationships (Bachrach, Kosinski, Graepel, Kohli, & Stillwell, 2012). Recognizing the popularity and importance of Facebook, several scholars have examined its usage patterns on and impact on the users’ lives.

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Researchers have attempted to investigate motivation associated with Facebook usage by applying a use and gratification theory to predict the risk for problematic usage pattern such as addiction. The use and gratification theory suggest that individuals utilize social media sites to achieve their objectives, satisfy their needs and interests, which increases the time spent online. (Ryan et al., 2014; Fu-Yuan; Su-Lin, 2016). The study by Bachrach et al. (2012) reveals that the time spent on Facebook is closely associated with users’ motivation. A study conducted by Hong and Chiu (2016) demonstrated a strong positive link between Facebook usage and addiction. They asserted that uncontrollable intrinsic motivation frequency and duration of Facebook usage lead to addiction. In another study, Navied, Rashid, and Sultan (2017) investigated the impact of the use of Facebook on social behavior with a sample population form both private and public institutions. The study found that young people search gratification and social support through the number of comments and likes they get on Facebook. As a result, they increase their Facebook usage even by connecting with strangers, increasing their risk to hacking and cyberbullying. The study also found that excessive use of Facebook causes depression. Facebook is a useful communication tool, but excessive use negatively affects social behavior.

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Facebook usage patterns are determined by various individual factors. In a study conducted with 160 students from all years in Dhaka University, Islam and Mostofa (2015) found a digital divide in the use of Facebook based on age, geographical area, educational level, gender, and personal characteristics. Several studies have reported gender differences in Facebook usage, with females spending more time on the internet than males (Junco, 2012; Islam & Mostofa, 2015; Rahman, 2014; Kittinger, Correia, & Irons, 2012). These studies found persistent differences in the use of Facebook based on gender, age, and socio-economic lines. On the contrary, Haq and Chand (2012) found that Facebook usage patterns do not vary across gender. Females and males spend equal time on Facebook on average. In line with their findings, Ying-Chao, Hanh, Khalil and Ming-Sun (2012) found no significant correlation between gender and Facebook usage pattern. The study also found that age significantly influences Facebook usage behavior. Younger people have greater addiction and participation experience than older people. Facebook addiction level was found to be higher in users who had registered less than six months ago. Facebook users with different demographic characteristics demonstrate different usage patterns.

Several scholars have investigated the main reasons why students use Facebook. A study conducted by Nika and Sofi (2014) with a sample of college students from Central University of Kashmir found that people mostly use Facebook to connect with their friends or for flirting. The study also found that Facebook bridges the communication gap and helps people to chat with strangers of the same or opposite sex, an issue that needs to be resolved due to privacy concerns. In a previous study, Haq and Chand (2012) revealed that Facebook is mostly used to interact with the existing friends. In line with these results, Rahman (2014) found that students use Facebook to keep in touch with past and current friends. Students rely on Facebook for interpersonal communication because it allows them to share common interests and express themselves. In another study, Islam and Mostofa (2015) studied Facebook usage pattern with a sample of students from Dhaka University. The study found that students complement face to face communication with Facebook and rarely use it for educational purposes, but some find it unnecessary due to the availability of other means of communication in the university. Facebook is mostly used when having difficulties in participating in face to face class discussions because it is less intimidating. The study also found that students face difficulties in managing their accounts due to a lack of knowledge about the privacy settings. These studies suggest that students often use Facebook for socialization.

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Previous studies have reported mixed findings on the association between Facebook usage pattern and educational outcomes. Facebook lowers students’ level of engagement (Gill, Harrison, Ramnanan, Wood, & Jalali, 2014; Ryan et al., 2014; Fırat et al., 2017). Frequent use of Facebook is significantly correlated with students’ performance due to lack of engagement with learning activities. Contrary to these findings, a study by Zhu and Procter (2015) conducted in the UK with a sample of Ph.D. students found that the application of Facebook in learning activities improves the outcome. Ph.D. students use Facebook as a platform to connect with their professors and peers to gain feedback, support and share ideas. Students create Facebook pages and groups to share research information and interact with professors and peers. Facebook benefits research work by creating a platform where students can share resources, seek support and advice. However, the researchers also found that Ph.D. students in the UK face challenges in maintaining their Facebook accounts due to a lack of knowledge. According to Kelly (2012), more than 85% universities in the UK have created Facebook pages for educational purposes. Recently, most of the higher education institutions in the UK have introduced educational courses to train academic staff and Ph.D. students on how to improve studies by applying social media sites. In another study, Robertson (2016) found that Facebook encourages valuable social intelligence skills, which positively impact academic outcomes. Students who complete their assessment using Facebook experience an increase in motivation and learn more. Facebook is a useful educational tool if used appropriately.

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Scholars are mostly dependent on self-report methods using surveys to capture the usage of Facebook. Due to the lack of rigor of this method, researchers have adopted Facebook intensity scale to examine the extent to which users integrate Facebook into their daily lives (Labrague, 2014; Li et al., 2016). However, evidence shows that this scale is not adequate. Raghavendra, Wood, Newman, and Lawry (2012) claim that Facebook usage pattern is better conceived in terms of ways in which people use different features rather than viewing it as a single monolithic site. Several authors have employed a self-reported frequency of different features to describe Facebook usage (Haq & Chand, 2012; Batrinca & Treleaven, 2015; Chen, 2014). The study shows that various measures can be employed to gather data on Facebook usage patterns.

The availability of web-based Application Programming Interfaces (IPA) provided by social media sites has attracted researchers. According to Batrinca and Treleaven (2015), the use of data captured from social media sites in computational research is becoming popular. Ch’ng (2014) opines that social sites represent a valuable source of information for research. Information generated through online activities can be accessed quickly and analyzed accurately. In the case of Facebook, scholars have relied on Application Programming Interface (API) to gather a large volume of data related to many issues including the use of different features and network structure. API allow gathering of data with unprecedented reliability and accuracy. Spiliotopoulos and Oakley (2013) demonstrated that motives for Facebook use including usage pattern could be predicted with data captured on this site. Gandomi and Haider (2015) have argued that data captured directly from social media sites are less efficient and subject to bias. Data-driven methods help researchers gather relevant data. The combination of data captured using Facebook API and questionnaire survey tool can eliminate bias and allow researchers to gather accurate and reliable data.

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The following hypotheses will be tested:

Hypothesis 1: There is a strong association usage pattern between Facebook and individual variables (age, gender, and program).

Hypothesis 2: There is a significant association between usage pattern of Facebook (duration and frequency) and education outcomes.

Hypothesis 3: There is a significant association between usage pattern of Facebook (duration and frequency) and social outcomes.

Hypothesis 4: Facebook usage pattern varies among University students so that correlation with educational outcomes change.

Research Design


Quantitative research design will be used to conduct this study. Two tools will be combined to gather data that cover the research objectives: questionnaire survey and Facebook API and questionnaire survey tool. A draft questionnaire that includes questions that cover the research objectives will be designed. The questions will be pretest through pilot study to ensure that they are not ambiguous and can generate the required data. The necessary adjustments will be made based on pilot study findings.

Sampling and Recruitment

The sample will be drawn from university students Facebook users in the UK. For the results to be generalizable, at least 450 completed questionnaires will be required. Participants will be recruited with a request to complete a questionnaire survey. Facebook ad campaign and posts on Facebook will be used to recruit participants. The combination of these recruitment methods will allow a broader reach of a diverse sample in terms of geographic distribution and demographic characteristics.

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The diversity of this sample will reveal whether there is variation in Facebook usage patterns across gender, program, and socio-economic status. The ad campaign will be designed to target university users in the UK and research will be framed as an academic study. Due to the ability of Facebook to manage the ads’ visibility, the method is expected to help in the recruitment of a relatively large number of University Facebook users in the UK.

Data Collection

The final questionnaire will consist of three parts. The first part of the survey will gather demographic data. The second component will be constructed to analyze the frequency and duration of participants’ Facebook usage patterns. This part will also collect data to assess the number of months or years that each participant has been using Facebook. A self-reported usage measure will be developed to gather data related to demographic and Facebook usage. The frequency of Facebook users will be examined using an 8 point Likert item (How often do you log in to Facebook?) with the following response options: 1= more than ten times daily, 2=more than five times daily, 3= less than five times daily, 4= more than once a week, 5= weekly, 6= a few times in a month, 7= once a month and 8= never. Open-ended questions will be used to examine the time spent on Facebook daily, the number of times users log in daily and a number of months or years they have been using Facebook. The third component will gather data that will reveal various reasons for using Facebook.

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A Facebook API will be used to gather data by capturing data generated through online activities and using a questionnaire survey. Study participants will access questionnaire by installing API. Participants will access the questionnaire survey by clicking on a link to log in to the API with their Facebook details. The adding of the link will be similar to the installation of a Facebook application. After logging in, the study participants will be directed to the questionnaire survey capturing demographics and their Facebook usage patterns. The link will have a permission dialogs for basic profile information, pages, groups, and activity log. By clicking on these dialogs, the participants will allow access to their information. Respondents whose responses show a discrepancy between demographic variables reported in the questionnaire survey and those collected from their Facebook profiles will be considered unreliable and excluded from the analysis. The participants will be given one week to complete the survey. There will be no compensation, but the study participants will be contacted about the study findings.

Data Analysis

The data gathered will be analyzed using Statistical Packages for Social Studies (SPSS). The direction and strength of Facebook usage duration and frequency will be assessed by using inferential statistical analyses. Specifically, Pearson product-moment correlational will be the most appropriate correlational statistic for this study because Facebook duration and frequency patterns are continuous and parametric. It will be used to measure the strength and direction of the relationship between Facebook usage pattern and education and social outcomes. The study will employ Chi-square tests to examine the association between gender and program (nominal variables).

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