There are four types of Facebook user – which are you?

Keeping up with the Zuckerbergs

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Why are you on Facebook?

The question may seem a little accusatory, given I’m writing this during office hours, but I assure you there’s no judgement here. Well, maybe a little, but I mean this question in the more philosophical or mercenary sense: what are you getting out of the social network that keeps you coming back to it time and time again?

That’s a question that interested professors from Brigham Young University, and in a study published in the International Journal of Virtual Communities and Social Networking they think your answer will fall into one of four categories. They’ve come up with this figure based on surveys and interviews with 47 Facebook users aged between 18 and 32, where participants were asked to agree or disagree with statements related to how they use the service.

These are the four types of person the researchers found.

1. Relationship Builders

This is probably the closest to the original USP of Facebook – other than to make lots of money. Relationship builders use Facebook as an extension of the real world – using it chiefly to maintain and enrich relationships with friends and family. They tended to agree strongly with statements like "Facebook helps me to express love to my family and lets my family express love to me." Facebook, to them, takes the form of a digital hug.

2. Window Shoppers

If Relationship Builders are fairly transparent in their useage, Window Shoppers are harder to spot – chiefly because they rarely, if ever, post anything. They’re there out of obligation, or to spy, basically. “It’s the social media equivalent of window shopping,” sums up study co-author Clark Callahan. Uncomfortably, these users were most likely to agree to the sentiment: “I can freely look at the Facebook profile of someone I have a crush on and know their interests and relationship status.” Less creepily, they can also be quite grumpy about the mores of the 21st century, agreeing with the statement “I have to use Facebook in order to stay connected with people.”

3. Town Criers

Town criers are similarly coy about their personal life, but boy do they want to impose their view of the world on to you. To that end, you’ll find them heavy on the sharing of news articles (fake or otherwise) and memes. For these people, Facebook isn’t an extension of the real world, and they’re far more likely to talk to loved ones outside of Zuckerberg’s garden. As one Town Crier put it: “I don’t talk to my family on Facebook.. they are more important than that.” Take THAT Zuck.

4. Selfies

Ah, the good old fashioned narcissists. Selfies use Facebook for the attention and view likes and comments as the addictive currency of the game. Damningly, these people share a lot of the same qualities as relationship builders, only they’re focusing that energy on themselves and not others. Which makes sense: so many people find themselves on their deathbeds wishing they’d gotten more Facebook likes.

You might feel a pang of pity at the statement that they tend to identify with most: “The more ‘like’ notification alarms I receive, the more I feel approved by my peers.”

Other?

The chances are that you’ll fall into more than one of these categories, according to the researchers. “Everybody we’ve talked to will say, ‘I’m part of this and part of this, but I’m mostly this,'” says lead-author Tom Robinson – a Relationship Builder, on the off chance you were wondering.

There are, of course, potential drawbacks with the methodology here. 47 people is a relatively puny number of participants for a study – and to put that into perspective, it represents 0.00000235% of Facebook’s current userbase. Add to the fact that it caps at the age of 32, and you’re not looking at the definitive answer here.

On the other hand, these characteristics certainly ring true to me – I’ve seen examples of every one of the genre on my exploration of the network (hey, it’s what we Window Shoppers do). A more pertinent question, perhaps, is why should you care why people use Facebook? The benefits for Zuckerberg and co. are obvious, but for everybody else?

I’ll let the researchers answer that in their own words. "Social media is so ingrained in everything we do right now," explained co-author Kris Boyle. "And most people don't think about why they do it, but if people can recognise their habits, that at least creates awareness."

In other words, perhaps you can find an outlet for your behaviour outside of Facebook?