Why Do People REALLY Tweet? The Psychology Behind Tweeting!

What are the real, closeted reasons behind the action of “tweeting”? Why would someone spend hours tweeting to complete strangers he/she has never met before and will probably never meet in person? What needs does tweeting fulfill? Do we really think of the psychology behind our tweeting habits?

Past findings…

Researchers and scientists always have some kind of explanation or another about any given subject or trend! Take Freud for example, he was able to relate every possible human action, dream and thought to some sexual problem or fetish!

In one of the articles I have recently came across, “I Tweet Therefore I Am”, the clinical psychologist Oliver James stated that “Twittering stems from a lack of identity”. He further goes on to say that “no one would Twitter if they had a strong sense of identity“. What would you say to such accusations?

Sadly, at least to a certain extent, I would have to agree.

How I see it…

Amongst the many scientific theories I truly respect and even believe in, Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs shines through! Whenever I think of Twitter and the possible reasons why anyone would tweet, apart from the obvious sales or marketing efforts, I think of this simple yet highly valid hierarchy!

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Here is why…

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Twitter…

According to Maslow, everything we do is derived from and revolves around a certain need we are seeking to satisfy. In his pyramid of needs, Maslow demonstrates how “the lowest level of needs is associated with physiological needs, while the uppermost level is associated with self-actualization needs, particularly those related to identity and purpose. Deficiency needs must be met first. Once these are met, seeking to satisfy growth needs drives personal growth. The higher needs in this hierarchy only come into focus when the lower needs in the pyramid are met”.

How does Twitter fit into this equation?

So now that we have established our basic physiological needs such as guaranteeing food, shelter, water and so on and we were also able to cover our safety needs in terms of property, employment and family. We are still not satisfied! What can we do next?

Well, we need to move on in the pyramid and fulfill other needs such as the need for love, belonging, esteem and finally self-actualization.

Twitter can help, on some level, establish those needs to many of its users. Through Twitter, you can easily do the following:

  • Meet new people from different backgrounds and various locations around the world.
  • Establish connections with others, grow friendships, build relationships and maybe even find love (or at least talk about it to many others who might be feeling the same!).
  • Build on self-confidence through interacting with tweeps who continuously praise your tweets, personality, knowledge and/or looks.
    An example of being praised on Twitter :)

    An example of being praised on Twitter :)

  • Earn respect from your Twitter peers by providing them with valuable content, tips and links.
  • Develop and spread your creativity in an open and receptive Twitter atmosphere.
  • Learn new skills related to problem-solving, enhancing interpersonal competencies and improving overall communication habits.
  • Win products, through sweepstakes and promotions, that have the ability to make you feel “important” and “unique” such as the Macbook Pro.
  • Feel with others on a deeper level through spreading the news about humanitarian causes, environmental problems, economical issues or political debates, and eventually making a difference.
  • Achieve fame through proposing ideas that will become trending topics or uncovering site hacks and problems.

So, why do you tweet?

Now that I have listed the psychological needs behind using Twitter, which need would you say Twitter satisfies for you? And do you think there are other needs that Twitter fulfills?

Comments and Reactions

  • http://triplem.host.sk TripleM

    Now we all know that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs basically determines the organizational behaviour of company individuals. Using it to determines the psychological reasons behind Twittering was unexpectedly clever of you. I really enjoyed reading your piece. I thought it was cool how you included both the non-personal and personal aspects of Twittering.

  • http://anitacmccants.blogspot.com/ Anita C. McCants

    I tweet to share ideas, share articles,
    and of course… share my blog. :~)

  • http://nbrightside.com/blog Andy C

    Same as blogging really. It all stems from a desire to be loved.

  • Jen

    It’s far to complex to be explained by Maslow’s theories. Actually, Maslow’s theory tends to be used more in management teaching than in Psychology teaching. When I did my Psych. degree Maslow was merely touched upon – considered now more as pop psychology. (Sorry, don’t mean to sound dismissive). Actually, I think Freud, for all his shortcomings, and there were plenty, might have more to say about Twitter than Maslow.

    The truth is, you have to look at the individuals concerned, maybe divide them into “types”. Some people may indeed feel some lack of identity that drives them to try to identify with cyber people. But some people might just be lonely and/or bored. Twitter gives them something to do. Some might just want to entertain. Look for instance at Graham Linehan’s tweets. There is such a mixture and he doesn’t seem to me to be a person who lacks identity!

    Nah, we can all come up with our own individual theories about why people tweet (or use Facebook) but in the end, only a true scientific study would help us to understand what’s behind people’s motivations.

    In the mean time, I’m off back to Tweet some more :)

  • http://indyskye.tumblr.com/ IndySkye

    Tweeting is nothing more than another modern form of communication. Substitute “speaking” for “tweeting” and you easily see how absurd is the basis for the article. “Now that I have listed the psychological needs behind speaking, which need would you say speaking satisfies for you? And do you think there are other needs that speaking fulfills?” Or better yet, “no one would talk or write to each other if they had a strong sense of identity.”

    Also, there is nothing peculiar about communicating with “complete strangers”. Many of us do that every day, face to face in the real world.

    So, if anyone wanted a serious analysis of the topic, it would have to be focused on why do human beings communicate with one another in any form.

  • http://blog.thoughtpick.com/ FadiPick

    “I Tweet Therefore I Am”, I remember @cheth saying that in our Twitter 140 Interview couple of months ago. I like the way you have delved into the psychology behind tweeting. For me, I think it is more about social interaction and connecting with people. I like when I do something and get appreciated for it, you feel that instantly over Twitter :)

  • anoopjacob

    Twitter is so simple.. I think it does have some viral character..

  • mike1610

    I think many tweet (probably including me) to get response, to follow and to be followed, find somebody to idealize, find people who are “just like me” and so on… I think the needs of the SELF (for me the SELF by Heinz Kohut) are important motivations to twitter! – or to blog, to express yourself on facebook and on so many other social network sites… Mike

  • http://blog.thoughtpick.com/ Beiruta

    @TripleM! I’m glad you enjoyed how I linked Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs with the reasons behind tweeting :) One thing though, you said it was “unexpectedly clever of me”, you don’t trust my intelligence? :P Just kidding :)

  • http://blog.thoughtpick.com/ Beiruta

    To be loved and MORE… I think wanting to be loved plays an important role but seeking recognition is the big umbrella under which everything falls! Thanks for reading the post and the comment as well :)

  • http://blog.thoughtpick.com/ Beiruta

    Thanks for the long and insightful comment… I still believe in my analysis though for one reason: you said “only a true scientific study would help us to understand…” I have to disagree.

    I’ve been a “more than loyal” user of Twitter for 6 months now… I engage with people, I share links, quotes, funny stuff and I spend more than 4 hours per day doing so. I think that I, more than anyone else, can come up with a sound opinion of why people tweet, more than a scientist dealing with numbers and stats and watching from outside… I really think that you need to be in the middle of it all to be sincere about your observations…

    Freud may have had his own ideas which are more related to the human condition than Maslow, but let’s face it, most of them made us look like as if we do everything for a reason related to sex or a need to fulfill a sexual desire.

    I also studied Maslow at school and that was a long time ago. We studied him in relation to management and I forgot that he existed. Until one day, while thinking of a topic to write, he came up in relation to the act of tweeting and it felt right and logical for me to use his ides here.

    Naturally, I could have used any other philosopher like Plato or Socrates or writers whom I admire like Kafka… But as a rule of thumb, and as a writer, I make it a point to write about the first idea that pops to my head and remains strong after research.

    Regards,

    Beirut

  • http://blog.thoughtpick.com/ Beiruta

    Thank you for your constructive criticism.

    I'll be waiting to read a post from you which is “focused on why human being communicate with each other”, since you think that that would be a more serious analysis. :)

  • http://triplem.host.sk TripleM

    Actually, I didn’t mean it that way! I was just teasing you a bit. :)

  • AKG

    Twitter seems to keep me from ataining fulfillment of the physiological base needs [like waiting to eat or sleep to keep reading people's tweets] but it is very effective at fortifying the upper levels. Professionally, where I am least reinforced by my immediate peers and administration, I find twitter and my PLN I have developed there very effective at supplying immediate, constant, and effective PD. This is far and away more than my school system has ever been able to do.

  • http://www.marketingshop.nl Eline Walda

    For me, the most important reason to try Twitter was self-education. As a communications consultant I should try things myself before I advise them to my clients. I have been on Twitter for almost a year now, and my experience has been a positive one. Apart from the learning experience, I have found interesting people, learnt a lot through insights on Twitter and through links to postings I would never have found otherwise. And? And it has given me entertainment, diversion, a good laugh now and then. As far as I'm concerned, twitter is here to stay.

    Truthfully, in Maslow terms, for me Twitter is belonging, esteem and self-actualization. Especially the latter, since for me Twitter is all about education and development. At the same time, Twitter is only one of the many tools at your disposal if you wish to interact with people – be it socially or professionally. Let's not over-analyze it… a year from now, Twitter will not be a hype anymore, it will just be out there for you to use to your heart's delight. Just like so many other tools. In the end, it's all about sharing, communications.

  • http://kuasar.es/blog kuasar

    “Oliver James stated that “Twittering stems from a lack of identity””

    I disagree. It is because one has an identity and other basic aspects covered, that can move onto further aspects such as self-actualization. Quoting you: “The higher needs in this hierarchy only come into focus when the lower needs in the pyramid are met”.

  • daryll2009

    I tweet cuz i just wanna type something on my qwerty cellphone. haha
    kidding aside, i have to disagree on need for love, belonging, esteem and self-actualization as a reason why tweeple are tweeting. Texting has become so expensive, twitter is a great alternative. pEOPLE discover ways how to take advantage of their data plans. we always find new ways to open communication portals.

  • mnplanner

    Nice Article. I think it's interesting that a lot of Tweets are about Physiological needs. “I ate a sandwich” “I'm tired” “I'm Poo….”

  • http://blog.thoughtpick.com/2009/08/what-does-your-twitter-avatar-background-say-about-you.html What Does Your Twitter Avatar & Background Say About YOU? | Thoughtpick Blog

    [...] of us uses Twitter for a certain aim and tweets for a different reason. Therefore, it is highly essential that your avatar and background are able to clearly corroborate [...]

  • http://wwginger.wordpress.com/2009/09/02/strange-things-are-afoot-links-of-interest/ Strange things are afoot + Links of interest « Ramblings of a WebWench

    [...] Why Do People REALLY Tweet? The Psychology Behind Tweeting! [...]

  • ppeach40

    Yea this is so true!! You are awsome.

  • http://blog.grouvia.com/ Lisa Pecunia

    Maslow was a genius, that is for sure. However, I think this is a vast generalization and probably only true of a portion of the tweeting universe. Personally I tweet because I've been told I have to for my business. Otherwise to be honest I probably wouldn't bother. I suspect lots of tweeters do it for the same reason.

    On the other hand, a lot can be learned from the data that is being organically compiled in the Twitterverse, and if I had the time I'd explore this further. On the surface it just seems like a mass overload of 140-byte thoughts, but I have honestly seen some real gems in there. But finding them is rare and difficult. Whoever can harness this will have true power and great knowledge.

  • http://blog.thoughtpick.com/2009/10/the-addicitve-psychology-behind-facebooks-use-popularity.html The Addictive Psychology Behind Facebook’s Use & Popularity! | Thoughtpick Blog

    [...] Not so long ago, we discussed how the use of social media channels, in general, can cause different types of psychological problems or disturbances and how it can have the ability to negatively influence our mental and emotional health. In another post, we discussed the psychology behind people tweeting. [...]

  • http://twitter.com/mejimmyes Jim Crabb

    How did I miss this=)…it has been at least 30 years since my pic appeared in a publication. Yes I do enjoy your tweets n writings. Thanks!:-)

  • http://www.conshelpingcons.com/ Chuck

    I only agree with that when you are talking about personal tweeters, ones who have nothing to gain by doing it. However I have never felt the need to use if for anything but business, or something I need to promote. It is great for that, and a wonderful tool in that respect, but it is no substituted for a social life, nor is any social network for that matter.

  • http://essenceofnone.wordpress.com/ cathy

    I'll never tell.

  • http://audiok9.blogspot.com audioK9

    thoughtpick» i'm probably 1/2 in the “i tweet therefore i am” group and 1/2 in the “music niche” group- but i have to say i get a kick from the random tweets online covering everything from high-tech to zen thoughts! 1example» 50 funniest/weirdest tweets on thoughtpick.. =]

    cheers! mike the audioK9

  • http://twitter.com/mike2977 mike2977

    As a geek for many years, it was natural to give Twitter a try early this year. Just playing with it, I gained about 40 followers from my close circle of friends and family in about 6 months. Then as Facebook sort of took over from MySpace, I saw Twitter expanding with tons of apps claiming to gain one more followers and decided to see just how many followers I could get if I gave it a serious try. To my amazement, I have gained over 40,000 followers since June using a couple of apps and discarding the “twitter train” or “follow-me, gain tons of followers” apps that also gained access to your Twitter credentials for their own usage.

    Reading a lot of the Social Media blogs, I also tried a number of their tricks to see if some of the affiliate and MLM programs I'm involved with would gain additional business too, but my experience to date has been less than sensational. All I've really encountered with Twitter leads is more leads to sites claiming to make you a million dollars in a couple of months with their lead programs, seminars, books, etc.

    So, fun & games for awhile, and a bit addictive. I've become a Twitter fan and probably fit in that pyramid somewhere :-)

    Mike

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/2PEY7G6IM3YVVCJSTVUT7QNZAA E T

    I wrote about what this article brought up for me: http://bit.ly/8hnGOm

    Thanks, Elliott

  • lori

    Currently Twitter doesn't fill any need of mine. Tried it. Don't get it. Will later use it as a marketing tool.

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  • WhoCares

    Good article.. but you may forgot to mention the negative side of it:
    - To fulfill my ego and vanity of wanting to be praise and be respected, to be known by many, and to let others know how smart and kind I am.

    The only best positive side of tweeting is to build a network and to discuss useful topics.

  • http://dr-shawns-blog.webs.com/ Dr. Shawn

    Absolutely agree. I am a Clinical Psychologist (note it is capitalized) and this drivel is nonsense, ““I Tweet Therefore I Am”, the clinical psychologist Oliver James stated that “Twittering stems from a lack of identity”. Dr. Oliver should think of that theory the next time he writes a book, lectures, teaches a course or submits a medical journal. I joined Twitter at the urging of my young-adult children and have found that it is a wonderful tool for informative news, topics within my field and psychological blog sharing and a great networking tool for professionals. For anyone to generalize so much data into a compressed few paragraphs is ridiculous. I have food now I need an identity? Are you serious?…please

  • http://dr-shawns-blog.webs.com/ Dr. Shawn

    You’ve been on Twitter for 6 months and therefore you are fully capable of analyzing every person on Twitter and their reason for being there? Oh GOOD LORD…Leaving before I lose any IQ points.

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    [...] “What would Freud think of Twitter?”  That’s the first sentence of an article a friend of mine wrote recently for PsychologyToday.com.  My curiosity catalyzed, and I did a little further reading.  Experts generally agree: the bigger the tweeter, the bigger the narcissist. [...]

  • Geralynk

    I use twitter for ONE reason: Adam Lambert. I love the fandom & look forward to meeting people at the concerts. So there's no anonimity in it for me. I've attended 4 Glam Nation concerts & through twitter have a local group of “Glamberts” that get together on a regular basis. We call it our “Glamily”. We love how we can get 1st hand tweets from Adam, his band & dancers on what's going on behind the scenes. If it wasn't for my Adam/twitter addiction, I would have never known that ppl were looking for someone to take a Meet & Greet for Adam in Honolulu. I got the “twat” & the call for it. Very exciting for me & ppl on my feed shared in my joy. It's all about the <3 LOVE <3 I also like to help w/information needed & asked for by others or just give someone a {{{{{{{Glittery GlamNation Hug}}}}}} who needs one. I have International Glambert friends & am excited everytime I meet a REAL twatter! We all speak the same language! ;-D

  • motoxer

    Seems like almost a stepping stone to narcissism. You realy need people you don’t truly know in person to follow your every word on a social site for some self recognition?

  • motoxer

    Seems like almost a stepping stone to narcissism. You realy need people you don’t truly know in person to follow your every word on a social site for some self recognition?

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  • Bird is the Word

    Actually, Maslow’s theories, or any theoretical models for that matter, are far too complex to apply to the dodo droppings that comprise Twitter. I don’t mean to offend any die-hard Twitter fans, but sorry if I seem to be oversimplifying things when I say I don’t care to associate with anyone whose “hierarchy of needs” involves ogling Kim Kardashian’s “media a$$ets” or blah-blahing about social marketing jargon that 99% of people don’t get and will never need to care about. Seriously, WTF do “ROI” and “platform” mean in the average person’s daily life?

    Twitter, in short, is for twits. Otherwise why would the top most popular twits using this pathetic degradation of personal communication be none other than Justine Beaver, Lady Caca, and the schweddie ball$ack that is Alec Baldwin? Not a “smart” Alec in the most literal sense of the word, if you know what I mean.

    140 characters or less: “Dude, where’s the intelligent life on Earth?” (Dubious props to Kelso for really debunking the myth that the Internet is comprised largely of “intellectual” property distribution.)

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