What makes a person want to engage with a news article on Facebook or Twitter, and what about that article influences the reader to share it within their social networks?
Relatively little is known about the psychological factors that underlie why and how news stories on social media platforms capture users’ attention and influence their decision to share the content further.
However, photos, graphics, and other images in a post seem to play a key role in these processes. Recent research shows that social media posts containing static images received almost three times as many shares as text-only posts.
Kate Keib, a doctoral student studying Mass Communication and former Director of Digital Marketing and interim marketing director for 11Alive, researches this phenomenon. She wants to learn how users interact with news on social media and the various indicators that predict whether a person will engage with a story or simply ignore it.
To study this, Keib uses experimental methods, including eye tracking, to research why various images make a person more or less likely to interact with and share a news story.
Keib is specifically interested in whether the emotional valence of a news image influences the likelihood of the content being interacted with and shared on social media platforms.
By observing and interviewing participants while they interact with news images and headlines, Keib is able to analyze how likely a person would be to engage with various content on social media.
“This provides a real look at how people think they would act,” says Keib.
However, to provide a truly accurate portrayal of a user’s interaction and engagement with the content, Keib’s study also employs eyetracking software.
As a member of Dr. Bart Wojdynski’s Digital Media Attention and Cognition Lab (DMAC) at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, Keib uses Tobii eyetracking equipment to record participants’ visual attention on a variety of platforms, including tablets and smartphones.
By tracking participant’s eyes, Keib is able to have a better understanding of what a participant saw and what content they viewed the longest.
“It’s more than a person saying ‘this is what I saw,’ it’s a look into how they’re actually processing the visual content.”
Keib hopes the results of the study will help journalists and editors develop engaging and compelling content as well as contribute to the scholarly literature about information processing.
“People engage with media every day, but companies don’t ‘dig deep’ into the reasons that motivate individual consumers to interact the way they do in regards to media,” Keib explains. “I think the public would have better apps and interfaces if companies did pay attention to what researchers are discovering about the way news is consumed on social media.”
Keib’s interest in news and social media also led her to study social movements on Twitter.
“I wanted to know what motivated people to ‘retweet’ socially relevant content (rather than ‘fluff’ topics) on twitter.”
Along with Dr. Itai Himelboim, Keib collected and analyzed tweets containing the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag to study the various indicators that predicted retweeting.
“We found that socially relevant content was more likely to be retweeted, or shared, when it contained emotional elements,” Keib says.
“This information can help citizens create effective social movements, and it can also help individuals and journalists understand why certain content is engaged with and shared, along with how to communicate in a way that facilitates the spreading of a message.”
After graduation, Keib plans to continue teaching and researching.
“I definitely have been bitten by the research bug,” Keib says. “There are many questions I want to investigate in the field of media and communication.”