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Life on Social Media Platforms, in Users’ Own Words


Pew Research Center worked with SSRS to conduct a series of live, online focus groups in July 2022 to understand the experiences of people who are especially engaged on social media platforms. This report describes findings from five groups of these users, conducted from July 11 to 13, 2022, via an online platform with video and audio capabilities.1

A total of 23 U.S. adults participated across the five groups.2 Given the design of the project, findings described in the report are not statistically representative of any broader population or specific groups.

SSRS partnered with InsideOut Insights (IOI) to conduct and moderate the focus groups, which were each 90 minutes long. Participants were recruited from the SSRS Opinion Panel via an online screening survey and had to meet several sets of criteria to be eligible.

First, potential participants had to be U.S. adults, age 18 or older, who use the internet and speak English. They also had to indicate in a previous survey that they use social media to be sampled for recruitment.

Second, they had to meet the study’s definition of a “highly engaged social media user.” Their answers to the recruitment survey questions had to fulfill all three of the following criteria:

  • They were frequent users of multiple platforms. They said they use or look at three or more of the following platforms either several times a day, about once a day or a few times a week: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Reddit, TikTok, Nextdoor.
  • They frequently shared things or commented when using social media. They said they did one or more of the following things almost every time or often when they used social media:
    • Post or share things about themselves or their views so anyone can see them
    • Post or share things about themselves or their views to a specific group of friends or followers
    • Share things that others originally posted or shared
    • Comment on or react to things others posted or shared
  • They found posting on social media important for self-expression. They said social media sites or apps were extremely or very important to them, personally, as a way to express themselves.

All recruits were screened for high-speed internet access and a working webcam to ensure full participation in the online group.

A table showing demographic characteristics of focus group participants

Final placement in groups was determined according to participants’ availability and demographic characteristics. To learn about the experiences of a diverse group of participants, four of the five groups were organized by either race and ethnicity (one group of non-Hispanic Black participants and one group of Hispanic participants) or political party (one group of Democrats and one group of Republicans, including those who said they lean toward the respective party). The remaining group did not have specific demographic eligibility criteria. Recruitment for all five groups was designed and monitored to achieve a mix of demographic characteristics (e.g., age, gender, race and ethnicity, education, urbanicity and political party) beyond these specific requirements.

During the recruitment survey, those who qualified were notified of their rights and privacy as participants, informed of the purpose of the research, and provided with contact information for both the Center and SSRS research teams. Those qualifying for a group were asked for explicit consent during this process.

Two moderators were hired to lead the groups, with one leading the group of Black users and another leading the other four groups. All groups followed a discussion guide developed by Center researchers with input from SSRS. The discussion guide included the following sections:

  • Introduction
  • Uses and reasons I: Platforms used
  • Uses and reasons II: How platforms fit into users’ lives
  • Posting & presentation I: Considerations for posting
  • Posting & presentation II: Presentation of self
  • Interactions on social media
  • Viewpoints and politics
  • What users want from social media

The full discussion guide and screening questions are available upon request.

Each group had between four and six participants. All participants were paid for their time.

Center researchers observed the groups and reviewed transcripts and video recordings provided by SSRS to identify key themes and quotations. Quotations from the groups and themes described in the report are not statistically representative of any broader population. Instead, the findings provide color, context and clarity to the larger conversation around how people use social media platforms today.

Quotations included in the report were selected to illustrate the variety of views and experiences of focus group participants, not the frequency with which these views and experiences came up. They have been lightly edited for grammar and clarity. Views expressed by participants have not been fact-checked.

© Pew Research Center, 2023

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  1. A sixth group was conducted simultaneously with this research among “less engaged” social media users for informational purposes. This group used a different set of screening criteria and a different discussion guide. No findings from this group are included in the report and details of its methodology are not included here.
  2. An additional participant began her assigned group but was not able to complete the discussion due to technical problems. This participant was excluded from the report.
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