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Role of Instagram in Romantic Relationships

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Social media users in Indonesia is increasing today. There are around 59 million active Instagram users dominated by young adults age 18 to 24 years old. The purpose of this study is to understand the way couples using Instagram in developing their romantic relationships and reducing their uncertainty at the initiation stage of relationship development. The method used in this research was qualitative with a phenomenological research approach. The researcher interviewed two romantic couples, young adults who were active Instagram users – they are logging in daily and actively engaging on the platform. This study proves that the implementation of Knapp’s relational stage model is still applicable to today’s modern romantic relationship. The tangible difference lies in how the stranger gets acquaintance on Instagram at the initial approach – as they replace Facebook and face-to-face meetings, and how they show off their affection of ‘in relationship’. Further, the result indicates that Instagram is the most common means of passive uncertainty reduction strategies at the initiation stages of relationship development, followed by interactive strategies and last is active strategies.

According to Solomon & Theiss, interpersonal communication refers to the extract meanings process within two individuals in which one’s actions can influence another person’s action. Interpersonal communication often relates to a romantic relationship; when people romantically interested in someone, the appealing feelings toward each other are expressed by verbal or non-verbal communications. In today’s globalization era, social networking sites (SNS) play an important role in changing the way people communicate and develop their interpersonal relationships (Baym, 2010). Therefore, the way romantic couples communicate matters because it affects the integrity of relationships; whether it will be well developed, maintained or destroyed through communications.

Nowadays, most people are sharing their experiences online driven by the desire to get the most convenient, effective and quick medium to interact. Social media allow people to recreate face-to-face interaction by messaging, sharing, or posting online – it feels like a never-ending process (Farrugia, 2013). Smith & Duggan (2013) reports that 59% of internet users prefer to meet their prospective romantic partners online. Now, romantic relationship status can be also revealed at the second people screening through couples’ social media. In Indonesia, 56% of 268.2 million total populations of Indonesia are actively using social media as of January 2019. The nature of social media have huge power in Indonesia to digitally fact-check personal information, declare one’s romantic relationship status, and communicate between couples.

Furthermore, the researcher has chosen Instagram as an integral medium of romantic relationship development since Indonesia is the fourth leading country in the world in terms of the number of Instagram users. It is recorded that, as of July 2019, Indonesia has reached around 59 million active users. Additionally, Instagram is dominated by Indonesian young adults age 18 to 24 years old over 39% of total active users (NapoleonCat, 2019), conversely 55.8% of Facebook users consists of those age 30 to 35 years old. Instagram was founded in 2010 as the online application allowing people to connect with pictures, videos, messages, or comments in a very fascinating way. Data updated by 2019, Instagram now has 1B+ active monthly users and 500M+ daily stories around the world.

Referring to the fact that the application of most theoretical frameworks were evaluated on the basis of traditional interaction or face-to-face interaction. It is tremendously important to assess the role of Instagram in the development of a romantic relationship in young adults, like Facebook, Instagram is also supplementing traditional face-to-face interaction. Therefore, this research in-depth examines Instagram by using Knapp’s relationship development model as the grand theory that originally conceptualized by Knapp in 1978 and Uncertainty Reduction Theory (URT) at the initiation stage as the topic-related theory that originally formulated by Charles Berger and Richard Calabrese in 1975.

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Knapp’s relationship development model offers five stages of developing a relationship such as initiation, experimentation, intensifying, integration until it successfully becomes a formal relationship at the bonding stage. All people are involved in the romantic relationship must experience these stages as their relationship grows. So far, none of the previous studies analyze the whole application of Knapp’s relationship development model in the modern communication channels – the initiation stage and the bonding stage are the most reviewed stages by the scholars. Previous studies mostly examined the specific stage of Knapp’s relationship development model on Facebook, followed by any online dating sites such as Tinder, e-Harmony, Match, etc.

Furthermore, the researcher explores the application of Uncertainty Reduction Theory (URT) at initial encounters of modern romantic relationships because social media play important roles to reduce uncertainty at the initiation stage especially as information-seeking tools. Uncertainty is uncomfortable (West & Turner, 2010:149). Thus, the research by Mongeau, Jacobsen & Donnerstein in 2007 as cited in West & Turner (2010:159) note that the primary goal of dating is reducing uncertainty. To evaluate uncertainty reduction strategies, the researcher has constructed three information-seeking strategies in initiating a new relationship. As described by Berger in Introducing Communication Theory: Analysis and Application by West & Turner (2010:157), those strategies are: (a) passive strategies — in-depth searching and viewing prospective dates’ profile page without their knowing and typically doing in a careful way without leaving any sign of visits on wall posts or comments; (b) active strategies — asking the third party that may comment on their prospective dates’ past actions and behavior; (c) interactive strategies — involving two ways interaction to potential dates, it can be via phone, email or face to face.

This study aims to understand the way couples use Instagram in developing their romantic relationships and reducing their uncertainty at the initiation stage of relationship development. Based on the background of the study, the researcher constructs two research questions:

Furthermore, this study consists of three-level of contributions. Firstly, this study contributes to gain a practical understanding of the modern application of Knapp’s model relationship development and Uncertainty Reduction Theory. Secondly, this study continues existing yet fresh researches by Fox et al. that focuses on the role of Facebook in romantic relationship escalation and maintenance. This study makes a breakthrough – focus on the role of Instagram, relationship growth, and uncertainty reduction behaviors. It has to be challenging since none previous researches existed about relationship escalation and maintenance using Knapp’s relational stage model on Instagram. Thirdly, this research addresses specific contributions towards specific parties:

  1. practical significant – romantic couples, to minimize the relationship dissolution threats using Instagram,
  2. future researchers, to explore wider perspectives of the role of Instagram in romantic relationship development.

The scope of this research is qualitative descriptive research with the phenomenological approach focusing on examining Instagram using Knapp’s relationship development model as the grand theory and uncertainty reduction theory in the initiation stage as the topic-related theory. It considers two romantic couples that are currently in a romantic relationship who have an active Instagram account. The informants are the young adults age 18 to 24 years old which accounts for 39% of total active Indonesian Instagram users. In vivo coding is conducted to identify the informant’s experiences. The researcher does not further analyze the length of the relationship – does not matters whether the informants are either currently in short- or long-term relationships because this research merely acquires them to refer back to the time they knew each other until the moment they announced themselves together in relationship status. In addition to it, the other external factors such as family background, or individual past experiences in developing romantic relationships are not correlated with research questions.

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Role of Instagram in Romantic Relationships. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 27, 2022, from
“Role of Instagram in Romantic Relationships.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
Role of Instagram in Romantic Relationships. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 27 Nov. 2022].
Role of Instagram in Romantic Relationships [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2022 Nov 27]. Available from:
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