In this digital age, social media has completely reconstructed modern culture. Facebook, which is the world’s biggest social networking site, has 1.65 billion active users (Scott et al, 2018). Along with this rise in social media usage, the world has seen a significant increase in the amount of ‘consumer-generated’ photographs of food (Atwal et al., 2018). This type of ritual being so popular arises the question why are consumers so fascinated by the topic of food and so willing to share their culinary experiences online? This report will use the combination of available relevant literature and a detailed data analysis to examine what are the main motivations for food-related social media posting.
The study was completed by using a netnography approach to examine the behaviours of those posting and interacting in the Tasty community, an online food channel. It started off as a food community on Facebook, but it has now expanded to several other platforms in addition to expanding separate branches to the community such as their branch “Tasty Community” where most of this study’s data has come from. The community is a popular platform for members to chat about Tasty food, seek food-related advice and share their own culinary creations. A netnographic methodology constructed by Robert Kozinet was used to examine the community in order to understand the main motivations for online food-related posting.
An online community is defined as “a group of people who regularly interact with each other online” (Oxford dictionary, 2018). The concept of community has been central to the internet since it was created (Armstrong & Hagel, 2000). Millions of people around the world are involved in online communities where they participate in online discussions and create personal bonds (Armstrong & Hagel, 2000). However, a study by Kiesler and Kraut (1999) showed that most relationships in online communities involved informational support as opposed to emotional support.
Humans have a cultural obsession and an endless craving for the idea of food (Kozinets et al, 2017). This obsession with food has resulted in food communities becoming a massive phenomenon on social media (Kozinets et al, 2017). This social phenomenon emphasises that social media is a significant basis of communal interaction. Different online behaviours in social media communities reflect diverse motivations for posting content online (Scott et al, 2018).
Escapism is the process of separating oneself from their reality (Jones et al, 2018). The motive of escapism is reflected through a range of behaviours. A person might be motivated by escapism if they are attempting to distract themselves from “unpleasant realities, problems, and pressures” (Gao et al, 2017).
Escapism is seen as the motive behind posting nostalgic content since it is seen as a form of escaping from the present (Sedikides & Wildschut, 2016). Seeking a sense of belonging through companionship and being a part of a community is also a form of escapism (Gao et al, 2017).
The notion of escapism as a motive for the use of social media has been widely explored in consumer culture research (Jones et al, 2018). The belongingness theory states that one might want to feel like they belong to a community on social networking sites since it allows them to escape reality (Gao et al, 2017). According to Gao et al (2017), when members of online communities on social media partake in personal conversations and experience social presence then they are able to escape reality and gain a pleasant mental state. A danger of using escapism as a motive for posting on social media is becoming addicted to social networking (Young et al, 2017).
Altruism has been defined in various ways by different scholars. Fehr and Gächter (2000), define it as showing “unconditional kindness” for no reason and without anticipating anything in return whilst Davenport and Prusak, (2000) define it in a similar way but state that people driven by altruism “simply like helping”.
He and Wei (2009) claim that altruism is a motive for giving advice and sharing knowledge, they refer to these people as “Knowledge workers”. Another element of altruism is “actively caring”, such as sympathising with and supporting others (Allen & Ferrand, 1999). The sociocultural theory of learning states that humans “learn through social interactions” (Ma & Chan, 2014). Therefore, altruistic motivations are beneficial to society.
According to Lee et al (2011), altruism affects online communities substantially. Ma and Chan (2014) found that altruism is an important motive for participation, supporting and sharing knowledge on social media. They also state that altruism as a motive builds loyalty within online communities, particularly in communities built on common interests, such as Tasty (Ma & Chan, 2014).
This study is a qualitative research on the Tasty community on Facebook. The Tasty community and Facebook were selected due to their usefulness to the question and the amount of relevant and useful data available.
The method used to conduct primary research for this study was Netnography as it was able to provide an insight into “naturally occurring behaviours”, such as public interactions (Kozinets, 2015). Netnography is the process of observing participants and using computer-mediated interactions as a basis of data in online fieldwork (Kozinets, 2015). One key advantage of using this method is that it is a naturalistic technique and can be conducted in an unobtrusive manner (Kozinets, 2015).
For this study I was a lurker, there was no communication between myself and the Tasty community. This study was exclusively observational and only used information publicly available in order to gather naturally occurring data from the Tasty community.
The planning stage of this research process involved choosing a relevant & interactive community. Once this was done and the Tasty community was chosen, data was collected over a period of four weeks. This data was pre-existing, archival data with field notes being produced on a weekly basis. The data required a lot of filtering to ensure it was relevant. The process also involved returning to the field on a weekly basis in order to collect more data and understand the community’s patterns. In total, 23 series of data were analysed, and all of the data was stored in one Word document (due to the amount of data collected, all of it will not be included in this report). Although some images were analysed most of the data analysed was text. The data was analysed by comparing various posts and by using noting and axial coding; the process of labelling and attaching categories to the collected data in order to discover recurring themes (Kozinets, 2015). These recurring themes were then categorized into further general motivational themes in order to construct theories that coordinated with those found in relevant literature (Rageh et al, 2013).
In terms of the ethics of this study, the people that are included in the data are not aware that their comments are being analysed. However, Kozinets considered whether privacy standards have evolved enough that one can assume that those involved in online communities automatically consent to their activities and interactions being used as research material (Kozinets, 2015). In this case, the community was a public platform and any information that is publicly available may be used as data without consent (Kozinets, 2015).
Several themes appeared from coding the analysed data, but this report will focus on the main motivational themes that emerged; escapism and altruism. Below is a table showing how many times the main motivations and sub themes became apparent during the coding process:
Themes Count Motivations Count
Nostalgia 18 Escapism
Each motivation has a group of sub-themes. For example, escapism emerged from themes such as nostalgia, distraction, companionship and belonging to a community, whilst altruism emerged from themes such as advising, recommending, praising and sympathising. These themes are analysed in detail below.
One of the most frequently appearing motivations in the data analysed was Escapism. A large amount of content referred to childhood memories of food. It was clear that members of the community were using nostalgia as a form of escapism by referring to the good times of past and associating the food of their childhood with happiness. Examples of the community doing this can be seen in the extracted data below:
“My best friend’s Mom made it [macaroni & tomatoes] all the time. It was always so great.”
“Yes!! This was my favourite food growing up.”
“My mom would make buttered noodles with just tons of powdered parm on it… So delicious.”
Another form of escapism that became apparent through analysing the data was members attempting to distract themselves through posting food related content. Several members were struggling with personal issues such as grief or mental health issues and were posting in this food community in order to distract themselves from such issues. Evidence of such behaviour can be seen below:
“I recently went through a breakup and this is actually how I combatted my depression through it all. Between depression and anxiety my baking has become an escape.”
“My husband passed away just over a month ago, so I haven’t been eating or cooking much. I finally made a pot roast, and I’m glad I did…Nothing better than comfort food!”
Many members were also using food posting as a form of escapism simply by seeking the feeling of belonging to an online community and making friends. This can be seen in appendix 9 where members are discussing their personal lives. Furthermore, in appendix 13 we see a conversation describing friendship as being the best part of being involved in the community:
“Have I told you how much I loved you?… Everyone deserves a you.”
“Best thing I got from this group!”
The other main motivation found for food-related posting in the Tasty community was altruism. It became clear from analysing the data that several members in this community were posting for selfless reasons. They were doing this by sympathising, advising and praising others’ food images.
Members motivated by altruism comforted those that were using the community as an escape as seen in appendices 2 and 4. The original poster in appendix 4 was grieving the death of her husband and she received overwhelming support from the community:
“Lots of love and power to you.”
“I’m so sorry for your loss, Chrissy. Cooking is great self-care.”
“You made it to a month. I’m proud of you for cooking.”
“I really am proud of you for this. I know the food is the focus but your husband would be grateful that you took steps to be better, no matter how small or big.”
Other members motivated by altruism posted content such as cooking advice and praised others in the community for their culinary efforts. Examples of praising within the community can be seen in appendices 2,4,5,6, 12, 13 and 14 where adjectives such as ‘delicious’ and ‘great’ were frequently used to describe images of food. Dramatized language was also used in appendix 2 with one member claiming that they “would kill to have some”. This data shows to what extent several members of the community would go to make others feel good and supports the argument that altruism is their motive for posting.
Further acts of selflessness were evident when members gave others cooking advice for no reason, other than to be kind such as of that seen in appendices 7, 8 & 10. In appendix 10 one member is asking the community for advice regarding avocados and received ample replies such as:
“Treat avocados like a fat component in a recipe. Play with swapping out lard or butter in different recipes.”
Interestingly, altruism was also seen as a motive for food-related posts that were showing gratitude as seen in appendices 11 and 15. In these cases members seemed to be innocently promoting these foods in order to show their appreciation and try to advance others’ careers.
This report has explored the main motivations for food-related social media posting. It became apparent from analysing the data that people post food-related content online for several psychological reasons. However, a strong link was found between food-related posting and altruism and escapism and these were deemed to be the main motivations for posting in the Tasty community. These motivations also had a strong presence when reviewing existing literature on the motivations of general social media posting.
The study found escapism to be a strong motivator for posting food-related content online since several members of Tasty seemed to be using the platform to escape from reality. Posting nostalgic content was a strong reflector of escapist motivations with several members escaping the present by referring to their childhood. Evidence was also found of people turning to the community in times of need by posting food images and in the process they created strong social bonds. As mentioned by the belongingness theory (Gao et al, 2017), these social bonds enabled people to shut the real world out and feel like they belonged in this online community. The question must be asked whether this motion of posting food related content online to escape reality is healthy. As seen in the data, the community was used as an escape from mental health issues, but this distraction could be deemed as unhealthy as wider, medical help might be necessary.
A strong connection was found between posting food-related content and altruistic motivations such as helping others, sympathising and praising. Kiesler and Kraut (1999) stated that only informational support could be seen in online communities but this study on the Tasty community showed that those motivated by altruism displayed emotional support in the form of praising and sympathising in addition to informational support in the form of cooking advice. Every post that was a call for help, whether it be seeking cooking advice or looking for companionship received numerous replies by selfless people. It could be said that those posting for altruistic reasons might want to feel appreciated in this online community for their selflessness.
Both themes discussed seemed to link together, with those posting for altruistic reasons helping those posting as a form of escapism. It somewhat seemed similar to a supply and demand process with the demand being escapism and supply being altruism.
To conclude, this study showed that the main motivations for posting food-related content in the Tasty community are escapism and altruism. Exploring this matter further in various communities will enable researchers to gain a greater understanding of consumer behaviours. Although there is ample research on the motivations on posting online in general, more studies should be done to explore the motivations for posting food-related content online specifically, since this is a growing cultural trend. More research should also be done on using online food posting as a form of escapism as a distraction from mental health issues.