Millions of people worldwide log onto social network sites (SNS) every day. Some users have positive experiences while others have negative experiences. The functionality of any given SNS is the same for each user, but the choice of how and when to use certain features leads each user to have different experiences. This study utilized a uses and gratifications framework to help understand what gratification expectations affect the usage of SNS among college freshmen in their first semester. Additionally, the research explored a possible link between individual personality traits of freshmen and gratification expectations as well as a link between levels of homesickness and gratification expectations.
College students (n = 499) enrolled in a First-Year study course completed an online survey that contained a uses and gratifications of SNS scale, the McCroskey (1997) 12-item Introversion scale; the Leary, Kelly, Cottrell, and Schreindorfer (2001) 10-item Need to Belong scale, and the Utrecht Homesickness Scale (Stroebe, van Vliet & Hewston, 2002).
Based on an exploratory factor analysis, gratification expectations were reduced into two factors. The first factor consisted of items related to expectations for entertainment gratifications. The second factor consisted of items related to expectations for social gratifications.
Based on the results of this study, it is reasonable to conclude that incoming freshmen utilize SNS to satisfy a need for social gratifications as well as entertainment gratifications. The data also indicated that, to some extent, the characteristics of extraverts and introverts are represented in the way freshmen use SNS. Additionally, the findings indicated freshmen are more likely to use SNS to keep up with their friends than with their family. Although there was not a strong positive correlation between homesickness and gratification expectations, there was a clear indication of usage of SNS to relieve symptoms of homesickness.