Research supports the idea that when people use social media to interact with others, they are more likely to feel more related to others. But can using social media for more content-focused, less people-focused, pursuits lead to the same positive outcome of relatedness? We show that positive versus negative motivations (why people use social media) moderate how feelings of connection are experienced through the pursuit of people versus content goals (what people use social media for). Five studies demonstrate that relatedness can arise not only, as expected, from the pursuit of positively motivated people goals, but also, unexpectedly, from the pursuit of negatively motivated content goals. The latter effect occurs because negatively motivated content goals cognitively tune consumers to focus on others as opposed to themselves, thereby boosting the experience of relatedness, compared to positively motivated content goals. These results illuminate the circumstances under which online interactions can lead to feeling close and connected to others, and have important implications for research and practice.
Keywords: self-determination theory, social media goals, user-generated content, relatedness, well-being