You Are What You Post: What Your Social Media Engagement Says About Your Personality

What do your posts on Facebook say about you? Can experts really predict your personality traits simply from looking at your social media accounts?

Strangely, the answer is yes. While it all feels pretty random, what you like and what you post says more about you than you think. Social media engagement isn’t just an expression of your personal interests or your idealized self; it’s a window into your personality.

If you think about the people you know well, and how they choose to engage with others via social media, you’ll probably notice some patterns as well. I saw this phenomenon in two very different men I dated. One was extraverted with a hint of narcissism and the other was highly introverted and fiercely private.

While Man #1 was incessantly posting pictures of his coffee or a link to his latest blog post, it was nearly impossible to get so much as a ‘like’ from Man #2, even when content was put on his wall that would be enjoyable to him and was directed solely at him. Yes, he saw it, but he was what is known in social media as a “lurker,” never leaving any social footprint as he surfed through feeds and posts. You wouldn’t know he’d been there. When he wanted to communicate, he’d send a short private message. 

What recent studies have shown is that our social media activity is a fairly reliable indicator of our true personalities, according to the Big Five model of personality. The Big Five refers to a model used to categorize people based on five distinct personality dimensions, with each dimension measured on a spectrum from low to high. Researchers have discovered that each of these Big Five personality traits has a noticeable impact on how people use and engage with social media.  

Extraversion 

Extraversion refers to an individual’s level of sociability, talkativeness, excitability and emotional expressiveness. Those who score low for extraversion are often referred to as “introverts.”

Just as people who are highly extraverted tend to value robust and frequent interaction with people in their “live” environment, they tend to have fairly active social media lives as well. They are frequently found interacting directly with friends, and friends of friends, and expressing their personal thoughts and emotions for the world to see. They ‘like’ their friends’ posts, add messages of encouragement, sympathy or agreement, and connect with people beyond their immediate circle of friends and connections. 

Introverts tend to see social media as inane, but that doesn’t mean they don’t use it. Outlets like Facebook and other social sites or forums often fulfill social needs that introverts may otherwise have a harder time meeting in the live presence of people. Often referred to as “lurkers,” they use and engage with social media more privately.

Agreeableness

This dimension speaks to one’s propensity for or inclination toward pro-social behaviors including altruism, kindness, trust and affection. 

While it may seem counterintuitive, people who are more agreeable may be less inclined to dispense their ‘likes.’ Researchers explained this by noting that highly agreeable people are careful to avoid contributing to dissension among their friends and connections by liking something potentially divisive. Less agreeable people, on the other hand, care little about what others think of their preferences, so they ‘like’ at will. 

Conscientiousness 

An individual’s level of thoughtfulness, impulse control, organization and attention to detail are measured on the conscientiousness scale. 

Those characterized by a higher level of conscientiousness tend to hand out fewer ‘likes’ and hold membership in fewer online groups, and generally use Facebook and other social media outlets less often than non-conscientious individuals as a whole. This is because highly conscientious individuals typically place a higher priority on discipline and productivity and are less likely to engage in an activity that is largely a distraction or a way to waste time. 

Highly conscientious individuals do, however, tend to upload more images than those who are less conscientious. This may speak to their organizational skills and commitment to documenting important events. 

Neuroticism 

Neuroticism refers to one’s levels of or tendency toward anxiety, irritability, moodiness, sadness and emotional instability. 

People who are more neurotic have a tendency to ‘like’ with more frequency than their less neurotic counterparts. Because those who are neurotic are often insecure in their relationships, connecting through Facebook may be a way to try to maintain or strengthen relationships, or to reach out to others for support. ‘Liking’ may also be a reverse attempt to gain attention and affirmation—if the neurotic individual ‘likes’ someone’s content, he or she may hope to receive reciprocal validation.  

Openness 

This dimension encompasses one’s openness to experience as well as imagination, insight and broadness of interests and knowledge. 

Higher openness relates directly to the number of ‘likes’ an individual gives out, his or her membership and involvement in online groups and the number of status updates he or she posts. People who demonstrate higher levels of openness are thus more open to the “experience” provided by Facebook and, consequently, want to share these experiences with others via updates and photos. 

Here are a few more personality-related social media components the researchers studied:

Profiles

No matter which social media outlet(s) you prefer, nearly every site provides the opportunity to develop a personal profile in which the user identifies him or herself using various criteria. But is the profile a reflection of one’s actual personality or is it more likely to represent an idealized self? 

Though it seems that the profile would be our opportunity to create ourselves as we’ve always wanted to be, people stay closer to their true selves than we’d probably guess. Despite the opportunity to reinvent or embellish, most people tend not to misrepresent themselves. Their profiles are good indicators of who they actually are.

Posts & Status Updates

Status updates and posts provide another opportunity to create our idealized selves over the often less exciting reality. But once again, researchers found that people are more true to themselves than would have been expected. 

Taken over time, the content and updates an individual posts provides fairly reliable insight into his or her gender, age, personality type and location. While there is the allure of using social media as a means of creating the people we want to be, in the end it is more representative of who we actually are. 

Word Choice 

Circling back to the Big Five Model, researchers found that the way in which you craft your posts and status updates and the words you use may also provide reliable insights into your personality, namely in the areas of extraversion and openness. Their research found that the words we use online represent our personal world, perspective and even innate personalities. 

The World Wellbeing Project tracked and compiled the words that are most likely to be used by extraverts and introverts. Their study found that extravert speech is peppered with words like “party,” “baby,” and “ya,” while introvert speech tends to be characterized by emoticons and references to anime, video games and depression. 

In regard to openness, those who score high for openness tend to speak of or refer to dreams, the universe, and the arts, while the posts and updates of their low openness peers tend to be characterized by contractions, misspellings, misspelled contractions, acronyms and abbreviations. 

Why Does It Matter?

As the world changes, researchers are interested in understanding and describing how we’re changing with it, specifically how our personalities are manifesting in response to these changes and advances. Social media is a perfect example of this as researchers see personalities reliably and consistently expressed through online activity and engagement.

Businesses and marketers would love to be able to hone their understanding of how people use social media in order to make their advertising and marketing efforts more effective, but the online experience really is unique depending on the individual and his or her personality, and the research is not yet at a point of being able to be used for marketing purposes with any dependability. Though this certainly won’t stop companies and Internet marketers from trying.  

Jacki Christopher

Jacki Christopher is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia with interests in personality and relationships, small business development and communications. She is an ENFJ.

Comments

vlb says...

It is important to note that Carl Jung coined the terms "Introversion" and "Extraversion" for Psychological Type and they are used with Jung's meaning in the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). However, the meaning of these terms in the Big Five Trait Model is VERY DIFFERENT.

Also, the Big Five does not actually use the word "Introversion". It uses only "Extraversion", on a scale from little to much.

Many mistaken impressions of the MBTI result from people incorrectly assuming that the Big Five definition of Extraversion is the only (aka "true") definition of the term. It's not only not the only definition, it's a wrong definition if applied to Type and/or the MBTI.

There's nothing wrong with the Big Five; however, anyone reading this post needs to understand that it does NOT pertain to the MBTI, to Psychological Type, to Jung, to Introversion, to Extraversion as defined by Jung / MBTI, or to any other personality theory.

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