Seeking Social Validation Through Social Media: A Theory

By Alexandra V. Maragha

Society has always documented interactions and events. Taking a video or picture of a life moment or documenting in written form has allowed memories to be preserved through time. Social media has allowed these traditions to be shared surpassing geographical space and time aiding in inclusion and continued communicative experiences and relationships to be formed and maintained. Likewise, it has become a dictating source for some, on both conscious and subconscious levels, to share experiences through social penetration that seek only to gain recognition or “15 minutes of social media fame” that will socially validate the physical experiences they have.

A post, photos, or checking into a location with friends on Facebook, opens for others to join in on the experience. “Tagging” others who are also participating in that same experience physically and with those who are otherwise located or occupied to interact at that experience, allows for an indirect or virtual social interaction to take place. One can now participate in a limited experience simultaneously by sending reciprocating messages at both locations as part of maintaining a relationship obstructed by physical bounds. For example, if one is invited to a dinner, party, or another type of event and cannot physically attend, they may be able to virtually interact by participating in conversations with those who are both physically attending and simultaneously virtually participating in posting photos, or tagging others at the same time the event is taking place. This, in turn, allows for the individual who cannot attend to virtually attend or “post-participate” by viewing the aftermath of posted comments, photos, tags, check-ins, etc., that may exist. This participation may be motivated by “social media peer pressure” (that is acknowledged or sub-conscious) to feel the need to participate in social media interactions in order to maintain face within the group and among others that may or may not view the social activity of that individual. Additionally, that same individual that did not attend, may also post or what could be considered a “counter-post” to the activity that they participated in during the time of the engagement that they did not attend to also stimulate social activity; seeking validity to the activity that they engaged in over the activity that they did not.

The otherwise unknown variable of communicative “noise” based on environment and the communicative medium used is shifted to become noise of group interaction. The immediate individuals involved in most contexts of communication can be now classified as an “individual group” on social media platforms such as Facebook. While a message may be sent directly from one individual to another single individual, the “noise” of Facebook allows (most of the time) for more than one individual to participate in a single conversation. Others may choose to include themselves in direct conversations or validate the message through comments or “liking” the preceding comments posted, in turn, alerting the original sender of the level of social participation that others have included themselves in. This may result in social gratification (or disappointment) to the original sender.

This notion allows for the question to be asked if social media dictates the social experiences that one may choose to engage in. Additionally, the following could be asked if one engages in such desired experiences based on projected responses to create “social media validation” or place a “social media value” on that physical in-person experience. This “Social Validation Theory” examines if social media functions as a forum for communicative exchange or if social media dictates the type of face to face social experiences had, anticipating it will be shared across social platforms for social attention.

For example, posting an update announcing a life moment such as graduation or marriage to take place would seem as normal things that one would be excited to share with their group of connections on social airwaves with a reasonable amount of dialogue and exchange to emerge and take place continuing the communicative relationship established. At the same time, choosing to share a photo of … anything may be examined more closely into the subconscious purpose of that meaning and thus social interactions in social media existent society. In other words, does one plan to take pictures on an outing to take pictures for the personal memories, or does one take pictures at an event anticipating that they will post those pictures on facebook for their connections to see it, to show that they were where they were doing what they were doing, and expect social validation through anticipated responses in their network.

It may seem far-fetched to assume that every physical social interaction is dictated by the presumption that social media validation is in play, as many simply are motivated to engage in and share experiences with those who truly appreciate them within the context of the relationships that are maintained. However, it is an aspect that is motivating the core basics of social media to share, connect and continue the weaving web of online interaction and information exchange. Likewise, the ever-presence of promotion and self-promotion facilitated by the structure of social networks can’t help but rub off on some of its users.