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Computers in Human Behavior 54 (2016) 358e367

Contents lists avai

Computers in Human Behavior

journal homepage: www.elsevier .com/locate/comphumbeh

Full length article

“What do they snapchat about?” Patterns of use in time-limited instant messaging service

Lukasz Piwek*, Adam Joinson University of the West of England, Centre for the Study of Behaviour Change and Influence, Bristol, UK

a r t i c l e i n f o

Article history: Received 15 April 2015 Received in revised form 11 July 2015 Accepted 23 August 2015 Available online 1 September 2015

Keywords: Instant messaging (IM) Social network sites Snapchat Critical incidence technique Social capital

* Corresponding author. University of the West of BS16 1QY, Bristol, UK.

E-mail address: (L. Piwek). 0747-5632/© 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

a b s t r a c t

The use of Snapchat e a time-limited instant messaging service e has been rapidly rising amongst ad- olescents. However, the exact nature of Snapchat use remains difficult to examine due to the self- destructive nature of content sent and received via this service. We report an online survey conducted with the use of a memory sampling method to enquire about the specific details of the very last image or video each participant sent and received via Snapchat. We found that users mainly share ‘selfies’, typi- cally embed text and ‘doodles’ with photos they share, use it mostly at home, and primarily for communication with close friends and family as an ‘easier and funnier’ alternative to other instant messaging services. We also found that high intensity of Snapchat use was more associated with bonding rather than bridging social capital. We discuss those findings in the context of existing studies on the use of instant messaging services and social networking sites.

© 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction

Instant messaging (IM) has become an ubiquitous feature of rapid communication in the ‘Global Village’ with the fast adoption of internet-enabled mobile phones at the beginning of the 21st century. IM is a type of online chat which offers real-time exchange of text, images, video and voice transmission over the Internet, but it is also used for exchanging emotions via emoticons, information provision, behaviour change interventions and surveying (Cole- Lewis & Kershaw, 2010; Hawn, 2009; Ramirez & Broneck, 2009; Ogara, Koh, & Prybutok, 2014). In 2014 there were reportedly 50 billion IM sent per day e twice as many as conventional text messages (Curtis, 2014) and it is estimated that IM apps will ac- count for 75% of mobile traffic by 2018 (Juniper Research, 2014). IM capability has been also integrated into almost every major social networking site with smartphone app services such as Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Googleþ or LinkedIn. There are also a large number of popular, standalone IM mobile services such as What- sApp, Skype, or Instagram.

In the majority of existing IM services listed above, the content that users exchange is stored on both senders’ and receivers’

England, Coldharbour Lane,

devices creating a communication history, with the exception being a real-time, streaming voice and video chat communication service such as Skype. However, a new category of IM has recently risen to prominence e Snapchat ( What makes Snapchat stand out from other IM services is that the content users share only persists for a limited period of time.

1.1. The overview of snapchat

The rise in Snapchat use has been one of the most rapid and unprecedented in the history of instant messaging services and social networking sites. Its estimated that Snapchat’s base of active users grew from 10 million in mid-2012 to over 70 million in early 2014, and 100 million in early 2015 (according toWall Street Journal evaluation e Snapchat doesn’t reveal its numbers; Macmillan & Rusli, 2014; Wohlsen, 2015). In December 2013 more than 400 million ‘snaps’ (the common term for video messages and photos send via Snapchat) were received on Snapchat every day (Shontell, 2013). By comparison, it takes Facebook and Instagram combined to match the same number of photos shared in the same period. Snapchat reportedly rejected an acquisition offer worth $3 billion from Facebook (Rusli & Macmillan, 2013) and was valued to be worth $10 billion by two independent companies in August 2014 (Rusli & Macmillan, 2014), and $19 billion in early 2015 (Wohlsen, 2015).

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The process of sharing on Snapchatworks as follows: the sender makes an image/video using the Snapchat smartphone app and then choose how long the image/video will be viewable by the receivers’ device (between 1 and 10 s, as of April 2015). Sequences of images/videos can also be sent. When the sender posts an image/ video to the receiver, this image/video automatically vanishes from the senders’ smartphone. The only information that persists on the senders’ device is a timestamp of when the snap was send. The receiver now has an option to view the content but the viewing time is limited to the specific duration chosen by the sender (i.e. between 1 and 10 s). After the receiver views the image/video for this particular duration, the image/video disappears from the re- ceivers’ phone.

There are a number of additional features that make Snapchat a unique IM service. Snapchat is exclusively a smartphone app (available on Apple iOS and Google Android enabled devices) and therefore it is not possible to use it with the browser (unlike Twitter or Facebook Messenger). Any image/video is only shared with the friend, or a group of friends, selected by the sender and those friends have to be a Snapchat users. This way the sender always decides who is going to receive and view the content. If the receiver makes a screen capture of the image, the sender is notified about this action. Additionally, the recipient must maintain tactile contact with the device’s touchscreen, thereby hindering their ability to take a screenshot or use an external camera. However, it has been widely reported that third-party apps such as Snapsaved allow the receiver to make a hidden screen capture of ‘snap’ without sender being aware of this (Cook, 2014b). Snapchat users can also embed 32 characters-long text messages, or create a finger-drawn ‘doo- dles’, layered on the top of the photos they capture. Video chat is also possible: users see a pulsating blue bubble that indicates whether their friend is ‘active’ in Snapchat, and can engage in video chat.

1.2. Snapchat use, privacy and social capital

Beside the effortless and easy-to-use interface design of Snap- chat, the most unique features relate to the personal sharing of content that disappears after specified period (you choose specific person/group of people to share it, rather than share with a large group of people or publicly by default). Informal media reports suggest that the self-destructive nature of messages may remove some inhibition from users who would otherwise not share such content. It’s been widely reported in social media and market analysis that Snapchat is particularly popular amongst children and teenagers, with half of the users aged between 13 and 17 (Statista, 2014). At the same time, there are informal reports that Snapchat may be frequently used for ‘sexting’ (the act of text messaging someone in the hopes of having a sexual encounter with them later; with initially casual content transitioning into highly sug- gestive and even sexually explicit content e UrbanDictionary, c2008). Some market research conducted in the UK supports these claims: half of all 18 to 30-year-old respondents reported receiving nude pictures, while 67% had received images of “inap- propriate poses or gestures” (Kemp, 2013). This issue has been broadly discussed in the context of online security and privacy in themedia, especially with reference to the incident in October 2014 e a major privacy breach where 100,000 ‘snaps’ were published

1 Term ‘Snappening’ comes from combination of words snap and ‘happening’, in reference to an event that happened shortly before in August 2014 e ‘the Fap- pening’ (combination of ‘fap’ e the onomatopoeic term for masturbation, and ‘happening’) where a large number of nude celebrities photos and videos leaked to (Kosur, 2014).

online allegedly by hackers who compromised Snapsaved servers (Buchanan, 2014). This event has been termed ‘the Snappening’.1 It was widely reported that a significant proportion of leaked ‘snaps’ were explicit in nature (Cook, 2014a) and due to the young Snapchat demographics there were concerns that the stolen photos would include indecent images of children.

However, a single study to date that examined privacy issues with Snapchat use contradicts the assumption that adult Snapchat users engage in ‘risky’ and explicit sharing. Roesner, Gill, and Kohno (2014) surveyed 127 adult Snapchat users and found that most users reported that they did not send sensitive content (although 25% reported they might do so experimentally). Specifically, they found that the majority of users were not willing to send content classified as ‘sexting’, photos of documents, messages containing legally questionable content, or content considered insulting. Additionally, researchers found that security was not a major concern for the majority of respondents e most of the users un- derstood that the messages could be recovered and that screenshot taking was a common and expected practice Roesner et al. (2014).

The issues of privacy and online sharing lead to another important question ewhat is the nature and role of Snapchat use in facilitating social interactions and networking? One of the major impacts of emerging social networking sites and digital commu- nication technologies is their function as a “social lubricant” e facilitating the building of social capital between users (Lee, Kim, & Ahn, 2014; Steinfield, Ellison, & Lampe, 2008). Social capital has been defined as the “connections and the associated norms of reciprocity among people” (Putnam, 2001). Putnam distinguished between two types of social capital: bonding and bridging. Bonding social capital refers to strong-tie relationships such as family, partners and close friends, where people share strong personal, or intimate, connections and provide emotional support to each other. On the other hand, bridging social capital refers to weak-tie re- lationships such as previous coworkers or former classmates, where people don’t share a similar background or emotional reci- procity. Previous research has shown that all kinds of social capital yields positive outcomes such as self-esteem, life satisfaction, and even health (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007; Kim, Subramanian, Gortmaker, & Kawachi, 2006; Valenzuela, Park, & Kee, 2009).

Social capital has been extensively examined in the online context especially with the use of social networking sites (SNS), particularly Facebook. A large number of studies on Facebook have found a strong association between the use of Facebook and social capital, especially for the creation and maintenance of bridging social capital (Ellison et al., 2007, Ellison, Vitak, Gray, Lampe, 2014b; Vitak, Ellison, & Steinfield, 2011). For instance, it has been estab- lished that high frequency and duration of use of Facebook, high routine access and high emotional connectedness to Facebook is strongly associated with social capital (Ellison et al., 2007). Social capital has been also examined in the context of SNS connection strategies (Ellison et al., 2014b) and the frequency of features use on Facebook (Lee et al., 2014). For instance, Lee et al. (2014) found a strong association between the frequency of using features such as Wall Posts, Comments, Messages and Status Updates with both bonding and bridging social capital.

While Snapchat has rapidly risen to popularity since 2012 (Duggan, 2013) the exact nature of its use is still unknown, and its also not clear how this use is associated with bridging and bonding of social capital. The study by Roesner et al. (2014) mainly focused on perceived privacy and security amongst Snapchat users: whether users send sensitive content, how aware are they of the security drawbacks of Snapchat, how frequently they make and accept themaking of screenshots. Utz, Muscanell, and Khalid (2015) compared Snapchat and Facebook use in the context of romantic jealousy, and showed that Snapchat was used more for flirting and

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finding new love interests, whereas Facebook was still the main social networking site used for keeping in touch with friends. The only other available publications are informal blogs, online maga- zines stories and market analysis reports. There is a paucity of details such as specific patterns of Snapchat use, reasons for Snap- chat use, the context inwhich people use it and the frequency of use or type of content users share. No other research has so far been conducted on Snapchat use, although there are extensive studies on the use of other popular social networking sites and instant messaging services. Therefore, the primary aim of the study described in this article was to examine how people use Snapchat, what content they tend to share, what they use it for, with whom, how frequently, and what value it presents for them. A primary objective was to gain a better understanding of what content people send specifically, why they send it, and what they mainly use Snapchat for. Our secondary objective was to examine how Snapchat use is associated with bridging or bonding social capital, following an approach similar to one used by (Ellison et al., 2007, Ellison, Gray, Lampe, Fiore, 2014a) with Facebook. To this end we conducted an exploratory survey to examine patterns of Snapchat use by employing elements of a memory retrieval method taken from a qualitative Critical Incidence Technique. We then conducted a follow-up survey wherewe looked at the association between the intensity of Snapchat use with a range of other factors, and bonding and bridging of social capital.

2. Methods

2.1. Participants

We used a short invitation e-mailed to 2194 first-year students at the University of the West of England (UWE). The e-mails were provided to us with the permission of both Student Services and Business Intelligence and Planning at UWE and were distributed directly via Qualitrics Research Suite system (Qualtrics, c2013) preserving full participants’ anonymity. We used only first-year students due to UWE regulations regarding the survey distribu- tion and also because existing market research point to a large proportion of Snapchat users amongst young age groups (Statista, 2014). A total of 209 participants (139 female and 70 male) agreed to participate in an online survey. The only requirement for participation in the survey was that the person is, or was, a Snap- chat user. The study received ethical approval from the University Ethics Review Board.

2.2. Measures for the exploratory survey and critical incidence technique

The survey was constructed using the Qualtrics Research Suite (Qualtrics, c2013) and took approximately 10min to complete. Each participant was presentedwith a brief instruction on the purpose of the study and the approximate time needed for completion. Par- ticipants were informed that the information they provided would be secured under the Data Protection Act 1998. Participants were asked to confirm that they understood the instructions by ticking a box before they started the survey. The survey incorporated both open-ended and closed-ended questions with mixed-type response scales and was split into two parts: (1) general socio- demographic questions and general information about the use of Snapchat and other SNS/IM platforms, and (2) a memory retrieval task for the last snap sent and received.

Demographics and the general use of Snapchat and SNS. General sociodemographic data was collected on: gender, age, ethnicity, marital status, sexual orientation, employment status, whether participants were students or not, highest education level, country

of residence, and location/area of residence. General questions about the use of Snapchat and other SNS included four items which questioned participants about: (1) the reason they started using Snapchat, (2) how many people they actively interacted with on Snapchat, (3) whether they used other SNS to share photos/videos and (4) how frequently they used various IM or chat services on their smartphone.

Critical Incidence Technique. One of the major challenges of conducting a study on Snapchat is the transient nature of any content generated or received on the platform. In studies investi- gating the ‘digital traces’ of human behaviour on social networking sites, such as photos or ‘likes’ on Facebook (Kosinski, Stillwell, & Graepel, 2013; Lambiotte & Kosinski, 2015), the content is present in the recorded history of the user’s profile, with visibility varying only based on the privacy setting. However, there are no such ‘digital traces’ for Snapchat, except from a timestamp with the in- formation on when the snap was sent/received. In such cases it is only possible to employ introspective methods which have obvious shortcomings: users can be biased, they may not remember clearly, or they can omit important content. In order to maximise the possibility of capturing a representative sample of Snapchat expe- riences’ we utilised elements of Critical Incidence Technique (CIT; Flanagan, 1954) as a part of the online survey questionnaire. First described by John C. Flanagan in 1954, CIT is a well-established qualitative research tool used in the fields of health science, edu- cation and market research. Critical incidents can be gathered in various ways, but typically respondents are asked to tell a story about an experience they have had. The key idea is that the ob- servations collected from participants should be recorded as close as possible to the time when they occurred, which improves memory retrieval. The recollection should also be structured to provide better contextual layout to the event e memory is improved if the observers know in advance that they will need to report (FitzGerald, Seale, Kerins, & McElvaney, 2008).

Application of CIT was ideal in our study because we didn’t have direct access to content that participants shared and we were not certain what factors were important in the use of Snapchat. At the same time it was easy to isolate a single ‘incidence’ of Snapchat use as a recollection of the last snap that was sent and received. This approach was especially relevant because the only ‘digital trace’ that is left on a user’s smartphone is a timestamp of their recent communication. Therefore, we used a set of questions to enquire about participants’ memories of the last snap image/video they sent and received. This set of questions was designed following the guidelines from Flanagan (1954) and FitzGerald et al. (2008) to facilitate a detailed memory retrieval of the last snap incidence.

The Snapchat memory retrieval task started with the following question: ‘do you have access to your Snapchat app at themoment?’ If participants replied ‘no’ to this question, theywere asked to give a rough estimate of the date when they sent the last snap (day, month and year). If they replied ‘yes’, they were asked to open the Snapchat app, look at the interaction history, and record the exact date (day, month, year) and time (hour, minute) when the last snap was sent. This task therefore also aimed to create a better ‘anchor’ for memory retrieval for the last snap sent (Flanagan, 1954; Gremler, 2004).

After participants recorded a timestamp (or estimate of when they sent the last snap), they were asked a number of questions about the last Snapchat they’ve send. Questions related to five different description categories: time of sending the snap; the content of the snap (whether it was photo or video, what was on the snap, whether they ‘doodled’ on it, whether it was a reply to another snap, and whether they made a screenshot of the received snap); the reason for sending the snap; participants’ location when they sent the snap; and socially-related factors (whether they sent

2 Selfie is a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media (Eftekhar et al., 2014).

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it to single person or a group of people, who this were specifically, what their moodwaswhen they sent it, andwhether they had been drinking alcohol when they sent it). The open-ended responses obtained with CIT were classified by two separate judges and Cohen’s k was used to calculate agreement amongst the judges. Cohen’s k result for inter-rater reliability are provided with each figure that corresponds to the relevant items.

2.3. Measures for the follow up survey on social capital

After obtaining the initial results, we decided to examine how our participants used Snapchat to build bridging and bonding social capital. We contacted 209 participants who completed the first part of the survey and asked them to participate in a short, 5 min follow- up survey. A total of 96 participants completed the follow up survey (67 female, 30male). The follow up survey included following three scales: (1) Snapchat use Intensity, (2) Bridging (3) and Bonding social capital on Snapchat. We also asked participants how much time on average they spend every day using the internet and Snapchat.

The Snapchat Use Intensity scale was adopted from Ellison et al. (2007) Facebook Use Intensity Scale to obtain a better measure- ment of Snapchat use than frequency or duration indices. The Ellison et al. (2007) Facebook Use Intensity Scale has a broad scope of questions that are easily generalised to any other social network ewhich is why we decided to apply it with Snapchat. This measure included two self-reported assessments of Snapchat behaviour, designed to measure the extent to which the participant was actively engaged in Snapchat activities: (1) the number of Snapchat friends and (2) the amount of time spent on Snapchat in a typical day. In addition, the measure also included a series of Likert-scale attitudinal questions designed to examine the extent to which the participant was emotionally connected to Snapchat and the extent to which Snapchat was integrated into their daily activities. Those remaining questions included the following items: (3) Snapchat is part of my everyday activity; (4) I am proud to tell people I’m on Snapchat; (5) Snapchat has become part of my daily routine; (6) I feel out of touch when I havent logged onto Snapchat for a while; (7) I feel I am part of the Snapchat community; and (8) I would be sorry if Snapchat shut down. The eight-item index was found to be reliable (Cronbach a ¼ 0.89) and descriptive results for this scale are summarised in Supplementary Table 4.

Bonding and Bridging social capital with Snapchat was measured using a 10-item scales adapted fromWilliams (2006).We chose this particular scale because of its broad and generic nature. Addition- ally, a large number of studies adapted Williams (2006) scale to examine social capital on Facebook (e.g. Brooks, Hogan, Ellison, Lampe, & Vitak, 2014; Ellison et al., 2014a), WhatsApp (Aharony, 2015), and Twitter (Hofer & Aubert, 2013).

Items for Bonding social capital with Snapchat asked respondents to rate, on a five-point Likert scale, the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with the following statements: (1) There are several people on Snapchat I trust to help solve my problems; (2) There is someone on Snapchat I can turn to for advice about making very important decisions; (3) There is no one on Snapchat that I feel comfortable talking to about intimate personal problems; (4)When I feel lonely, there are several people on Snapchat I can talk to; (5) If I needed an emergency loan of £500, I know someone on Snapchat I can turn to; (6) The people I interact with on Snapchat would put their reputation on the line for me; (7) The people I interact with on Snapchat would be good job references for me; (8) The people I interact with on Snapchatwould share their last dollar with me; (9) I do not know people on Snapchat well enough to get them to do anything important; and (10) The people I interact with on Snap- chat would help me fight an injustice. The ten-item index was

found to be reliable (Cronbach a ¼ 0.86) and descriptive results for this scale are summarised in Supplementary Table 4.

Items for Bridging social capital with Snapchat asked respondents to rate, on a five-point Likert scale, the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with the following statements: (1) Interacting with people on Snapchat makes me interested in things that happen outside of my town; (2) Interacting with people on Snapchatmakes mewant to try new things; (3) Interacting with people on Snapchat makes me interested in what people unlike me are thinking; (4) Talking with people on Snapchat makes me curious about other places in the world; (5) Interacting with people on Snapchat makes me feel like part of a larger community; (6) Interacting with people on Snapchat makes me feel connected to the bigger picture; (7) Interacting with people on Snapchat reminds me that everyone in the world is connected; (8) I am willing to spend time to support general Snapchat community activities; (9) Interacting with people on Snapchat gives me new people to talk to; and (10) On Snapchat, I come into contact with new people all the time. The ten-item index was found to be reliable (Cronbach a¼ 0.91) and descriptive results for this scale are summarised in Supplementary Table 4.

3. Results

3.1. Exploratory survey

Themajority of participants (89%) were aged between 16 and 25 years, of white ethnic origin (89%), not in a relationship (72%), heterosexual (88%), and living in an urban or suburban area (83%). The summary of demographic details for participants is shown in Table 1.

Over 47% of participants reported that they started using Snapchat because their friends were using it, and because it’s fun to use (17%), with other reasons being: easy and free (8%), curiosity (6%), communication (5%), and privacy (2%). Almost 80% of users reported that they use Snapchat to interact with no more than 12 people on a regular basis (Fig. 1). The majority of participants also use Facebook (96%), Instagram (59%) and Twitter (58%) to share photos or videos using a smartphone, with less frequently used SNS being Tumblr (13%), Pinterest (8%), Flickr (4%) and WhatsApp (1%). Participants reported SMS, Facebook Messenger and Snapchat as the most frequently used instant messaging services, as seen in Fig. 2.

When required to recall the context and description of the last snap participants sent, almost all users reported their they last snap was a photo (95%) with a ‘doodle’ embedded (74%) which was mostly in the form of a text message (94%) and rarely a drawing (6%). Half of the participants reported that the last snap they sent was was a ‘selfie’,2 while the remaining participants sent a broad range of content such as screenshots (7%), food images (7%), or various other objects (6%)e see Fig. 3a for more details. Almost 55% of participants reported that the snap they sent was a reply to one they received. Similar to the ‘sent’ content, a selfie was the most frequently reported snap received (63%; Fig. 3a) and almost all (96%) participants reported that they did not screenshot the ‘snap‘ they received. The result of inter-rater reliability Cohen’s k showed a substantial degree of agreement between raters for judging both ‘send’ (k¼ 0.69, z¼ 26.1) and ‘received’ content (k¼ 0.54, z¼ 14.5).

The majority of participants reported that communication (48%) and desire to share funny, personal or emotional content (40%) were the main reasons for sending the snap, with other reasons being boredom (5%); 7% of participants did not remember why they sent it. Interestingly, most participants reported being in various

Table 1 Sociodemographic characteristics (given in % and N size) for participants who completed main exploratory survey (n ¼ 209), and follow-up social capital survey (n ¼ 96).

Main Follow-up

% (N) % (N)

Gender Female 67 (139) 69 (67) Male 33 (70) 31 (30) Age 16e20 62 (130) 58 (56) 21e25 27 (57) 27 (26) 26e30 6 (13) 10 (10) 31e35 2 (5) 3 (3) 36e40 1 (2) 2 (1) 41 or more 1 (2) 2 (1) Ethnicity White 89 (187) 88 (85) Asian/Asian British 4 (9) 2 (2) Mixed/multiple ethnic groups 2 (5) 3 (3) Black/African/Caribbean 2 (4) 4 (4) Other ethnic group 1 (2) 2 (2) I prefer not to say 1 (2) 1 (1) Marital status Single 72 (150) 68 (66) Relationship e not co-habiting 15 (26) 15 (15) Relationship e co-habiting 12 (31) 14 (14) Divorced 0.5 (1) 1 (1) I prefer not to say 0.5 (1) 1 (1) Working status Full Time 11 (22) 10 (10) Part Time 46 (97) 44 (43) Not Employed 42 (87) 42 (41) I prefer not to say 1 (3) 1 (3) Area of living Urban 54 (112) 52 (50) Suburban 29 (60) 32 (31) Rural 18 (37) 16 (16) Sexual orientation Heterosexual 88 (183) 84 (81) Gay 8 (16) 10 (10) Bisexual 3 (9) 5 (5) I prefer not to say 1 (1) 1 (1)

Fig. 2. The average frequency of use for various instant messaging services (n ¼ 209).

L. Piwek, A. Joinson / Computers in Human Behavior 54 (2016) 358e367362

locations at their home (75%), such as in their room or bed, while sending the last snap (Fig. 3d). The majority of ‘snaps’ were sent in the late morning/early afternoon hours between 10 am and 2 pm (27%), and in the evening between 7 pm and 11 pm (32%), as seen on Fig. 3e.

The majority of participants reported that the recipient of the snap was a single person (73%) with close friend (55%) and partner (18%) being the most common recipients (Fig. 3b). Participant’s who sent their snaps to a group of people (27%) sent it mainly to close friends (62%), although a mix of random people was also

Fig. 1. The number of people participants regularly interact with on Snapchat (n ¼ 209).

highly reported as a recipient (29%; Fig. 3c). The majority of par- ticipants reported being in a good or very good mood (76%) when they sent the snap (18% reported neither good nor bad mood, and 5% reported being in bad mood). The majority of participants had not have been drinking when they sent the snap (92%) and those that did (8%) had an equivalent of four pints of lager on average.

3.2. Follow-up social capital survey

In the follow up survey we examined whether Snapchat is used for bridging and bonding social capital and we collected more de- tails on the intensity of Snapchat use. As we described in the Methods section 2.1, we recruited a subset of participants (n ¼ 97) who took the main exploratory survey and this subgroup had very similar sociodemographic characteristics (see Table 1 for detailed comparison).

In order to explore the relationship between Snapchat use and the various forms of social capital, we conducted a number of regression analyses. In each regression, we controlled for socio- demographic, Internet and IM use factors, and intensity of Snap- chat use, in order to see if the use of Snapchat accounted for vari- ance in social capital over and above these other independent variables. A descriptive summary of the results for intensity of Snapchat use, bonding, and bridging can be found in the Supplementary Table 4.

Due to relatively small sample size included in the regression analysis we first conducted regression diagnostics to establish whether any of the four assumptions of linear regression were violated. To this end we applied a global test procedure cG24 devel- oped by Pe~na and Slate (2006). The test can be viewed as a Neyman smooth test and it only relies on the standardised residual vector (Rayner & Best, 1990). If the global procedure indicates a violation of at least one of the assumptions, the components of the global test statistic can be utilised to gain insights into which assumptions have been violated (Pe~na & Slate, 2006). The advantage of such procedure is that it reduces the oftentimes subjective assessment of the validity of model assumptions when using existing graphical techniques (Pe~na & Slate, 2006). We found that none of the as- sumptions were violated in our linear model for bonding (Skew- ness (cG24 ¼ 0.71, p ¼ 0.4); Kurtosis (cG24 ¼ 0.03, p ¼ 0.85; Link Function (cG24 ¼ 0.24, p ¼ 0.62, Heteroscedasticity (cG24 ¼ 0.05, p ¼ 0.83) and bridging social capital (Skewness (cG24 ¼ 1.44 p ¼ 0.23); Kurtosis (cG24 ¼ 2.3, p ¼ 0.13); Link Function (cG24 ¼ 0.72, p ¼ 0.4, Heteroscedasticity (cG24 ¼ 0.58 p ¼ 0.45).3

3 It’s important to note that although the assumptions in linear model were not violated, we didn’t introduce interactions due to small sample size (n ¼ 97) used in the follow-up survey. As Leon and Heo (2009) showed in a relevant simulations, we would require a sample size of at least *n* ¼ 208 for theoretical statistical power of 80% to detect the interaction in a mixed-effects linear regression model.

Fig. 3. Percentage of participants who (a) sent (n ¼ 209) received (n ¼ 114) specific snap, which (b) single person (73%; n ¼ 153) or (c) a group of people (27%; n ¼ 56) they sent it to, (d) location (n ¼ 209), and (e) time of the day when they sent it (n ¼ 203).

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We first investigated the extent to which socio-demographic factors, and basic Internet/IM use, predicted the amount of bonding social capital reported by participants. In the regression analysis predicting bonding social capital (Table 2), those control variables accounted for 12% of the variance with significant effects of age (scaled b¼ � 0.37, p < 0.05), although this effect disappeared after adding Snapchat use intensity into the model. R2 increased to 36% with the addition of Snapchat use intensity variable (scaled b¼ 0.51, p < 0.01). This indicates that intensity of the Snapchat use is positively associated with bonding social capital. When Snapchat use intensity variable was added to the model, we also found a

significant effect for gender (scaled b¼ � 0.41, p < 0.05). This in- dicates that female participants reported greater bonding social capital than their male counterparts.

We used exactly the same independent variables as predictors in bridging social capital (Table 3). In the regression analysis pre- dicting bridging social capital, those control variables also accounted for 12% of the variance but with no significant effects. The Snapchat use intensity variable was again positively associated with bridging social capital (scaled b¼ 0.43, p< 0.01) accounting for 28% of the variance.

Table 2 Relation between Snapchat use and bonding social capital.

Model 1: Controls Model 2: Controls þ Snapchat intensity

Gender � 0.342(0.204) � 0.406** (0.175) Age � 0.369** (0.182) � 0.136 (0.162) Sexual orientation 0.112 (0.239) 0.162 (0.206) Employment � 0.105 (0.171) � 0.134 (0.147) Relationship 0.114 (0.185) � 0.084 (0.163) Hours of internet/day 0.022 (0.034) 0.028 (0.029) Frequency of IM use 0.055 (0.136) � 0.147 (0.123) Snapchat Intensity 0.510*** (0.092) Constant 3.778*** (0.662) 2.891*** (0.590) Observations 92 92 R2 0.122 0.361 Adjusted R2 0.049 0.299 F Statistic 1.668 (df ¼ 7; 84) 5.858*** (df ¼ 8; 83)

Note: Gender was coded as 0 ¼ female, 1 ¼ male ** p < 0.05;*** p < 0.01.

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4. Discussion

We report the findings of the first study on the patterns of Snapchat use by means of a detailed survey and analysis of the last snap sent and received. We also looked at more general aspects of Snapchat use, as well as the association between intensity of Snapchat use and social capital.

To start with, Snapchatwas reported to be amongst the top three IM services that respondents used most frequently e on a par with Facebook Communicator and conventional text messaging (SMS). Almost all participants also shared their photos on Facebook. Those results were not surprising e as Quan-Haase and Young (2010) pointed out, users tend to employ a broad range of digital commu- nication tools that become integrated into a bundle of media use.

Snapchatwas mainly used to communicate with a single person rather than a group of people, and this personmainly includes close friends, partners and family members. The overall number of contacts people interacted with using Snapchatwas relatively small in comparison to Facebook. These results are in line with Roesner et al. (2014) and Utz et al. (2015) who also found that users have small and close social networks on Snapchat. Small networks typically consist of people who are in our closest social circles (Sutcliffe, Dunbar, Binder, & Arrow, 2012). Dunbar (1992, 1998) hypothesized that small networks are easier to manage due to inherent cognitive limitations in the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. The importance of small-network size was also highlighted in studies looking at the differences in gratification from use of IMs and SNS. With IM, users can engage in more intimate and private conversations, allowing

Table 3 Relation between Snapchat use and bridging social capital.

Model 1: Controls Model 2: Controls þ Snapchat intensity

Gender 0.189 (0.208) 0.136 (0.189) Age � 0.329 (0.186) � 0.133 (0.175) Sexual orientation 0.251 (0.244) 0.294 (0.222) Employment � 0.055 (0.175) � 0.080 (0.159) Relationship 0.247 (0.189) 0.081 (0.176) Hours of internet/day 0.007 (0.035) 0.013 (0.031) Frequency of IM use 0.228 (0.139) 0.058 (0.132) Snapchat Intensity 0.427*** (0.099) Constant 1.552** (0.675) 0.810 (0.637) Observations 92 92 R2 0.120 0.281 Adjusted R2 0.046 0.212 F Statistic 1.630 (df ¼ 7; 84) 4.061*** (df ¼ 8; 83)

Note: Gender was coded as 0 ¼ female, 1 ¼ male ** p < 0.05;*** p < 0.01.

them to share their problems with communication partners more easily, and allowing for better intimacy and a sense of connection (Hu, Wood, Smith, & Westbrook, 2004). In contrast, SNS more closely resemble a mix of e-mail and an online forum, where messages are visible to the entire community. Quan-Haase and Young (2010) argue that this is a key distinction in the use of SNS and IM e that IM platforms such as Snapchat allow communication partners to engage in deeper exchanges with affection, whereas SNS such as Facebook tend to support the exchange of short mes- sages via a public wall. Although messages can be exchanged pri- vately via tools such as Facebook Communicator, this feature is similar to e-mail and hence does not really support emotional closeness.

The argument about the more intimate use of Snapchat was further supported by our findings on the relationship between Snapchat use and social capital. Similarly to Ellison et al. (2007), who examined social capital on Facebook, we found a positive association between intensity of Snapchat use and social capital. However, Snapchat appeared to be more useful for bonding rather than bridging of social capital, which is opposite to what Ellison et al. (2007) found for Facebook. Facebook, used with large social net- works, serves to accelerate the intensity of relationships and lowers barriers for participation in social groups, but appears to be less useful in creating the close kind of relationships associated with bonding capital (Vitak et al., 2011). Snapchat, used to forge small networks of close relationships, is more a facilitator for the bonding of social capital. As highlighted above in the context of IM vs SNS differences, Snapchat offers a more intimate, private and ‘conver- sation-like’ mode of communication, and therefore its intensity of use is associated more with bonding rather than bridging of social capital. Bridging social capital is typically associated with the informational benefits of a diversified network of so called “weak ties”. Those “weak ties” are loose connections between individuals who may provide useful information or new perspectives for one another but not necessarily emotional support (Granovetter, 1983; Steinfield et al., 2008). Bridging has been highly associated with the intensity of Facebook use, where users typically communicate with a large and diverse network of people, contrasting with small networks in Snapchat. To summarise, a stronger association with intensity of Snapchat use and bonding, rather than bridging, may well stem from the fact that people use Snapchatmainly to enhance a “strong” emotional ties with friends, partners and family, rather than cultivate a large and “weak” networks, like in case of Facebook.

We also found that general demographics, Internet and IM use were not significant predictors of bonding social capital, suggesting that only certain kinds of uses of the Internet support the genera- tion and maintenance of bonding and bridging of social capital (Ellison et al., 2007). However, we found that bonding social capital was predicted not only by Snapchat intensity of use, but also by being female. This was surprising because majority of existing studies have found no relationship between gender and bridging or bonding social capital on SNS (e.g. Ellison et al., 2007; Lee et al., 2014). However, women and men tend to have different styles in valuing and sustaining relationships (Duck&Wright, 1993; Eagly& Steffen, 1984), so one expects there might be differences in the way they use the Internet for interpersonal communication. Indeed, previous research have suggested that males and females use the same ICT for different purposes, with females reported using email to maintain relationships while males used it to organise meetings offline (Boneva, Kraut, & Frohlich, 2001). It may be that females are more adept at using the affordances of new ICT, including Snapchat, in order to build bonding social capital, although more research is required to better understand the exact nature of this effect with time-limited IM services.

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When examining the specific incidence of the last snap that participants shared via Snapchat, we found that users typically send (and receive) a selfie e a self-portrait photograph. The practice of taking and sending selfies has progressively developed with the proliferation of digital media and now represents a recognised element in culture, particularly amongst young people. Luders, Proitz, and Rasmussen (2010) pointed out that smartphones have become a common medium that contribute to this disciplined, yet playful, visual self-authoring. While research on selfies has been limited, especially in the psychological domain, existing studies show that photos shared on social networking sites are a practical and informative means of representing self-image, interpersonal impressions, and identity management (Eftekhar, Fullwood, & Morris, 2014; Saslow, Muise, Impett, & Dubin, 2012; Tosun, 2012; Van Der Heide, D’Angelo, & Schumaker, 2012). One study argues that making and editing a large number of selfies is associated with Dark Triad traits, especially narcissism (Fox & Rooney, 2015). Fox and Rooney (2015) argue that narcissists are prone to social com- parison (Krizan & Bushman, 2011), and may present these edited and optimised selfies on SNSs as a strategy to convey their perceived superiority to others (Jonason, Lyons, Baughman, & Vernon, 2014). However, all the studies mentioned above exam- ined selfie posting strategies on Facebook, and there is a distinctive lack of studies on making selfies with IM services. Snapchat is used with much closer contact groups than Facebook or other social networking sites where photos are typically shared with larger groups of people. Hypothetically, the high intimacy level on Snap- chat discussed above may have a different impact on the strategies and motivation for sharing selfies on SNS such as Facebook. More research is needed to better understand differences in users’ mo- tivations and strategies for sharing their selfies on various social media sites.

One of the intuitive and attractive features of Snapchat design is that it affords the quick and effortless making of selfies, while the ability to add short text comments and doodles makes it even more playful. In fact, the playfulness of Snapchat is reflected in a number of other results we obtained including: reason why participants started using it (25% reported in different way that they use Snapchat because it’s enjoyable activity); positive mood reported while sending their last snap (76% positive); as well as the playful and funny type of content users reported sending. In previous studies measures of playfulness have been used to establish the degree to which user experiences fun when using the technology (Davis, Bagozzi, & Warshaw, 1992; Moon & Kim, 2001; Van der Heijden, 2003). For instance, Sledgianowski and Kulviwat (2009) examined user adoption on Facebook, Friendster, and MySpace. Playfulness has been identified as one of the most critical factor in using those SNS, next to other factors such as critical mass of other users, and trust and perceived ease of use. It’s possible that the narrative, conversation-like, and intimate nature of Snapchat, with an interface that affords the easy exchange of short impressions, becomes a preferredmedium to playfully socialise in amore private setting than public SNS such as Facebook. Snapchat is immersive to use because you have to hold your finger on the screen to see the content, and you only have one chance to view the received content before it disappears therefore you need to stay focused when receiving message. Arguably, the combination of self-destructing images with an immersive interface that restricts the scope of user interaction with the content makes Snapchat an instant narrative vehicle that is similar to verbal story exchange.

We found that just three participants shared and received sen- sitive content, specifically a naked or semi-naked photo of them- selves, and they reported sending it to their partners.We also found that security and privacy were not a user concern and that only 2% of participants reported it as one of the reasons they use Snapchat.

This supports Roesner et al. (2014) finding that Snapchat’s success is not due to its security properties but because users find Snapchat to be fun. This also goes against commonmisconceptions in themedia that self-destructing content lowers inhibitions and therefore in- creases the chances of sexting.

One limitation of our study is that we only sampled a single snap and therefore it’s difficult to say how representative this single incidence is in the broader use of Snapchat. While we get a clear pattern of activity that is common across users (such as sharing selfies), some behaviours might be underrepresented. However, because content is unavailable to examine amongst Snapchat users, the memory sampling method seemed an appropriate way for obtaining accurate picture of Snapchat use. A larger sample size could further refine these results. There are still a number of unanswered questions that could be further explored by employing more direct, qualitative methods of engaging Snapchat users, such as focus groups. Do people ‘dose’ themselves with snaps and how they do it? Is the content that people share on Snapchat more spontaneous than content shared on other IM services or SNS? Perhaps content that people share on Snapchat is less self-censored than content shared via other SNS? Or maybe Snapchat is a part of media disposal culture e younger generations may lack a prefer- ence for physical media and perceive instant media as more desirable mode of communication. While young people seem to be a key Snapchat user group, it would be interesting to compare the differences between younger and older users. With Facebook now releasing similar tools, and Instagram offering disposable content, we may be facing a new chapter in how content is generated, shared and stored e one that moves from default public sharing, to the default removal of shared content.

5. Conclusions

Snapchat’s rapidly increasing popularity among young age groups rises a number of questions about how users utilise IM services with time-limited and self-destructing content, and how this relates to the use of other popular SNS such as Facebook. The current study is amongst the first that investigate a detail patterns of Snapchat use by surveying the very last incidence of snap that participants send and receive. The study also examines the rela- tionship between intensity of Snapchat use and social capital. Re- sults indicate that Snapchat is mainly used as a playful mobile IM service to rapidly communicate and share content, especially self- ies, with a small group of close friends, partners and family. Such “strong ties” oriented use is further reflected by a strong association between Snapchat intensity of use and bonding, rather than bridging, of social capital. It seems that popularity and patterns of Snapchat use highlighted in our studymight be a sign of a new form of digital narrative rising amongst younger population of social media users e a narrative that is achieved by seamless and playful use of smartphones to capture and share content-rich moments that cease to exist a second later.

Our study highlights how Snapchat become effortlessly embedded within its users daily communication practises and is currently the most popular form of IM in par with SMS and Face- book Communicator. Although our study shows that privacy risk for Snapchat users are less profound than indicated in the popular media, parents and educational institutions should be aware of risk associated with such services. Due to selfie-oriented use of Snap- chat that pose a potential risk of unintended disclosure of sensitive personal content, parents of the youngest users should be espe- cially aware of Snapchat use. However, the fact that Snapchat offers such playful form of communication could be also utilised by educational institutions as a new mean of engagement. In addition to helping young students populations, the use of Snapchat could

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support variety of other populations, including community mem- bers, and others who benefit from maintained ties. However, more research is needed to fully understand how ubiquitous and disruptive such use of self-destructing messaging is in the cultural and socio-psychological context of the digital media use.


The authors would like to thank Dr Yvette Morey for her valu- able comments and discussions regarding the results presented in this manuscript.

Appendix A. Supplementary data

Supplementary data related to this article can be found at http://


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  • “What do they snapchat about?” Patterns of use in time-limited instant messaging service
    • 1. Introduction
      • 1.1. The overview of snapchat
      • 1.2. Snapchat use, privacy and social capital
    • 2. Methods
      • 2.1. Participants
      • 2.2. Measures for the exploratory survey and critical incidence technique
      • 2.3. Measures for the follow up survey on social capital
    • 3. Results
      • 3.1. Exploratory survey
      • 3.2. Follow-up social capital survey
    • 4. Discussion
    • 5. Conclusions
    • Acknowledgements
    • Appendix A. Supplementary data
    • References