• Message layering: a grounded theory of overcoming message limitations in social media communication

      Ahmed, Sajeel (University of BedfordshireUniversity of Bedfordshire, 2018-04-12)
      Using the Grounded Theory research method, this research has explored various forms of social media communication, including emoticons, emoji, GIFs, stickers and hashtags. Further, this study has produced a theory of message layering in social media communication. This research was conducted on data consisting of social media comments, posts and conversations in the form of online observations, as well as recordings and transcripts collected, based on face-to-face interviews. Participants consisted of members of the general public who communicate on different social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. The data was collected and analysed using classic Grounded Theory procedures and guidelines, comprising theoretical sensitivity, theoretical sampling and constant comparison, as well as substantive and theoretical coding. This study identifies that social media communication has various limitations and messages can be brief, ambiguous and lacking in structure. It is evident that the main concern of communicators (both senders and receivers) on social media is to overcome such message limitations. Further, this study explains the basic social psychological process of message layering. Message layering is a theory developed in this study and is characterised by its two sub-core categories of Message structuring and message regulating. Message structuring is about combining and toning to give structure to messages. Message regulating is about associating and fitting to give meaning. Through these means, communicators on social media are seen to process the main concern of overcoming message limitations. Message layering allows communicators to give structure and meaning to messages. Theoretical explanations show that clarity and confusion in understanding what the message indicates is a result of how senders and receivers structure and give meaning to messages. However, it is also identified that senders often structure and assign meaning to messages differently to the receivers of the same message. This thesis makes contributions to knowledge by offering a new perspective on looking at social media messages. It suggests new concepts of combining, selecting, classifying, toning, making connections, assuming positions, associating, recognising types, fitting, applying knowledge and lastly, presents a typology of social media communicators consisting of stranger corresponders, distant corresponders and close corresponders. Moreover, the theory of message layering has implications for practice. Current practices addressing social media communication consider social media messages based on general definitions and understanding of words and pictures only. However, the theory of message layering suggests the importance of considering social media messages from the perspectives of both senders and receivers and further considering the processes of how senders and receivers structure and ascribe meaning to messages.