"When people feel badly, they have a need to reach out to others because this can help reduce negative emotions and restore a sense of well-being," said Eva Buechel, Professor at University of South Carolina in the US.
‘Sharing online is less ideal than having communication in person, but these social networks could be an important communication channel for certain individuals who would otherwise stay isolated.’
"But talking to someone face-to-face or on the phone might feel daunting because people may worry that they are bothering them. Sharing a status update on Facebook or tweet on Twitter allows people to reach out to a large audience in a more undirected manner," Buechel said.
The findings, published online in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, suggest that the social networking platforms could be particularly useful for those who feel socially isolated or apprehensive about one-on-one interactions. Sharing short messages to an audience on a social network is called microblogging.
To test whether people are more likely to microblog when they feel socially apprehensive, Buechel asked participants in one group to write about a time when they had no one to talk to at a party, while the control group wrote about office products.
Then she asked the participants who had an online social network account to log in and spend two minutes on their preferred social network.
When the time ended, she asked people if they had microblogged. The results showed that those who had been led to feel socially apprehensive were more likely to microblog.
"There is a lot of research showing that sharing online is less ideal than having communication in person, but these social networks could be an important communication channel for certain individuals who would otherwise stay isolated," Buechel said.
While there is a danger for those who start to rely on social media as their only form of communication, the study suggests that when used wisely, microblogging can be a valuable means of buffering negative emotions though social interaction.