From the Outside Looking In: Using Social Media to Improve Well-Being

June 1, 2023

James A. Roberts, PhD and Meredith E. David, PhD

Humans are wired to seek out social interaction, and the Internet gives people endless opportunities to connect. But, contrary to the goal of social media, which purports to bring people together, recent research links increased social media usage to loneliness and perceived isolation. People from all age groups are spending on average two hours and 25 minutes per day browsing social media. Over an entire lifetime, that is approximately five years and four months on social media. One may wonder how such rampant social media use impacts our well-being as well as whether and how this time on social media could be better spent, perhaps in a manner that may be more conducive to one’s well-being.

Stock Image of Three People Man Woman Man Sitting Next To One Another and All Looking at Their Phones

Recent research suggests that it is not only how much time is spent on social media that impacts well-being, but another important factor is how that time is spent. The present research attempts to explain this apparent conundrum. Specifically, we studied social media use and examined whether it is how the social media is used (passively vs. actively) that determines its effects on users’ perceived social connection and well-being. This question is of particular importance given that the majority of social media use is passive in nature. The findings of this research can be used to improve individuals’ well-being and social connection as well as to engage followers in a way that has a positive impact on their well-being.

Passive vs. Active Social Media Use

Our study sought to investigate the interaction between social media use/intensity and how social media is being used (passive vs. active), as well as its impact on or association with social connection and, ultimately, psychological well-being. Passive use is the most prevalent kind of social media use and involves browsing and consuming information about others’ lives without actually engaging with others’ profiles or posts. Conversely, active use involves some sort of direct interaction or engagement with others. Active users of social media “like,” post comments, and share information with others on social media, whereas passive users simply scroll through their social media feeds with little interaction with others.

Our Studies

Our first study examined the relationship between social media intensity and type of social media usage (i.e., passive vs. active), as well as the interactive effect of both perceptions of social connection and subjective well-being. We found that passive usage of social media, or so called “creeping,” had a negative effect on one’s well-being. It appears that using social media without interacting with others is associated with a reduced sense of social connection and decrements in psychological well-being.

Our second study examined the robustness of the results from study one. The results of study two were consistent with study one, providing further evidence to support the hypothesis that social media can be harmful to one’s well-being, depending on how the social media is being used (actively vs. passively). If used in a passive way, heavy social media usage is particularly unlikely to help an individual foster his/her own well-being.

Study three manipulated both social media use (heavy vs. light) and type of use (passive vs. active) and then measured the resulting levels of social connection among test subjects. The results of study three further indicate that there is a significant negative relationship between the intensity of social media use and social connection when social media is used passively. The study also found that, when used actively, social media use is positively related to social connection.

Key Real Estate Implications

As an agent and social media consumer, consider the ways in which you utilize social media, be it for business or pleasure. Are you contributing to your well-being by engaging with your connections, or are you contributing to a lack of well-being by passively scrolling?

With increased social media marketing, it is also important to understand the impact of social media use on the customer. Agents and social media managers must understand the impact on the customer to drive positive impressions. From this study, we’ve found that social media engagement is key to improved social well-being and connection, and this information can therefore be used to optimize marketing strategies.

The key is to develop social media posts that fuel engagement. Ask questions. Create posts that get the customer involved such as, “Share this post for a chance to win!” By engaging followers in fruitful interactions, you can promote their well-being and reap the benefits of doing so.

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Recommended Reading

Roberts, James A. and Meredith E. David, (2022), “On the Outside Looking in: Social Media Intensity, Social Connection, and User Well-Being: The Moderating Role of Passive Social Media Use,” Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science,

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About the Authors

James A. Roberts, PhD
Professor, Director of the Center for Non-Profit Leadership and Service and holder of The Ben Williams Professorship in Marketing, Baylor University
Dr. Jim Roberts (PhD – University of Nebraska-Lincoln) has been a member of the Baylor marketing faculty since 1991. He has had approximately 80 articles published in numerous academic journals. He is also the author of two books, Shiny Objects (Harper Collins) and Too Much of a Good Thing: Are You Addicted to your Smartphone?

Dr. Roberts is a nationally recognized expert on consumer behavior. His research has been quoted and/or featured on The O’Reilly Factor, The Doctors on CBS,, US News & World ReportNew York TimesUSA TodayThe Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio, Cosmopolitan MagazineGlamour, and many other newspapers, magazines, websites, and television networks. Dr. Roberts has also appeared on the CBS Early Show, ABC World News Tonight, ABC Good Morning America, and NBC The Today Show. His current research interests include the pursuit of happiness through money and material possessions and investigating the antecedents and consequences of smartphone addiction and its impact on personal happiness and professional productivity.

Meredith E. David, PhD
Associate Professor of Marketing, Baylor University
Dr. Meredith David (PhD – University of South Carolina) joined the Baylor marketing faculty in 2014. Her research focuses on marketing strategies with an emphasis on consumer behavior and well-being. Recently, her research has explored how new media technologies, including smartphones, impact personal and workplace relationships. Dr. David has also published research related to customized pricing tactics, interpersonal attachment styles, and the pursuit of health goals. Her research appears in numerous journals including the Journal of Business Research, Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, Journal of Advertising, European Journal of Marketing, and Psychology & Marketing, among others. Dr. David is coauthor of Pearson’s leading Strategic Management textbook (Strategic Management Concepts and Cases – A Competitive Advantage Approach, 18th edition) which is available in many languages and has been used globally for 32 years. Dr. David has been interviewed and quoted for her research in many national and international news outlets, including ABC News, The Wall Street Journal, Fox News,, Redbook Magazine, Consumer Reports, and Health Magazine, among others.