The Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA) applied to social networking status updates.

Whilst at university, I had the pleasure of studying Consumer Behaviour in the context of marketing. Recently I got to thinking how this theory is very much applicable to social media and social networking. Stick with it. There’s a fair bit to get your head round but I think it makes sense.

When ever a status is updated we subconsciously have an agenda. We want to get a message across to our followers/friends and this affects what we write. There are beliefs that we hold about certain subjects and this also affects what we write. The TRA though is particularly concerned with the affect that the subjective norms have on our actions. That is, what ever people think about the actions we take. 

In its simplest form, the TRA can be expressed as the following mathematical function:

BI = (AB)W1 + (SN) W2

BI = behavioral intention

(AB) = one’s attitude toward performing the behavior

W = empirically derived weights

SN = one’s subjective norm related to performing the behavior

(Source: Hale, 2003)


So in this context:

BI = You intend to update your Twitter or Facebook status

(AB) = What your attitude is towards what you are going to write

W = How much propensity this has to affect your behaviour

SN= How you think other people are going to perceive your tweet/status update


Ok so I haven’t been on Twitter yet today so I’m thinking of tweeting. That’s my behavioural intention. What am I going to tweet about? Well in the news recently there has been a lot of talk about MP’s expenses and I have a strong opinion that any MP that over claims on expenses should be sacked (not my view just for this example!) therefore I am going to tweet my views about this expenses business. That strong opinion is my AB (attitude towards my behaviour).

But hang on – If I start saying this then all of my followers/peers/friends/colleagues may think I’m some kind of activist. Hmmm ok well I was going to suggest they all get sacked but maybe now I’ll just say that they should change the expenses rules. There we have it, my subjective norm has influenced my behaviour. 

Diagram of the TRA


Diagram showing the Theory of Reasoned Action

Diagram showing the Theory of Reasoned Action




What all of this amounts to is that many social network/media users don’t always say or write exactly what they mean to. Therefore we should all be conscious of the fact that although we may believe we are conversing with honesty, we probably aren’t. We may well be amending our tweets/status updates/comments to suit how we are affected by other people’s attitude towards what we say.

It even affected this blog post. I was worried about you thinking that my opinion is that all MP’s should be sacked so I felt the need to explain that that was not my opinion in brackets.

Learn more about the Theory of Reasoned action here

Read the blog post that inspired me to write this


6 thoughts on “The Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA) applied to social networking status updates.

  1. Hi Rob

    Very interesting post. Thanks for pointing it my way.

    This also links in to the problem with focus groups, although here there is another dimension.

    After the initial opinion is tempered because of concern for social norms, if support for it is expressed by the group it will be amplified beyond its initial level.

    Reassure me that you don’t let Redweb use focus groups!

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