Effect of Media Richness on Older Adults’ Routinized Use of Social Media in Mobile Applications
Given the ambivalent relationship between social media’s characteristics and the elderly usage, the missing link of the older consumers’ emotional attachment to the media product, and the lack of theoretical and empirical insights on the contextual family influence issue, this study examines how media richness drives the older users’ routine usage of media in a mobile application by considering the mediating role of emotional attachment and the moderating role of reverse intergeneration influence. Based on the data collected through 294 older users aged 60 and over in China, the hypothesized structural model is tested using path analysis. First, this study validates that media richness has a positive impact on the elderly’s routine use via a partial mediator emotional attachment. Second, this study reveals that the direct and indirect effect of media richness on routine use is moderated by the moderator reverse intergenerational influence. Third, this study finds that reverse intergenerational influence serves as a double-edge moderating role in the routine usage decision. These findings shed light on the underlying mechanism of the elderly’s routine use and provide applicable implications for the mobile application development practice in evoking the elderly’s routine use.
Population aging is a global phenomenon. From 2015 to 2050, the number of older persons aged over 60 years globally is projected to be nearly doubled from 12% to 22% . As a part of the aging process, the offline social networks of the elderly become thin and sparse, leading to being inclined to isolation and loneliness. Fortunately, the prevalence of social media in mobile applications counteracts the loneliness and isolation issues. Social media in a mobile application is accompanied with multifunction and services (media richness), such as text or voice messages in one-to-one communication or in group chat room, video call, contactless m-payment, content-rich official accounts, and “Moments” sharing. This media richness meets the elderly’s needs for social communication to connect with their family members and friends [2, 3]. According to the annual report of WeChat (the most popular mobile social media in China) in 2017, there are more than fifty million active older users per month . Contrary to the conventional belief that elderly people are “digital refugees,” it is undeniable that a considerable portion of the older population has integrated mobile social media into their daily life.
Although the use of information technology among the elderly population has become relatively common, the usage patterns among different older individuals are very distinctive. In practice, some elderly users may choose alternative technology after a first adoption behavior because they might perceive the social media with multifunction to be more complicated and useless, while others might develop continuance usage intention and accordingly shape a routinized usage pattern of a certain technology. Despite a rich stream of IS research on elderly use of social media [5–7], our knowledge of the elderly’s routine usage of IT products is still limited. Particularly, the mechanisms underlying elderly users’ perception, usage intention, and decision-making process are underexplored.
Against this background, this study examines the underlying mechanisms of older users’ routine use of social media. Compared to general users, older users have two unique idiosyncrasies in their usage of IT products. First, their usage decisions are not absolutely rational assessment of functional usefulness but are intertwined with their emotional responses while interacting with IT products [8, 9]. Second, older users’ usage of IT products is usually not an independent process but is highly dependent on the influence of the younger generation [10–12], known as reverse intergenerational (RIG) influence in this study. The RIG phenomenon is particularly prominent in the Chinese family context where filial piety has been a tenet of traditional culture . Taking the above two characteristics into consideration, this study examines the role of older users’ emotional responses and RIG influence in their formation of routine usage decisions of social media tools.
In this study, we highlight the influence of media characteristics on older users’ perceptions and usage decisions on social media tools. Previous studies on the relationship of media richness and older users’ usage of IT product are ambivalent. Some studies suggested that the IT products designed for the elderly should be as simple as possible [14, 15]. However, a few studies found that old users prefer IT products with rich functions because such products are able to provide comprehensive supports and resolve uncertainties [16, 17]. Furthermore, we aim to empirically examine this conclusion under the presence of RIG influence and emotional response of older users. We are particularly interested in the following questions. (1) Does media richness promote or hinder elder users’ routine use of social media? (2) How does emotional response mediate the influence of media richness on elder users’ routine use of social media? (3) How does RIG moderate the influence of media richness on elder users’ routine use of social media? (4) How does the influence of media richness differ between high and low levels of RIG influence?
Social cognitive theory (SCT) is a comprehensive and effective analysis framework to explain individual behaviors [18–21]. According to the framework of social cognitive theory (individual cognition-environment-behavior), this study aims to investigate how media richness interplays with reverse intergenerational influence in influencing the older users’ routine usage of social media.
2. Literature Review
2.1. Social Cognitive Theory
The formation mechanism of routine usage of social media can be explicated with social cognitive theory (SCT) [18, 19]. SCT, an overarching framework within a causal model of triadic reciprocity, suggests that individual behavior is the result of an interaction between personal cognition, social environment, and behavior . The environmental and individual conditions afford potential sources of influence that can shape the usage behavior of older users. Drawing on SCT as the theoretical foundation, we develop the research framework and hypotheses within the routine usage of the social media framework. Social cognitive theory has been extensively applied to explain the mechanism of individual behavior .
Contextualized in this study, the factor personal cognition includes emotional attachment and media richness the factor social environment refers to reverse intergenerational influence, the factor behavior pattern refers to the elderly’s routine usage of social media. Emotional attachment, the most reliable and strongest relationship with the brand , has a distinctive term from attitude proposed by the theory of planned behavior (TPB). “Attitude” could be independent upon the related cognition and emotional response on the technological objects, which merely denotes the rational evaluation and assessment about the technological product, whereas the emotional attachment is penetrated with intensively relational bonds with the product, which has an operational definition about the traits and intensity of users’ cognition and emotional response on the product. Thus, this study is well suitable to study the emotional state of using social media.
From the perspective of cognition condition derived from technological characteristics, we highlight the influence of media richness on older users’ perceptions and usage decisions towards social media tools. Previous studies on the relationship of media richness and older users’ usage of IT product is ambivalent. Some studies suggested that the IT products designed for the elderly should be as simple as possible [14, 15]. However, a few studies found that old users prefer IT products with rich functions because such products are able to provide comprehensive supports and resolve uncertainties [16, 17]. Moreover, given the ambivalent relationship between media richness and routine usage, we could conclude that not any media with rich functionality can have a lasting effect. This is the reason why we focused on the environment-based factor, reverse intergenerational influence, which is a potential impact on the formation of routine usage (as described in detail later).
2.2. Routine Use
Routine use is defined as a situation where employees use information system as a routine and in a standardized manner in their technological diffusion process . Several studies demonstrated that routine use representing the repetitive and efficient use of technology with engagement in the technology as part of their daily life could increase their productivity and efficiency [25, 26]. Li et al.  emphasized that routine use is facilitated by extrinsic motivation represented as perceived usefulness rather than intrinsic motivation. Extant studies on information system (IS) have noticed the routine use of IT products in recent years [25, 26, 28]. The routinization of social media penetrated into the elderly’s retire life could facilitate to conduct comfortable interactions with others. To our best knowledge, insufficient knowledge on the elderly’s routine use of social media is touched upon.
2.3. Media Richness
Media richness theory originated from the information process theory and refers to the extent to which medium’s ability to emulate and convey authentic communication situation [29, 30]. In the elderly’s usage of social media context, media richness denotes the social media’s capacity to express what the elderly’ feelings and emulate real-life interaction fully, which is perceived as a suitable basis for studying the usage behavior of social media. Based on Daft and Lengel’s dimensionality [31, 32], the richness of social media also encompasses four dimensions. (1) Immediate interaction: versatility-rich media with real-life communication allows older users to chat in an instant way, improving the understanding of ambiguous and equivocal messages . (2) The use of various cues: rich media can integrate several rich attributes such as photo sharing, “Moments” sharing, and video sharing . WeChat compared with WhatsApp popularized in the western countries can chat not only with voice and text messages but also with multimedia messages like minivideo and photos in “Moments” as well as miniprograms of smart retailers, and official accounts of content creators can elicit a large variety of cues. (3) Focus on personal interests: the miniprograms of smart retailers and official accounts of content creators as an in-app tool arouse the elderly’s interest in healthcare, continuing education and mobile commerce. The combination with mobile instant messaging could also offer a forum of social perception to accomplish real-time interaction with their peers and family members who have similar interests . (4) Communication with natural languages: the visualization of “Moments” sharing and face-to-face video communication expressed in natural language could enhance the pleasurable communication of older people.
2.4. Emotional Attachment
Attachment derived from the attachment theory is defined as the extent to which individual maintain the self-concept by using an object which has been owned, expected to be owned, or previously . Emotion is considered a subset of affection, which reflects an individual’s subjective feelings towards objects, environments, people, and events . Emotional attachment is described as “an emotion-laden target-specific bond between a person and specific object” .
Emotional attachment to technology has been studied to be a facilitator of the usage intention of IT products. This rationale is on the basis that the individuals attached with emotional feeling towards the technology are more eager to use and enjoy using that technology. Suh et al.  found that individuals who identified themselves with their avatar were more emotionally attached to their avatar and had a greater intention to use it. Han et al.  revealed that multiple components of consumption emotions affected customer satisfaction and further influenced revisit intention. The emotional attachment serves as a necessary theoretical link with usage behavior. The emotional attachment could help explain why the users choose a particular technology from a variety of technology choices and even intend to pay a higher premium of the technology. However, current studies on emotional attachment to technology in the IS literature remain underdeveloped, that is, the linkage between emotional attachment towards technology and its impacts on the routine use of elderly users.
2.5. Reverse Intergenerational Influence
Reverse intergenerational (RIG) influence, an important method of reverse socialization, could be called as a cultural feedback phenomenon. Our understanding of RIG influence could be archived from studies on intergenerational influence. Intergenerational (IG) influence, an important method of socialization, is defined as the transmission of attitudes, values, and behaviors from parents to children [39, 40]. Based on the definition of IG influence from the study of Heckler and Childers , RIG influence is defined as the younger generation delivering market-related skills, attitudes, preferences, values, and behaviors to the older generation.
Given the fact that filial piety has been a tenet of traditional Chinese culture and a core concept of Confucianism, reverse intergenerational influence may be considered as one of the contextual factors of elderly users’ usage behavior in China. Children are socialized as consumers earlier than their parents . In order to keep pace with the rapid prevalence of social media usage, older consumers need to continuously learn and practice, forming positive attitudes and technological literacy. Therefore, to a large extent that socialization applies to young adult learning in a general contact, it should also apply to the development and change of elderly consumers’ cognitions, attitudes, and behaviors towards marketing and product-related stimuli .
Reverse intergenerational influence has an impact on the downstream effects on users’ behavior. Amatulli et al.  found that young social cues trigger older consumers’ choice of contemporary over traditional products. Ekström  substantiated that the mechanism of consumption patterns and knowledge are transferred from children to parental consumers. Younger generations, therefore, may have an important role in reverse intergenerational effect on the formation of older users’ usage decisions. Surprisingly, a growing stream of literature has focused the intergenerational influence in that one is a source of transforming experience derived [39, 43, 44] and an outcome of the usage or consumption decision [44, 45]. However, most of the evidence on the mechanism of older users’ usage decision neglects the key importance of reverse intergenerational influence.
The older generation’s provision of favorable experience and psychological response will depend on the usage patterns and knowledge influenced from the younger generation, which means that the reverse intergenerational influence could offer detailed proposals and advises on perceptual experience commensurate with their parents’ experiential demands and is prone to minimize their mental efforts by helping their parents identify the best decision of usage. In addition, several researchers have theoretically stated that technological-based perception and environment-based facilitating conditions together may result in older users’ adoption and usage [46, 47]. We have scarce knowledge about the role of media richness, in conjunction with RIG influence, in influencing the brand equity pertaining to the older consumers’ basis. In summation, it may be reasonable and worthwhile to expect the media richness to interplay RIG influence factor affecting Chinese older consumers’ routine use intention.
3. Research Model and Hypotheses Development
3.1. The Direct Effect of Media Richness
The media with functional richness usually is perceived to provide more comprehensive supports and resolve some uncertainties compared with low rich media by eliciting some commeasurable functional stimulus. Following the effort-accuracy framework proposed by Payne , the individual behavior of a decision maker aims at minimizing the cognitive effort and maximizing the accuracy of decision making. Due to the limited cognition and efforts the elderly could give, they usually prefer to choose the media with rich decision aids to reduce some efforts relevant to e-communication decision making, such as adding friends, video calls, and instant message communication with various emojis, and thus they could make an accurate decision by means of more normative strategies. For example, the multiple choices of emojis in emojis’ shop facilitate their emotional expression during interacting with their friends. The older users could directly pick their friends’ new favorite emojis from the recommendation information and choose their favorites by themselves. Consequently, they could send the specific emoji expressing their current emotional state via typing a single phrase.
Previous studies have demonstrated that the richer the media to be more functional in the teenagers’ social media usage context  and the richer the platform to be more useful in the older users’ recommendation agents usage context . Thus, apart from the arguments of effort reduction offered from the media with rich functions, in the elderly’s social media usage context, media richness has a beneficial impact on reducing information search costs and increasing more options for the decision maker . Thus, enhanced perceived functionality and benefit lead users to be more inclined to routine use. Therefore, we postulate the following. H1: media richness has a positive impact on the older users’ routine use.
3.2. The Mediating Role of Emotional Attachment
Media Richness and Emotional Attachment. The rich media with emulating real-life interaction conveys a series of cues and allows mutually instant feedbacks so as to reduce the cognitive and mental effort compared with function-lean media . The product is regarded as an extension of self-conception when the product design is commensurate with their preferences and needs self-development, and therefore the individual would elicit the emotional attachment to the product. For older users, they focus more attention on the effort reduction of communication with others. Thus, the richer media are more prone to entice older users towards self-concept identification and social presence reinforcement such as friend development [52, 53], allowing them to attach with this product emotionally.
Emotional Attachment and Routine Use. When the products have connections with the self-concept of users, the individuals could trigger several emotional feelings to the product, such as a sense of loss or gain , and even expect to possess it again. On the basis of this rationale, older users have the readiness to devote personal efforts to maintain a stable relationship with a product, resulting in a range of specific usage behaviors catering to the maintenance relationship. The more prominent the emotional attachment is, the more extent the older users feel connected with and devote personal efforts to the technological product, leading to creating an intense desire for the routine use.
Mediating Effect. The emotional attachment serves as a strong bond between perception and behavior . According to the stimulus-organism-response (S-O-R) paradigm, individual internal states can be evoked by external stimuli and further affect their corresponding behavior . Following from the mediational hypothesis reasoning, we assume that when older users use the rich functionality of this media, self-identity identification and social presence cues commensurable with their preferences and needs motivate them to engender emotional attachment to this media, which trigger their intention to use the media apps routinely. In other words, when older users cannot feel attached to the technological product, it is difficult to entice users to the media and in turn create an intense desire to routinely use even with the rich functionality of media. Thus, we posit the following.
H2 (the emotional attachment mediation of media richness and routine use): emotional attachment mediates the relationship between media richness and older users’ routine use of social media.
3.3. The Moderating Role of Reverse Intergenerational Support
Following from the intergenerational influence perspective, we try to illustrate the moderate effect of reverse intergenerational (RIG) influence. Restrained from the education level and social services system, older people are lacking basic knowledge and skills without the capacity to manipulate and use technological products [46, 57], which may constitute barriers to older consumers’ attitude (Hawthorn, 2007). Intergenerational influence creates special emotional bonds between the consumers and the products of brand ; further still, it was acknowledged by the older generation that the influence of consumption values from the younger generation may sometimes touch their souls via intergenerational interaction (Chen and Silverstein, 2000) and have a great impact on the psychological well-being or emotional well-being [58, 59]. Thus, they would be prone to seek help from family assistance especially their children in coping with the technology adoption  or learn from their children to keep up with them .
Reverse intergenerational (RIG) influence is accompanied by tangible forms occurring frequently within a Chinese family. For example, routine conversations in leisure time permit their children to instruct or exchange functional experience with their parents about social media. They also could observe from their children the usage procedure of opening a miniprogram or selecting an interesting emoji, etc., which resembles their real-life interaction. Due to the conversation scenario diversity and conventionality, RIG influence from the family-specific factor can take on various forms like casual conversation as well as observation. Through this routine conversation and observation, the usage proposals and advices of a product are given by their younger generation. Meanwhile, the meaning of a product for older users (e.g., useful and sensory experience, the enjoyment of using, and the self-esteem) is articulated and augmented from their children  rather than from media characteristics. Furthermore, through routine conservation and observation, older people have strong ties of kinship, which could compensate for their loneliness in real life. Under this case, the usage uncertainty reduction, social presence augmentation, and feeling of loneliness alleviation could be realized by reverse intergenerational influence. Thus, the older users who received influence from reverse intergeneration members may be less sensitive to the effect of perceived benefits from the media, and thereby the positive impact of media richness from technology-based aspect will be overshadowed. Thus, we predict that compared with a high level of reverse intergenerational influence, media richness would have a strong impact on the routine use of social media under the presence of a low level of reverse intergenerational influence.
H3a (RIG influence negative moderation of media richness and routine use): reverse intergenerational influence negatively moderates the relationship between media richness and routine use.
Reverse intergenerational (RIG) influence as a conduit of exchanging usage information and experience  could transfer some beliefs to their parents that this product is useful and important for their parents. The emotional attachment reflects the elderly’s emotional cognition of products and their emotional association with products . When older users have a strong emotional attachment to the product, it means that the elderly acknowledge the product is important to themselves. Therefore, under the high level of reverse intergenerational influence, older users are more influenced by their younger generations’ usage perception and are more prone to recognize the importance and usefulness of products emphasized by their children. This will trigger a congruity in older users’ minds and thereby will strengthen the propensity of emotional attachment transforming to routine use. Thus, we postulate the following.
H3b (RIG influence positive moderation of emotional attachment and routine use): reverse intergenerational influence positively moderates the relationship between emotional attachment and routine use.
Taken together, the moderated mediation model examines whether the mediation effect would be contingent by the different contexts [61, 62]. Following the rationales mentioned above, when there is a high level of reverse intergenerational influence, the positive path between emotional attachment and routine use would be promoted, and the positive path between media richness and routine use would be attenuated (Figure 1). Specifically, under this case, the younger generation can transfer positive and affirmative feelings and emotions to their older generation, and these feelings are likely to create emotional bonds and further develop effective commitment [44, 45]. In this case, older users are more likely to be reluctant to shape switching intention and may boost the intention to be attached to the product routinely. Contrarily, when RIG influence is low, the direct link between media richness and routine use would be accentuated and the positive link between emotional attachment and routine use would be attenuated. Under this case, they usually are depicted as the ones who have a sense of loneliness and develop a less emotional association with a product such that they seek more alleviation from media richness which has the capability to emulate real-life interaction. Thus, it is possible that the direct effect of media richness would be altered by the low RIG influence compared with the ones under the higher influence. Therefore, we propose the following.
H3c (the indirect effect of emotional attachment and RIG influence moderation hypothesis): the indirect effect of media richness on the routine use via emotional attachment is positively moderated by reverse intergenerational influence.
4. Research Methodology
4.1. Data Collection and Sampling
We conducted a field study to obtain empirical data. A face-to-face individual interview approach implemented by interviewers for collecting the questionnaire served as an auxiliary role of assisting older people’s completion. Research objectives, privacy protection, conflicts of interest declaration, and other instructions were given to the respondents. Because of the biological limitation they face (i.e., difficulty in processing information in a short time and eyesight and hearing problems), the data were collected by interviews rather than a self-administered questionnaire. This method is appropriate for collecting data with older people to ensure the quality of our measurement results [46, 63, 64]. Interviews were conducted using the Mandarin language, and each interview lasted about twenty minutes.
The United Nations  referred to those of 60 years of age and over as the older population; thus, the target participants for this study were Chinese residents aged 60 and above. Since the study was concerned with the reverse intergenerational influence of older adults, the target participants were required to have one child or grandchild in a broad sense. As shown in Table 1, although some respondents are never married, they have nephews and nieces in Chinese family, and the younger generations could offer detailed proposals and advices on perceptual experience of older adults. The participants chosen to be tested were generally healthy and had the capability to chat well with the interviewer. Considering the scarcity of eligible older participants, the sample was recruited through a convenience sampling method with the assistance of the aging industry association in China, targeting the urban aging recipient of smartphone from various groups such as senior citizen community centers, elderly university, healthcare center, and other groups of the elderly. This questionnaire was pretested with 20 older adults to resolve any problems with length, ambiguous wording, and clarity of questions. A total of 326 eligible older adults were willing to participate in this study. Through the face-to-face interview with a questionnaire, a total of 294 valid data samples were collected.
Demographic information of the samples such as age, gender, living arrangement, education level, marital status, source of income, and economic status was collected. In addition, some information pertains to our constructs such as reverse intergenerational influence frequency. The latter one relates to the frequencies of guidance of using smartphones from their children (Table 1).
The existing maturity items, whenever possible, were adopted and modified the wordings to reflect the main effect constructs in the context of social media usage and the moderator reverse IG influence-related aspects in the aging context. For example, the RIG items were modified to suit our reverse context based on scales from Bravo Gil et al.  and Cai et al. . All items were assessed on a five-point Likert scale ranging from “1 = strongly disagree” to “5 = strongly agree” in Table 2. Following the translation-back-translation procedure , this study reconciles any meaningful differences to confirm translation equivalence.
5. Data Analyses and Results
5.1. Measurement Model
The measurement model was assessed to ensure reliability and validity. The reliability was assessed using Cronbach’s alpha shown in Table 3. Cronbach’s alpha values of all constructs above 0.7 are more than the recommended value of Nunnally and Bernstein . The items with loading less than 0.5 as well as significant cross-loadings were dropped from further analysis . In addition, the convergent validity was assessed by examining the construct reliability (CR) and average variance extract (AVE). The value of CR is more than the recommended value of 0.60, and AVEs of all constructs are above 0.50 , thus supporting convergent validity. The discriminant validity of the constructs was checked by examining whether the square root of the AVE for each construct was greater than all of the interconstruct correlations as shown in Table 4 .
5.2. Structural Model
The structural equation model shows a good model fit as shown in Table 5. Based on the results of the model, media richness shows a significant predictive power on routine use. Thus, H1 is statistically supported.
After estimating the direct effect, we analyzed the indirect effect using the bootstrap procedure with performing 2000 bootstrap samples with 95% bias-corrected (BC) or percentile (PC) bootstrap confidence intervals in AMOS . The indirect effect of media richness on routine use via emotional attachment is statistically significant as zero is not among both the BC and percentile confidence intervals . Furthermore, the direct effect of media richness on routine use is statistically significant as zero is not among the BC and percentile confidence intervals. Thus, it can be estimated that emotional attachment partially mediates the relationship between media richness and routine use (as seen in Table 6). H2 is partially supported.
The moderation effect was conducted using hierarchical regression analysis presented in Table 7. The independent and moderator latent variables were mean centered to prevent bias and multicollinearity in the regression coefficients. The moderating variables and interaction term were included in Model 3. The results show that age is positively associated with the elderly’s routine use, whereas gender has no significant impact on the elderly’s routine use. The interaction term, RIG MR, has a significantly negative effect on routine use (β = −0.235; ; t = 4.572); the interaction term, RIG EA, has a significantly positive effect on routine use (β = 0.228; ; t = 4.164). Thus, H3a and H3b are supported. The results for the moderation effect are presented in Figure 2. To further illustrate the results of the moderating effect, we plotted the significant interaction. As shown in Figure 3, the impact of media richness on routine use becomes attenuated by the high level of RIG influence, whereas the effect of emotional attachment on routine use becomes accentuated when the volume of RIG influence is high. We could conclude that H3a and H3b are supported.
Following Preacher et al.’s recommendation  with bias-corrected bootstrapping, we examined the moderated mediating effect by dividing into three values of RIG influence: the standard deviation (SD), one standard deviation above (+1 SD), and one standard deviation below (−1 SD). When the volume of RIG influence is high, zero is not included in the 95% confidence interval, indicating that media richness had a significant indirect effect on routine use via emotional attachment (β = 1.520; Boot SE = 2.658). Under the condition that the volume of RIG influence is low, zero is included in the 95% confidence interval, suggesting that the indirect effect of media richness and routine use became insignificant. The results in Table 8 show that the indirect effect of media richness on routine use via emotional attachment varies at a different level of RIG influence. Thus, H3c is supported.
6. Discussion and Implications
This study tries to reply to the research question mentioned: how does media richness promote or hinder older users’ routine use of social media? The social cognitive theory gave us a refined understanding of how and why the elderly’s routine usage could be positively impacted by media richness. To further illustrate this question, we incorporate the reverse intergenerational influence (social environment factor) as the moderated factor and take the emotional attachment (personal cognition factor) as the mediated variable and develop a moderated mediation model to explain the mechanism of the formation of the elderly’s routine usage.
First, this study suggests that perceived media richness has a positive effect on older users’ routine use of social media. Although using social media needs more devotion to efforts and costs to arrive at routine use for older users as the previous arguments analyzed in general on older adults, this study gives an explanation that the beneficial impact of media richness could compensate potential costs as the media with functional richness is perceived to provide more comprehensive support and reduce some efforts relevant to e-communication decision making. Ghasemaghaei et al.  found that older adults perceived high comprehensiveness recommendation agents to be more useful compared to low comprehensive ones. Although this finding is in contrary with the beliefs that “the older the person, the simpler the IT should be” , this study extends the underlying theoretical basis of effort-accuracy framework and further validates the positive impact of media richness in the context of social media usage.
Second, emotional attachment has a mediating effect on the relationship between media richness and the elderly’s routine use. It demonstrates that the emotional attachment as a partial mediator is found to fully explain the mechanism of how media richness interacted with reverse intergenerational influence may arrive at routine use based on the moderated mediation model. Without considering the emotional attachment would lead us to be planned behavior stereotypes towards Chinese older users rather than understanding their affective usage behavior.
Third, this study found the interaction of media richness (technology-based factor) and the RIG influence (environment-specific factor) on routine use. Several studies investigated the technological-based factors and environment-facilitated factors separately or jointly which may contribute to the older users’ adoption and usage [46, 47], while unilateral reliance on either one aspect, which has been discussed in the previous studies, may bias our understanding of the underlying mechanism of the elderly usage intention. Furthermore, not any media richness can have a lasting effect. This is the reason we focused on the environment-based factor as the moderator factor, which has a potential impact on the formation of routine usage. In line with this literature, the present study incorporates the reverse intergenerational influence as a moderator into the integrated model to expand the understanding on the mechanism of the elderly’s routine usage of social media tools. By introducing the moderator, reverse intergenerational influence, we could see the relationship between media richness and routine usage, which could expand the theoretical boundary under which the impact of media richness remains varied. We advance a counterintuitive belief that media richness and reverse intergenerational influence are not interactively supported and reinforcing. More importantly, we could infer that reverse intergenerational influence could weaken the predictive power of media richness on routine use. The older people who receive a high volume of reverse intergenerational influence may not alter their routine use intention even if they perceive the media to be richer.
Fourth, it is noteworthy that reverse intergenerational influence has a “double-edge” moderating role on routine use. Previous studies mainly concentrated the facilitating impact of intergenerational influence or social influence on the usage decision [40, 44, 73], while this study broadens the knowledge of the impact direction of reverse intergenerational influence. Reverse intergenerational influence has a negative moderating effect on media richness and routine use, whereas it has a positive moderating effect on emotional attachment and routine use. That is to say, reverse intergenerational influence could weaken the predictive power of media richness on routine usage and strengthen the predictive power of emotional attachment on routine usage.
Fifth, this study suggests that the mediating effect of emotional attachment is contingent on the volume of reverse intergenerational influence. When reverse intergenerational influence is at high volume, the mediating role of emotional attachment is sufficiently powerful in itself in linking the indirect pathway between media richness and routine use. Our study also reveals that the mediating role of emotional attachment gets masked in the presence of the low level of reverse intergenerational influence, remaining a possible direct path that the rich media design triggers their intention to use routinely. Thus, the power of emotional attachment is reduced due to these two opposing opinions.
Sixth, this study shows that age is positively related to the elderly’s routine use. This suggests that age appears to be a further important predictor: the elderly who are older are more inclined to use social media tools routinely. This finding is partially inconsistent with prior studies on traditional belief on older adults , whereas it is consistent with previous studies on the relationship between age and social media usage . A possible explanation for this finding is that older seniors are more likely to get involved in social participation via social media as they perceived social media as a helpful option to contact . However, gender has no significant impact on the elderly’s routine use. This finding is consistent with Meng et al.‘s study  in the context of mobile health services.
6.2. Theoretical Implications
Although tremendous studies examined technological adoption or continuous usage [5–7], there is little evidence focusing on the elderly’s routine usage of a social media application in mobile applications. The present research model extends the relevant research on routinized usage behavior by exploring the underlying mechanism of routine usage of older users in the context of social media from the perspectives of the technological-based factor (media richness) and family-specific factor (reverse intergenerational influence).
Our primary theoretical contribution to the media richness research lies in opening up the black box where media richness positively influences the elderly’s routine use in the context of social media.
Firstly, we validate the positive direct impact of media richness in the context of the elderly’ social media usage. Previous studies about the relationship between media richness and older users’ usage of IT product are ambivalent, and the present study validates the positive impact of media richness on the routine use of older users following the argument that the increasing level of perceived comprehensiveness positively affects the usefulness perception of older adults in the context of recommendation agents usage . Extending the knowledge from this argument, this study contributes the knowledge on the aging usage of IT products by applying this issue into the context of social media usage.
Secondly, this study broadens the aging usage literature by investigating the emotional attachment as a mediator linking the relationship between media richness and routine usage of older users. It demonstrates that the emotional attachment as a partial mediator is found to fully explain the mechanism of how media richness interacting with reverse intergenerational influence may arrive at routine use based on the moderated mediation model. Without considering the emotional attachment would lead us to be planned behavior stereotypes towards Chinese older users which would constrain our understanding of their affective usage behavior.
Thirdly, the effect of media richness gets masked under the presence of a high volume of reverse intergenerational influence, which broadens the theoretical boundary under which media richness could not have a lasting effect. There is negative interaction between media richness and reverse intergenerational influence on the elderly’s routine use, and this counterintuitive and intriguing finding gives us a new insight that media richness and reverse intergenerational influence are not mutually reinforcing.
Another theoretical contribution is that we further incorporate the reverse intergenerational influence as the moderator to fully explain the mechanism of the elderly’s routine use. In response to researchers’ call for strengthening social influence to evoke usage decision and behavior of older users, this study provides a theoretical basis for strengthening social influence—reverse intergenerational influence—from their younger generation. Previous studies mainly concentrated on facilitating the impact of reverse intergenerational influence on the usage or consumption behavior, while this study reveals that reverse intergenerational influence has a negative moderating effect on media richness and routine use, and it has a positive moderating effect on emotional attachment and routine use, which is counterintuitive and intriguing to expand a new insight about intergenerational influence. Additionally, this research finding reveals a new insight that reverse intergenerational influence could alleviate and weaken the conditional requirement of routine use; in other words, it is on account of reverse intergenerational influence that older people may be less sensitive to the perceived benefits of using social media (i.e., media richness) and willing to devote various costs and efforts to arrive at routine use. The conditioned indirect effect of emotional attachment helps us to understand the boundary conditions for reverse intergenerational influence under which the indirect effect remains inconstant. This research finding provides an additional insight to sufficiently contemplate the mechanism of shaping and boosting the elderly’s routine usage of social media by considering the mediating role of the emotional attachment of older users.
6.3. Practical Implications
One of the concerns for social media producers is how they can stimulate older users’ routine use. This study sheds light on this concern and offers a deeper belief of the mechanisms underlying this phenomenon. First, the presence of reverse intergenerational influence expands the boundary conditions under which the indirect effect of emotional attachment and the direct effect of media richness remain varied, which should be taken into account by the media developers and younger generations. For the media developers and marketers, they may take the parents and children as the joint target markets, i.e., develop some family-oriented theme of miniprograms and games or conduct family-specific promotional products in social media, which these two generations are fond of. For healthcare workers, they could engage in the joint program and increase the emotional response to social media, thereby contributing to the routine use of this brand of social media.
Second, this study elaborates the direct and indirect predictors of media richness on routine use. To arouse the older generation’s interest, the media producers should take the media-rich of social media rather than media-lean one into consideration to arouse the older generation’s interest. From the perspective of older users, a higher versatility that helps them interact with their friends which is to the greatest extent resembles their real daily life interaction compared to a lower versatility of social media. In particular, media designers can embed and provide more funny patterns to decorate the interface of social media. Additionally, some plug-ins embedded with high extent of human-computer interaction or artificial intelligence, i.e., artificial intelligence voice assistant or virtual pet, could have some daily conversation with older people and thereby reduce their feeling of loneliness.
6.4. Limitations and Future Research
This study has several limitations that should be considered. First, this study was conducted on eastern respondents. Future research is needed to examine older users from western cultures to shed light on potential cultural differences. Second, future studies could collect data from young people to conduct comparative analyses between young and older people on the varying outcomes of media richness and its influence on other usage outcome variables. Third, this study was conducted in the social media’s context, of which generalizability may be limited. Future studies may address this limitation by taking the product diversity context caution.
Although social media providers need to devote special attention and efforts in social media design and development in an attempt to evoke older users to routine use of social media, it is a challenge for social media providers to conduct multiversatility strategies to stimulate more older users to use social media routinely. We proposed a research model based on the social cognitive framework that integrates media richness with reverse intergenerational influence to examine the underlying mechanism regarding how older users’ routine use behavior could be motivated. The study verifies the positive impact of media richness on the elderly’s routine use of social media via emotional attachment. However, the direct effect of media richness could not have a lasting impact on routine use under the presence of reverse intergenerational influence as we previously discussed. Furthermore, the indirect effect of emotional attachment is also contingent on the moderator. Accordingly, the interaction between media richness and reverse intergenerational influence tells us these two factors are not mutually reinforcing. All of these findings extend the application scope of social cognitive theory and strengthen the understanding of older users’ usage behavior of social media.
More importantly, this study has answered our research question, i.e., how does media richness influence elderly users’ routine use of social media? Based on the extant literature, there is limited knowledge relevant with the role of media richness and reverse intergenerational influence in the research on the elderly’s routine use in the context of social media. Thus, this initiative contributes to the literature on aging usage of social media by providing evidence supporting the important role of media richness and reverse intergenerational influence in enhancing older users’ routine use of social media. In addition, for media developers and marketers, some insights into motivating the elderly’s routine use of social media are provided.
Data are available on request.
Conflicts of Interest
The authors declare that there are no conflicts of interest regarding the publication of this paper.
This study was supported by the Liaoning Province Social Science Planning Fund (L21CGL018).
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