Seeking Support on Social Media

Dr. Emily Buehler

Dr. Emily Buehler, Steps to Leaps Research Collaborative member.

Receiving effective social support is linked with better physical and mental health. Social media can allow users to broadcast requests for support to large, diverse pools of potential helpers with a single message. At the same time, many social media platforms carry norms that encourage positivity and discourage sharing one’s difficulties. When in need, how do social media users reach out to others for support while navigating the norms and risks associated with seeking support publicly? To examine this question, we asked nearly 300 people to provide the most recent Facebook post in which they tried to get support from their Facebook friends.

By analyzing the content of people’s support-seeking posts, we identified a variety of ways that people reach out for support on Facebook. Some people were straightforward about asking for help or sharing the issue they were facing. People tended to be direct when they were trying to get an answer to a question, solve a problem or request thoughts and prayers for serious life events. Many others only alluded to the problem they were experiencing, which might reflect an attempt to adhere to social media norms. Many people used humor or stories to communicate their need for support, which might serve to capture the interest and attention of potential support providers. Others expressed appreciation to the people who had been helping them navigate a tough situation. With this strategy, support seekers might be trying to turn the attention away from themselves and project a gracious image.

Although posting publicly on social media to get support may not always be appropriate or effective, this study identifies a few cases in which students might find it especially useful. Social media can provide a platform to crowdsource information from a large audience. Rather than asking each person individually how they would solve a problem, social media users can pose a question to hundreds of people with a single post. Social media can also offer an efficient way to keep an entire social network up to date about serious life events. When a family member is experiencing health issues, has been hospitalized or has passed away, posting a few details on social media can keep others in the loop and open the door to get comfort and assistance. Students should consider the situations when reaching out for support on social media that could benefit them.


Buehler, E. M., Crowley, J. L., Peterson, A. M., & High, A. C. (2019). Broadcasting for help: A typology of support-seeking strategies on Facebook. New Media & Society, 21(11-12), 2566-2588.