Posts Tagged ‘MySpace’

Thinking Theoretically About Social Media

Monday, October 12th, 2009

One terrific side benefit of teaching PR Theory and Ethical Practice at Kent State University this fall has been reading a whole lot of interesting work from outstanding PR scholars.  William Kennan and Vince Hazleton of Radford University contributed a chapter on internal PR that got me pondering certain aspects of the Social Capital Theory as it might apply to social media.

Two items in particular in their discussion stood out. 1) The existence of a network of connections and its effect on relationships and related outcomes; and 2) Identification, the extent to which people see themselves as connected to others.

The network, the opportunity to send and receive messages that contribute to the creation, maintenance and expenditure of social capital, is a pretty obvious bridge to social media. A fair number of people think that the network is the outcome of social media use, rather than a tool for some other purpose. But let’s stay on target (we could amble down that path for hours…). My own use of social media has focused on this purpose — expand the network and see what effect it has on my ability to forge a new business. The social capital theory indicates that the network itself takes on a role apart from its human factors; that the existence of the network influences relationships and relationship outcomes.

We can see this effect in action when members of one person’s network interact with each other and cross into other networks — not for the specific purpose of dialogue toward an outcome, but merely for the sake of discourse. That discourse creates additional meaning — leading to different understandings among network members.

Secondly, identification might originate with some kind of common interest or purpose, either large or small depending on the specific subject.  The organization typically wants its employees to identify strongly with the organization, to feel strongly connected to it — that’s the heart of much employee engagement activity.  Social media users appear to identify with other users — being “in the club” commenting on Twitter gives the users a sense of belonging that they find important or pleasurable. That may be one reason, as Mark Schaefer observed, there seems to be cronyism among the social media mavens.  Heck, there seems to be cronyism among users of social media in general.

This all leads me to reinforced suspicion about whether social media can replace mainstream media.  With a tendency to see social media use as a measure of self-worth (and therefore to see people who don’t use social media as somehow inferior — “they don’t get it!”), the ability of social media to adopt a third-party objective perspective is compromised.  We can debate whether any media can be objective — if you have a strong perspective, people will know where you stand, rather than guessing about it — but making caveat emptor work requires some amount of transparency.

Authenticity can’t be a mask, it needs to be real and grounded in personal ethics so that one can judge the source and properly execute “buyer beware.” Otherwise, the identification among members of the network becomes more important than being honest.


Research Report Finds Little Impact of SocMed on Brand

Friday, July 24th, 2009

A study conducted by Cleveland-area research firm WorkPlace Media may be bad news for social media marketers.

“A whopping 96% of respondents said their opinion of a product brand did not change if that brand had no presence on a social networking site, only 11% of social networking users reported following any major brand through a social networking site, and just 12% of respondents
said their opinion of a brand changes if that brand maintains a social networking presence.”

The research echos a recent Harris poll that found just 4% of its respondents mentioned “private social networking sites, such as customer communities,” when asked about pre-purchase information gathering.

Well, then.

As with many announcements of this kind, my skept-o-meter kicks in. The news release offers the highlights (as it should), and the offer of more detail comes with a requirement to fill out a contact form.  What’s missing for geeky old me is some more of the math — I’d be interested in the actual correlations — what were the variables? Or, was the research just a preference exploration — a quick marketing tool?

The role of social media in forming perceptions needs more study.  That’s pretty hardcore research — there are so many factors that make up people’s perspectives on things, including on brands and marketing and companies.  I am not a stat guy, but I know the work on Marketing Mix Modeling is very promising. Structural Equation Modeling permits multiple dependent and independent variables, so you can see how different variables interact on one another, which is critical to determining which are the most important and effective.

The excellent work of Dr. Don Wright of Boston University and Michelle Hinson of the Institute for PR since 2006 have examined how social media is affecting PR.  It seems to me that this is what’s really needed in the social media space: The bridges to brand perception, disposition and purchase intent still need to be built.

I realize that this opinion may brand me as seeing social media as just another channel for messaging. But unless we have better understanding of the impact of social media on the people using it for business, we’ll fail to get the resources to study how the conversation itself affects people.

We see casual, superficial research on social media all the time, usually from consultants with a vested interest in pushing social media as revolution.  I don’t deny that this new suite of tools is important — I just want some facts on my side before I go declaring that the tide is permanently shifted.