What we use social media for

Research by NM Incite reveals some notable but not terribly shocking data regarding why people engage with social media.

From the highlights:

Not surprisingly, the top drivers of social media use among social networkers are keeping in touch with family and friends (89% and 88%, respectively) and finding new friends (70%).  Another driver of use is the desire to view and contribute to reviews of products and services as 68 percent of social media users go to social networking sites to read product reviews and over half use these sites to provide product feedback, both positive and negative.  Other top reasons social media users engage in social networking include entertainment (67%), as a creative outlet (64%), to learn about products (58%), and to get coupons or promotions (54%).

I am surprised people use it more to praise a product than to bury one, given  often I see people airing out their grievances about products on Twitter. On the other hand, people do not generally like the Facebook pages of a company that they dislike.

How Young People Perceive the News and Where to Get It– In the Future

Photo courtesy of Joe ShlabotnikLooking into the recent past to see what people thought of the future, well, isn’t that half of the fun of visiting Tomorrowland? A recent study sampled 1,222 people between the ages of 18-29 to understand how they perceive the news, and where they see themselves getting the news in the future. The study was published in 2008, meaning data was likely collected around 2007.

Five dimensions of how the participants perceive news and its utility emerged. While they felt it 1) satisfies civic and personal needs, and was 2) socially useful (it gave them something to talk about it, they had more negative perceptions of it. They find the news 3) time and effort consuming, 4) biased, and 5) devoid of fun.

The participants  reported they planned on getting less of their news from social media sites in the future. The view from this vantage point shows that this is wrong to the Nth degree, but perhaps they perceived it as more of a fad (and they survey did not take Twitter into account, which for many of us provides a top source of articles). They anticipated getting more of their news from print and television than they do now, which offers some ray of hope for traditional modes of journalism.

I am not so sure attitudes have changed that radically in the 3 years since the data in this study was collected. College students still see themselves seeking out news in the same manner as their parents and other adults that they have seen all of their lives. I wonder when they will consciously make the decision to switch the means by which they get the news, and what would motivate them to do so… or will their current habits bore into their psyches, and they won’t make the changes they anticipate? Tomorrow never knows.

Lewis, S.C. (2008). Where young adults intend to get news in five years. Newspaper Research Journal, 29, 36-52.

How and Why Students Use Instant Messaging

By Guest Author Carolyn Borsch

Ding: You have 12 billion messages. Well, maybe not, but that’s how many instant messages (IMs) get sent each day, worldwide, among 510 million users.

Quan-Haase examined a wide-range of studies involving North American college and middle/high school students regarding their instant messaging habits, with whom they use IM to communicate, and the effects of IM on their social and academic life. Quan-Haase made the following baseline observations:

  • High use abounds across the board.
  • Speed, availability of information, and support for multiple conversations and multitasking attract students to this form of communication.
  • IM is used to form and maintain communities and social ties, minimizes the gap felt between long distance communicators (like friends back home), and increase closeness- sense of psychological connection between two people.
  • IM is informal, and convenient to send messages not phone call worthy.
  • Certain features help maintain and promote students’ identity.
  • IM is used to stay in touch with classmates, friends, family members, and to meet new people. However, it is used more frequently to talk with friends on campus than friends back home.
  • In-person meetings are still important, even though they take place less often.
  • There is an increase in the use of IM by faculty and staff at universities. Professors hold virtual office hours and use IM to connect students with libraries for reference help.

On the plus side, IM provides a new environment for collaboration with peers, professors, librarians, technicians, and other experts. It also correlates with greater numbers of social ties (something that more recent studies continue to indicate). However, possible negative effects include 1) the diminished quality of a student’s writing- very few professors actually think that writing quality has declined since the introduction of the internet, 2)  multitasking leading to less attention on homework and studying, interfering with a student’s focus, and 3) students find it difficult to ignore an IM.

Capturing and measuring IM use can be difficult, as many different levels of engagement exist.  Quan-Haase suggests measuring IM use by initially measuring overall time logged in, measuring time spent screening IM users, time spent reading/writing IM messages, time spent checking the IM buddy list, and time spent on administrative tasks like updating profile information.

Quan-Haase, A. (2008). Instant Messaging on campus: Use and integration in university students’ everyday communication. The Information Society, 24, 105-115.

How adolescents use fast-paced communication to form relationships

By Guest Author Katie Weltner

From Marc_Smith's photostream via Flickr

Technology affects children at increasingly younger ages, and I have often wondered at how immediate and constant interaction alters the formation and maintenance of friendships, and how their friendships will differ from the older, more traditional (re: face-to-face) way of communicating.

Three Indiana University professors studied 40 seventh grade students (ages 11-13) to see if the students created more, but weaker relationships, and to learn the extent that technological communication was valuable for less social students. With the abundance of online friendship networks, it seems plausible that many students would communicate more often with less-close friends, yet this data indicates otherwise.

They write that the number of relationships students identified as “close” showed “no significant difference in relational intensity” as with the number of friends with whom the students communicated through socially interactive technologies (SITs), meaning the students did not have more friends online than offline. However, the study also found that the 10% of students who said they had “few” or “no” close friends used SITs to communicate with acquaintances, as opposed to close friends. This divergence can possibly be explained through an understanding that the majority of students hold “in-depth” conversations, presumably with closer friends, in person or on the telephone. Additionally, with friends identified as “close”, many students only used SITs as basic maintenance and making plans.

Ultimately, all relationships differ. Some students with strong friendships rarely communicate with SITs, while others often do, and the students used “different SITs with different friends.” One aspect of this is that many of these students only had access to one SIT, while others had access to none, which would alter the form of communication with both players in the friendship. In addition, some relationships simply may be stronger through certain modes of communication than others.

Since 2006 when this article was published,  the usage of IMing has increased. What has not possibly changed? In this article nearly all communication through SITs was between those the students who had met before, and that the students were not using the internet to develop new friendships, a trend I hope will continue.

One of the interesting things to note about the technological world is the abundance of accessible information. Websites such as Facebook allow friends, acquaintances and complete strangers to see equal amounts of information about the user. Acquaintances can suddenly learn a surprising deal about someone they just met, and can instantly judge whether or not to pursue the relationship. This instantaneous selection process can affect the way children learn to deal with bad situations and relationships in their lives. For those primarily developed before the rush of technological communication, it is important to note how a slightly younger generation will relate to those around them throughout their entire lives.

Bryant, J., Sanders-Jackson, A., & Smallwood, A. (2006). IMing, text messaging, and adolescent social networks. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11, 577-592.

Final Thoughts from SXSW

SXSW was exhausting, fast, and fun. Most academics really miss the bleeding edge of technology, and with good reason (they are trapped in often antiquated systems that can slow down publication and dissemination of articles, though I have experienced some improvement in this vein over the years). Here are a few of my final thoughts:

  • The parties were everything I heard they would be. Rather than hopping, I tended to stay in one place each night. To my mind, this led to less eternal queuing (I heard two hours at one point for the PBS party), and I think one of the great lessons in life is to be happy right where one is. And with the Walkmen playing at the DiggNation party on Saturday night, I felt no need to leave (though I heard amazing things about the frog design party, which featured vodka and corn dogs). I had a cool exchange with someone about how his company uses qualitative research, and how that compares with some of the expectations in quantitative research; tremendous learning occurred amidst the product demonstrations and frivolity.
  • After spending several hours Sunday afternoon at the Social Media Club House (see picture of the view from the backyard), the PBS event ended a nice day. It had the ingredients of a perfect party–great Tex-Mex, margaritas, excellent music from Band of Skulls and Nicole Atkins, a historical location (the ACL Studios), and it was in the college of my alma mater (Hook ‘Em!). Other than not having my wife alongside me, it was bliss.

  • Panel highlights included the “Is there too much math in marketing” debate Tuesday morning. The pro- and con- advocates kept the tone light, but made their points. Ultimately, I felt they were saying the same thing—know the questions before you look at the data. For the pro-math camp, this resulted in tighter and more leveled/meaningful metrics. For the creative- camp, this resulted in using math (really to test the effectiveness of ideas born out of radical and bold notions. Of course, I think they meant statistics when they mentioned math, but maybe that distinction is meaningless to non-academic folks. A panel on “Rebranding the Republican Party” provided an interesting history on the evolution of a website and the brand evolving around it. A fellow tweeter summarized the most quixotic feature about the panel: “If I hear the phrase ‘Leadership of the Chairman’ again, I’m going to start looking for signs in Mandarin.”
  • I found it easy to meet people, which is good since I knew few at SXSW beforehand. Certainly there were people who seemed to run in cliques (maybe in that large of a crowd high-school tendencies can’t help but emerge), but I think I did a good job staying outside of my comfort zone.  I met an diverse array of self-made folks, sharp folks snatched up by top agencies and corporations, and folks who effortlessly evolved through different businesses in perhaps the fastest-moving field in human-kind. In one instance, I wound up on a bus next to the CEO of HootSuite, and got some ideas on how I could use it for my social media class. While waiting for a Microsoft party, one of the first 2000 of Google’s employees showed me how to update the features on my Android phone. And Conan O’Brien showed up on stage at Stubb’s Barbeque to announce a new television deal. This last thing may have only existed as a really great Twitter prank; I suppose you had to be there…

SXSW through Saturday early afternoon

Greetings from Austin, the capitol of everything, and even more so during SXSW.

This is my first time at the interactive section of the conference, though I have done the music side before (1991, 1993, 1999, 2002).I have met lots of great folks, both entrepreneurs and small businesses from the Portland scene as well folks as from large companies such as Google, HP, Frito Lay, the University of Maryland’s medical school, GSD&M, Intel, Wieden + Kennedy, and others. I am connecting the threads of what I see happening here with my research on social media over the last fifteen years. I also learned what an information architect does.

What are people talking about? Glad you asked…

  • Social media marketing panel on first day had an overflow audience. Lots of folks who desire answers when they need to start with questions. Not that I know what was actually said in there, seeing as I had to go to a panel next door on using blogs and twitter to find deals (hint: Groupon). Also (and this makes total sense), retweets carry more currency than tweets. A panelist in another session said they were worth 18X the currency of the original tweet.
  • A panel promoting Brian Solis’ new book featured high-powered special guests including Jeremiah Owyang, Frank Eliason (Comcast Cares), and Dennis Crowley (FourSquare). I liked Solis as a speaker, and was intrigued that he seemed to utilize a mode of speaking designed for soundbites, or to put it in 2010 vernacular, Tweets. I couldn’t detect the primary argument (buy the book perhaps?), but was enthralled by the stream through which he paddled.
  • Panel on crowdsourcing distinguished between crowd and community. The former has a common purpose, but features interpersonal isolation. The latter has a purpose as well, but is sustainable.
  • The future of influence featured four panelists weighing in on the truth or bull of a series of statements such as “The value of influence is clear” and “The role of ‘expert’ is dead.”
  • danah boyd gave the keynote on privacy versus publicity.  She used two recent corporate failures (Google Buzz and Facebook privacy settings of December 2009) to explicate what people expect in the way of privacy. I was struck by the generational challenges– parents today have no reference point to what their kids deal with on the Internet; there is no “back in my day” that you can say to them.  And whereas parents look at SM for what they can lose, teens look at it for what they can gain.

Right now LLCoolJ is promoting Boomdizzle via a Skype conference right next to me. The guy setting up the conference called him Todd (his real name) when they conversed one-on-one (outside of the view of most people). If I were a rapper, I would insist everyone call me by my rap name, FiveBall ThugR.

Parent-Teacher E-Mail Strategies at the Elementary and Secondary Levels

By Guest Author Amy Bernert

As someone studying education and planning to pursue a career in teaching, adapting to the changing needs in parent-teacher communication is imperative for success. With today’s emphasis on computer-mediated communication we need to not only to know how to communicate face-to-face, but through the convenient and prevalent method of e-mailing as well.

Blur of teacher in classroom from http://www.flickr.com/photos/editor/72550972/In a study that addressed the problems that arise in the e-mail strategies of parent-teacher communication, Thompson conducted 60 interviews with 30 parents and 30 teachers, as well analyzed a total of 188 e-mails (from 27 teachers) and 153 e-mails (from 26 parents).
Misinterpretations prevailed as the biggest problem in parent-teacher computer mediated communication. Participants explained that this occurs because there is no inflection involved in e-mails, and some messages often come off as angrier than intended, especially when the parent does not know the teacher well.

The perceived dehumanizing factor of e-mailing also reoccurred as a problem in this study. There are concerns for both the parent and teacher in this case that e-mailing was replacing face-to-face communication.

With the incredible convenience of e-mailing, teachers found the problem that their accessibility to parents was developing too informal of a relationship. Some parents found it appropriate to explain student punishment at home, and teachers found that the relationships forming with parents via e-mail could cause favoritism.

The fourth problem was an educational concern; teachers found that students were relying on their parents to keep track of their schoolwork. Parents also agreed that their children relied on them to e-mail the teachers.

So with the recent and ever-growing spike in computer-mediated communication, the problems listed are sure to occur if both parents and teachers do not use specific strategies to help cut them back. Misinterpretations can be few and far between if you regulate your tone, try to remain positive in e-mails, and use face-to-face communication if you feel a misinterpretation has occurred. Parents and teachers also agreed that getting to know each other better could help reduce confusions, and, of course, this same strategy can be used to hold back the dehumanizing factor of e-mailing to communicate.

Since the last thing a teacher wants to do is tell a parent to stop talking to them so much, the only real way to help with the over-accessibility of teachers through e-mail is for teachers to be aware of their tendency to “play favorites” and make sure it does not occur. It is also important to use e-mailing as a backup, allowing the student to handle issues themselves before involving a parent. This strategy ensures students take responsibility for their actions as well as their schoolwork.

E-mailing has given us all the ability to communicate conveniently through technology, but I would not be surprised if more parent-teacher communication problems arise in years to come. Novice teachers have grown up in a world far more tech-savvy than any other generation and may see computer-mediated technology as a replacement to face-to-face communication, and both parents and teachers need to be aware of the continued need for balance.

Thompson, B. (2009). Parent-Teacher E-mail Strategies at the Elementary and Secondary Levels. Qualitative Research Reports in Communication, 10(1), 17-25

What to study when the Internet disappears

I have long taken the view that the most effective and timeless perspective to studying technology is to look the human aspects of it, and think that I can make the claim that my research on the Internet has stood the test of time as a result of this philosophy.

Malcolm Parks ponders how we will study the Internet when it “disappears,” when its ubiquity is pervasive to the point that we can no longer parse out any direct effects. Today, the Internet is no longer this separate “thing” that people go to, but rather exists all around us in multiple forms (SMS, i-phones, e-mails, Twitters, etc…). Freshmen entering college accept this pervasive technology as part of their lives; it has always been there. But in the meantime, it exists, and people today are dealing with unique communication experiences. We do not know much about the effects of simultaneous media usage, nor how people manage it.

Parks proposes focusing on the underlying communication processes, as opposed to studying the “surface” technologies. Here is perhaps the biggest contribution that academics can make, delving deeply into theories of how people connect, and where the technologies intersect. To wit, “As Walther (in press) recently observed, CMC [computer-mediated communication] research has not yet adequately addressed underlying assumptions, has failed to develop typologies that would allow meaningful comparison of technologies, failed to articulate boundary conditions for theoretic perspectives, and, in too many cases, has devoted inadequate attention to underlying explanatory mechanisms.” Another opportunity is to track how people’s behavior has evolved as a result of technology over time.

Although these things do not receive much play from non-academic research, a growing number of Internet watchers emphasize that when looking at “social media,” it is the “social” that should stay at the forefront. And here is one place to start that investigation.

Parks, M. (2009). What Will We Study When the Internet Disappears? Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 14, 724-729.