Social Media // Networked Publics // Produsage
What makes social media social? Social media takes a vast array of dynamic forms and as a result connects people from all across the world, allowing individuals to articulate their specific interests made visible within a community on the web (Hinton & Hjorth 2013). Social Media, Networked Publics and Produsage are three key theories that have helped mould the success of the campaign used for the company, My Refinery. With almost every platform manageable from the palm of your hand, it seems only fitting to focus on these theories that apply to managing and engaging with the content on social media. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have played an integral part in maintaining social engagement with customers. As an online space, there has evolved a network of publics where users across the globe come together in a public sphere with common interests. As a result of such interests, users have taken upon themselves to participate and contribute in a way that has deemed them produsers, enabling them to no longer just be a consumer of media. These theories are present throughout the My Refinery campaign have have formed the foundations of a company that reach out to women of many talents.
Social media has influenced the way in which users connect and react with not only one another, but express their passion for their interests. Such expressions can take many forms, from fan art to reenactments, but what is really happening here is the production of new content resulting in the user transforming into a newly coined term, the ‘produser’ (Bruns 2008). What was once the audience is now referred to as the produser; a hybrid term of producer, consumer and user that accentuates the audience’s increased production prowess (van Dijck 2009). What was once regarded as wholly receptive is now liberal and comprehensible. The produser has played a remarkable role over the years by contributing to much of the content we see throughout the internet.
Social media has been an effective tool for businesses and individuals to define who they are. Throughout the semester we have identified a vast number of users, who they are and why they use it. In the case of small fashion businesses, social media is utilised through platforms that contain rich media for the whole purpose of engaging with their audience on a visually aesthetic level. They are women who are fashion forward wanting to engage with fellow fashionistas to broaden their knowledge in that field. With the increasing quality of photographs taken on smartphones such as iPhones and the Samsung Galaxy, almost anyone can pass their photo as professional as long as they have put an impressive filter over it. This disrupts the genealogy of mass amateur photography (Hinton & Hjorth 2013) . However, when one is not as Photoshop-savvy as they would hope, a simple filter is all you need and you have yourself a (deceptively) decent photo for others to enjoy. Instagram not only encourages amateur photographers, but also allows companies to branch out through hashtags, broadening their search results. By strategically using popular hashtags, user engagement (likes and comments) can double to triple in size, which is a physical indication of engagement. It also brings individuals of certain interests together, thus forming a network of common interests in a public space. For My Refinery, the main hashtags that proved most effective included #fashion, #health, #rawdesserts, #australianfashion and #style. Previous to the campaign the hashtags surrounding health were not used, however, once used the number of followers increased as well as the number of likes on that photo. MR were able to incorporate such hashtags through their connection with a couple of other local stores that would reciprocate such promotional techniques. Thus, formed a network of publics.
While a public is a collective of individuals bound by similar interests, beliefs, affinities that define that public, a network is an extension of the notion of communities (Hinton & Hjorth 2013). Through certain fashions, people are brought together within a space online, but also have the opportunity to connect on a physical level, allowing users to extend beyond online environments. My Refinery puts on seasonal events with different local businesses that concern women’s interests. One in particular that is being executed in June is the joined forces of Paleo Foodies and T Totaller, named Feel Good Foodies. The event is promoted through Facebook and Instagram, and is hosted at the My Refinery boutique. This allows followers to engage in all three companies in a variety of environments, not just online. Ladies have the gift of the gab, so not just relying on social media, but also word of mouth (i.e. bringing along a friend) influences the formation of the community. So does this make this space a community or a network? Without having to delve into too much information, since the nature of My Refinery’s social media campaign complies with what constitutes as a networked public. I’m happy to settle on this versatile space as a network, rather than a community since each company, whether it be health or well-being are communities within themselves and by working together allows them to network with one another, thus forming a network of communities. This has allowed me to obtain a further and more thorough understanding of the two terms and actually distinguish the difference, whereas prior to this assessment I did not have as deep an insight. Such networking has enabled My Refinery to form strong bonds with other companies as well as their followers and customers.
Produsers are “communities which engage in the collaborative creation and extension of information and knowledge” (Bruns 2008, cited in Sullivan 2013, p. 215). Since engaging in the theories of Axel Bruns (“the produser”) and Alvin Toffler (“the prosumer”), it’s been made clear that the role of the audience/ consumer/ user/ customer has been completely transfigured in the past decade. Toffler explains that the producer and consumer have developed a relationship that relies not on through money, but “market and design information vital for the production process” (1990, cited in Sullivan 2013, p. 215). Bruns’ term is similar, however, intends to be aimed at and moulded by communities that engage with one another and the product in an environment that is also an extension of information and knowledge. Produsers are this new cadre of online activists who push forward the liberal rights of online media. Blogs are an example of such activity as they allow individual users to create their own content that could deem worthy for another company. My Refinery’s blog acts as a space for the company to write on areas of interest for other people based on feedback from social media platforms such as Instagram. My Refinery reacts from the information derived from the engagement on social media with an article that covers the needs and wants of their customer as well as composes a source of knowledge for other fashion forward bloggers. The affordances of using a blog as a space of communication is just that, it enables people to explore issues and concerns on a webpage orchestrated by themselves. Blogs are social, cognitive and emotional, which at the end of the day is all you need to connect with other people on a more personable level. If you’re still a bit confused on the affordances of blogs, I can suggest you give Petri Niskanen’s WordPress a quick read to enlighten you further on the affordances of blogs, in particular, WordPress.
As a result of people becoming more “social” by means of social media platforms, forming networks and becoming produsers, they have exposed themselves to a new and dynamic world online and offline. These theories have enabled users to experience the world in a way never experienced before, thus exploring new approaches of interaction and engagement. The convergence of media technologies may have complicated the study of the audience, however, it has also enlightened and broadened our understanding of ourselves and our role in society.
Bruns, A. (2008). Blogs, wikipedia, second life, and beyond: From production to produsage. New York: Peter Lang.
Dijck, v., J. (2009). Users like you: Theorizing agency in user-generated content. 31(1), 41-58.
Hinton, S., & Hjorth, L. (2013). Understanding social media (pp. 33-36, 40-41, 57, 132-134). London: Sage.
Sullivan, J. (2013). Media audiences (pp. 214- 215). Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE Publications.