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Social Network Sites, Intimate Publics and User Created Content

The theme I have chosen is social network sites (SNSs), focusing on the concept of SNSs, which are “deeply embedded within offline contexts and support many kinds of activities which have social, economic, political and cultural consequences” as a “global phenomenon that is engaging people from broad demographics in a variety of ways” instead of “an Anglophobic domain populated by under-25s engaging in banal conversations.” (Hinton and Hjorth, 2013, p.33) SNSs were born as a result of a digitally enhanced age where the Internet was foreseen to be able to interconnect people. This was all due to Rheingold (1993) who proposed the idea of a virtual community, defined as a “group of people who may or may not meet one another face to face, and who exchange words and ideas through the mediation of computer bulletin boards and networks.” SNSs, which are slowly becoming an embedded aspect of our digitalized culture, contribute significantly to audiences’ identities and self-representations through providing public spaces for audiences to connect, communicate and form a networked public. Networked publics are defined as “simultaneously a space and collection of people.” (Boyd, 2011, p.41) Although SNSs are free for use, it is argued that users have to be careful as SNSs frequently transgress the public interest boundary into the grey area of commercial interest. Through using a framework of explaining how SNSs function with networked and intimate publics, the authors then provide an analysis of current trends in SNS study with a focus on privacy in cyberspace, which allows us to clearly understand how SNSs, as epitomes of Web 2.0, are not just user-oriented but might also possess commercial motive designed to manipulate audiences for corporations’ financial gain. Examples of SNSs include Facebook, Twitter, Weibo, Google Plus and LinkedIn. It is essential to make a clear differentiation between SNSs and social media applications in order to prevent misunderstanding. SNSs are “an act of engagement” where “groups of people with common interests, or like-minds, associate together on social networking sites and build relationships through community” while social media “is a way to transmit, or share information with a broad audience.” (Hartshorn, 2010) SNSs are defined as:

Web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection and (3) view and transverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system. (Boyd and Ellison, 2007, cited in Hinton and Hjorth, 2013, p.34)

SNSs are heavily relevant to my social media campaign through their very existence. As acknowledged in Chapter 1 of Hinton and Hjorth’s (2013) Understanding Social Media where Web 2.0 has given rise to SNSs as tools that are now highly valued in the commercial industry, my fashion e-commerce label Sasha and Grace relies on SNSs in order to survive. Through SNSs, Sasha and Grace is able to reach out to an audience that possesses incredible power in making or breaking a brand based on their recommendations, reviews and shares alone. Referring to the idea of intimate publics, which are publics that are becoming increasingly defined by the strength of their connections, rather than the quantity of relationships they have, (Hinton and Hjorth, 2013, p.44) it is evident that a brand’s success is dependent on the quality of their relationship with their customers over the amount of customers they actually have. For instance, the point of the social media campaign I executed for Sasha and Grace was to engage with a potential audience in order to entice them to form brand loyalty as customers, rather than idly obtaining a number of faceless followers who may seem like an impressive statistic but fail to hardly contribute to actual sales, hence doing nothing for the brand. In order to determine the quality of my brand’s relationship with their consumers, using social media analytic tools to understand follower interaction such as Iconosquare and Facebook page insights are immensely useful. User created content (UCC) is another instrumental aspect of my social media campaign. As a fashion brand, Sasha and Grace places heavy emphasis on trends and leading their customers as a cultural intermediary, hence requiring a lot of fresh content to constantly remain updated and ‘in the know’. A cultural intermediary is an opinion leader that defines what is ‘in’ or trending at the moment and has the power to influence a large number of people. UCC has many potential benefits, with the main ones being (1) producing a steady supply of content for brands to use on SNSs and social media (2) introducing the user’s audience to the brand, thus reaching out to a larger, previously unknown group and (3) reinforcing the strength of the relationship between the brand and the user, fulfilling the user with emotional gratification, thus strengthening their brand loyalty. Ditty (2014) asserts that UCC gives brands “the opportunity to benefit from the stream of content produced by fans who are constantly consuming and sharing about your brand. The credibility and extended reach that comes with these photos and videos from your most loyal fans offers a better promotional value than the same types of brand-designed posts from your own account.” The infographic below provides an interesting summary of UCC:

Concerns about privacy and safety for users on SNSs are questioned, with women especially at risk of threats made to them regarding assault, blackmail and stalking. Citing the case of Amanda Hess as an example, Hinton and Hjorth (2013) suggest that this topic is prevalent because “it provides a handhold for anchoring fear and anxieties about a new technology.” This video by Boyd (2011) illustrates ways which young people adjust and modify privacy techniques on SNSs.

Privacy is inevitably linked to UCC as not all users who produce content for their SNSs might want their content shared by Sasha and Grace. For example, a user who posts a selfie on her Instagram account tagging #sashaandgrace does not guarantee that she is willing to allow the brand to re-post her photo for commercial purposes. To make it even more complicated, there are grey areas with UCC and privacy as companies are not legally correct to re-post a customer’s photo on their website for financial gain, even if the customer has tagged them in her photo. Boyd (2012) states, “If we assume that the future of data is networked and that we can no longer rely on control of data to achieve privacy, it becomes imperative to look for alternate models for dealing with networked privacy. My guess is that we need to start by shifting to a model that focuses on usage and interpretation.” A possible solution that will cover this loophole regarding customer agreement and re-posting content would be providing customers with a space to submit their photos, while instituting a terms and conditions agreement in order to legally obtain their permission to use the photo as the company wishes.

In conclusion, as a personal reflection, what I found useful during class was the coverage of social media analytic tools and how to use them, as well as the introduction of programmes like Gephi and websites like Google Tools. Although Gephi was not relevant to me for this particular assignment, it still is a valuable resource that might be of use for future projects. Another aspect of class that was useful was the intensive timeframe of the execution of the campaign. Two weeks, although short, forced me to manage my time in a more cost-effective manner as well as create and plan a social media content calendar with finite detail. The key learning element of the course for me was the real-life stimulation of the campaign, which implemented a sense of actual working life, which will definitely assist me in the workforce in the future.

Sources

Bokhira, J. (2013). Top Social Networking Sites Around the Web Retrieved from https://www.wiknix.com/top-social-networking-sites/

Boyd, D. (2011). Social network sites as networked publics: Affordances, dynamics and implications. In Z Papacharissi (ed) A Networked Self: Identity, Community and Culture on Social Network Sites. New York, Routledge, pp. 39-58.

Boyd, D. (2011, June 10). Teen Privacy Strategies in Networked Publics. Expression and Re-creation Speech presented at the Hyperpublic Symposium, Harvard University, United States of America.

Boyd, D. (2012). Networked privacy. Surveillance & Society, 10(3), 348-350. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.library.usyd.edu.au/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1314733037?accountid=14757

Ditty, A. (2014, Oct 29). Benefits of User Generated Content for Instagram Marketing [Web log post] Retrieved from http://blog.seenmoment.com/benefits-of-user-generated-content-for-instagram-marketing

Guidry, K.R (2015). Digital Technology is Deeply Embedded into Our Students’ Lives Retrieved from http://mistakengoal.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/ACPA-student-technology-infographic-large.png

Hartshorn, S. (2010, May 4). 5 Differences between Social Media and Social Networking. [Web log post] Retrieved from http://www.socialmediatoday.com/content/5-differences-between-social-media-and-social-networking

Hinton, S. and Hjorth, L. (2013). Understanding Social Media. Sage Publications, London.

Rheingold, H. (1987). Virtual communities. Whole Earth Review, (57), 78+. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy1.library.usyd.edu.au/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA6203867&v=2.1&u=usyd&it=r&p=EAIM&sw=w&asid=1262251117129b47afb6366127483706

Storybox (n.d.) 10 Shocking Stats about User Generated Content Retrieved from http://www.getstorybox.com/resources/10-shocking-stats-user-generated-content/

– Amanda Mabel Seah, 420102784

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