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Participating in Social Media
The evolution of the internet has made the world a smaller place. Everything from maps, news and restaurant menus to air tickets, movies and even your next relationship – it’s all delivered right to your pocket through a tiny device that is connected to everything and everyone. It is no wonder then, that we’re more involved with the web than ever, to a point where our offline interactions are sometimes just extensions of our online connections.
According to Tim O’Reilly, the founder of O’Reilly Media, this version of the web, Web 2.0, is more immersive and engaging; it’s a version that encourages its users to step into the digital world and make it their playground (Fuchs, 2014). Web 2.0 has resulted in a structural upheaval in social media to allow more participation from its audiences, and the term ‘call-to-action’ is the mantra of the day.
Social networking sites (SNS) especially have embraced the offerings of Web 2.0 and morphed from mere click-through interfaces to interactive experiences that build relationships and communities (Boyd & Ellison, 2007). Facebook in particular vehemently promotes an open and inclusive online world, and to that end their emphasis has always been on the culture of ‘sharing’ (Dijck, 2013).
Sharing with Intimate Publics
The idea of ‘sharing’ on social media clearly has its roots in the offline practice of sharing, and denotes a sense of camaraderie and intimacy. However in the sphere of social media, the concept of intimacy is replaced with intimate publics; so when you share an image or video on a networking site it’s not shared exclusively with your friends and family. You’ve essentially shared something with a former colleague you haven’t met in 3 years, a friend’s brother you met once at a birthday party and hundreds of other random acquaintances. While this would be a disturbing notion as little as 15 years ago, this is now a completely acceptable form of creating and maintaining cultural intimacies in the age of Web 2.0. In fact, the same former colleague may ‘like’ your post and share it on her SNS profile – and that’s completely normal too.
The culture of sharing, therefore, has resulted in a sense of community in the online sphere, even if it is with a demographic that isn’t a part of your immediate social circle (Wellman & Haythornthwaite, 2002). And as online networks grow and thrive, ‘sharing’ with our intimate publics serves as a proxy for other forms of communication, and allows us to maintain a relationship that doesn’t really exist in the offline sphere.
What are we sharing? – Users & Produsers
Because of the wide audiences users enjoy on social media, what we share has become just as important as who we share it with. As much as we’d like to populate our SNS timelines with pictures of exotic vacations, decadent meals and fabulous parties, there is only so much content our offline lives can churn out on a regular basis. So what do we do when there isn’t anything particularly magical happening in our lives? How do we continue to remain digitally relevant even in the middle of a social famine? We ‘share’ content produced by others! Cultural theorists are calling this User-Generated Content (UGC).
This isn’t just a desperate bid to maintain visibility in the online space. Web 2.0 has been envisioned in a way that puts UGC on a pedestal. It has created a space where social media users no longer have to rely on just themselves to define who they are; the content they share becomes an extension of their online identity. And this in turn opens up a whole new audience for the original creator of the content, creating further cultural intimacies. This is exactly what O’Reilly had in mind when he said ‘(n)etwork effects from user contributions are the key to market dominance in the Web 2.0 era‘ (O’Reilly, 2005: quoted by Hinton & Hjorth, 2013)
UGC is possibly the backbone of Web 2.0; the user is no longer a passive recipient of information but has taken on the additional role of producer and disseminator of content. Web 2.0 has handed the power over to the users to consume information and add their own unique perspective to give it a completely new edge. Combining the roles of producers and users, Web 2.0 has given birth to the Produser (Bruns, 2008).
So it doesn’t matter who filmed the cat video, who came up with a witty meme and whose baby is sucking on the lime. Once it has entered the social media arena, content creators accept that what they have created is now in public domain and belongs to the interwebz. With one fell swoop, Web 2.0 has mitigated years of action that brought about laws of privacy, ownership and intellectual property. If it’s on social media, it’s all fair game.
The Business of Sharing
The popularity of sharing and interaction on social media is not going unnoticed by the marketing teams over at the big corporates. Here was a chance for them to generate an idea so in tune with the wavelength of their target audience that ‘sharing’ it would become the cool thing to do. After all, everyone wants to be the connoisseur of a new trend. If done right, UGC has the potential to ‘go viral’ and ‘break the internet’. The web consumers would do the work and bring in the eyeballs for a brand to skyrocket to fame, while the marketing execs could put their feet up and have a beer. And the cherry on the icing – it’s all free! (Scott, 2015)
Case in point – the Snap Spectacles roll out. The parent company of Snapchat, Snap Inc, launched their line of wearable technology with practically no hoopla or fanfare. No advertisements. No launch event. No press conference. But they still got all the press and attention they wanted, and much more. All they did was send out a tweet telling their followers where to find a Snapbot – a kooky, yellow kiosk that acts as a vending machine for the video-recording spectacles. The kiosks would pop up in locations across the US without any prior notification and had limited stocks. And the tech-crazy millennials lapped up this disruptive form of marketing.
People were queueing up at unearthly hours, sometimes for several hours at a time to grab their pair of Snap Spectacles. Endless images and videos of the Snapbot and the spectacles were shared on every popular social media platform by people waiting in line, people purchasing the product, and even people who were disappointed when it was sold out. The generated content worked like word-of-mouth and created a hype for the product that its competitor, Google Glass, never managed to achieve. And all of this with no actual marketing spends. (Wagner, 2016)
Since user-generated content is the cornerstone of effective engagement in social media, it was essential to incorporate it into the social media campaign that we were designing for The Con. It was vital to generate content that would pique the interest of a younger demographic, which they would in turn share with their social circles. Our focus was to reach out to a larger audience within the age group of our target audience; and this could only be achieved if the concerts were being recommended by their counterparts, and not the institution itself. To this end, we created Boomerang videos and designed an Instagram takeover both of which directly speak to our target audience.
I, myself, fall outside the age group of the target audience, but by researching the concept and phenomenon of user-generated content better, it helped me understand how to connect with a user who I personally have nothing in common with, thus helping me create a new cultural intimacy. And when the right kind of video comes along (see below), I’ve done my share of ‘sharing’ too.
Fuchs, C. (2014). Social media: A critical introduction. “Chapter 2 – What is Social Media?” London: SAGE Publications Ltd
boyd, d.m. & Ellison, N.B. (2007). “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship”, Journal of Computer‐Mediated Communication, vol 13, no 1
Dijck, van, J. (2009). “Users like you: Theorizing agency in user-generated content”, Culture & Society, 2009, vol 31, issue 1
Quan-Haase, A., Wellman, B., Witte, J. C. and Hampton, K.N. (2002). “Capitalizing on the Net: Social Contact, Civic Engagement, and Sense of Community”, The Internet in Everyday Life (eds B. Wellman and C. Haythornthwaite), Blackwell Publishers Ltd, Oxford, UK
Hinton, S. & Hjorth, L. (2013). Understanding social media. “Chapter 2 – What is Web 2.0?” London: SAGE Publications Ltd
Bruns, Axel (2008). Blogs, Wikipedia, Second life, and beyond: from production to produsage. “Chapter 2 – The Key Characteristics of Produsage” Series by Digital Formations. Peter Lang, New York
Scott, D. M. (ed) (2015). The New Rules of Marketing & PR: How to Use Social Media, Online Video, Mobile Applications, Blogs, News Releases, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly. “Chapter 7 – Going Viral: The Web Helps Audiences Catch the Fever”. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey
Wagner, K. (2016). The marketing genius behind Snap’s new Spectacles. Retrieved from https://www.recode.net