User Created Content (UCC) and Social Network Sites (SNS) form the fundamental underpinnings of social media participation and engagement. These concepts, encompassing the idea of the “produser”, are crucial to an understanding of contemporary social media practice as well as for the social media campaigns we designed this semester. By involving users in the production of content this can produce a far heightened level of engagement than traditional one-way media streams. This article will examine the UCC and SNS explored in our seminar and in particular the work of @VonMar. I will then explore some of the readings and how SNS and UCC have been framed by the authors. Finally, I will discuss the impact of the concepts of UCC and SNS upon our group project social media campaign and briefly look to what the future may hold, particularly for UCC. While there are still significant issues being debated relating to UCC, in the short term at least, it will likely continue to play a huge role in our social media engagement.
Beginning with SNS, these form the interface between people and social media. At their core are networks that are empowered and improved by the internet. SNS allow people to not only connect to a small range of friends and family but to also post to a huge audience of users who share the particular SNS they are using. Notable examples of SNS include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. Intrinsic to SNS are the concepts of networks and communities. These concepts refer to the manner in which users participate and relate to one another, as well as the purpose or goals each grouping can offer. There can be significant differences which can impact upon the second overarching concept of UCC. Participation is fundamental to social media and UCC provides a perfect example of participation. UCC refers to content made by users and put forward for the consumption of many. This takes many forms including, but not limited to, music, video, photography, design, written pieces, and any combination of these and more. In our seminars we examined the content of @VonMar. @VonMar has a huge following across social media by providing massively shareable content, primarily videos. This content allows his considerable audience to further engage by encouraging them to produce their own UCC. While the content can at times be morally and ethically questionable, it is enormously appealing to the online community @VonMar has created. This is key to the intersectionality of SNS and UCC in response to his content. The networks and communities that emerge via SNS provide the social infrastructure and audience for UCC to exist. Without his community of followers, @VonMar’s UCC would go unwatched. This leads to the final conceptual theory relating to SNS and UCC, that of social and cultural capital. These concepts refer to the level of influence a particular intermediary can exert. In the case of @VonMar as we discussed in our seminar, while most of us found it baffling that he exerted any social capital based on his UCC, it is clear that in his community he has an enormous amount of social capital that he is able to use to influence his followers.
Sam Hinton and Larissa Hjorth explore both SNS and UCC in their work Understanding Social Media. They begin with SNS as these are essentially the infrastructure that allows UCC to be generated. The authors are keen to emphasise the intrinsic nature of SNS in contemporary social practices, “As a series of cultural practices and artefacts that are both commercial and cultural, social network sites (SNS) are becoming an integral part of identity, social and political management.” Hinton and Hjorth frame SNS as allowing the construction of social networks that are enhanced and enabled by the internet. This framing leads to an exploration of two key concepts; networks and communities. The authors conclude that SNS exhibit characteristics of both networks and communities. The specific platform, users’ intentions and the nature of the content all contribute to a characterisation of a network or a community. However, as the authors conclude, a dichotomy is not the reality. Both networks and communities exist within one particular grouping. Hinton and Hjorth also illustrate some of the paradoxes found in SNS. These include the fact they are generally free services that allow people to connect, however, they are staunchly commercial ventures as well that monetise content and data to sell to advertisers. Likewise, while they facilitate connections across the globe, in reality, SNS frequently act to reinforce those social connections we already have face-to-face in the offline world.
Hinton and Hjorth’s framing of UCC places the produser at the centre of SNS. They argue that social media, “has enabled and encouraged participation by making the production, distribution, and storage of content less challenging.” Similarly to their discussion of SNS the authors underline the potential commercialisation of UCC, raising concerns that content from produsers can be repurposed for company profits. While UCC can be liberating, such as the example of citizen journalism, it also opens users up to potential exploitation and abuses of good intentions. Nevertheless, UCC remains a powerful tool of bringing online networks and communities together and forms the foundations of many social media platforms. The authors cite examples including crowd sourcing, The National Library of Australia’s TROVE database, Wikipedia, and citizen journalism as examples of UCC.
For the purposes of our own social media campaign, the intention was to inspire participants to produce their own UCC around a particular theme in order to foster and expand the community of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. We used particular SNS (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat) that allow for the bonds of trust necessary for an online community to develop. As Hinton and Hjorth emphasise though, the distinction between online and offline is somewhat problematic. Online communities are an extension of those already existing offline. It is not simply about consumption and production of content, but also about “creating an ecosystem in which people can stay connected to one another.” This connection flows through both online and offline environments. The idea of UCC is particularly interesting for a number of reasons beyond its effectiveness as a strategy of engagement. UCC is so ubiquitous across social media that you rarely pause to assess its broader implications. I found Hinton and Hjorth’s discussion of issues of commercialisation and exploitation of UCC particularly interesting. We are constantly encouraged to produce more content and those who do so successfully on a large scale reap the benefits of social capital it produces. However, we are rarely prompted to consider the consequences and implications this has on our understanding of privacy. For many, privacy has not been lost but rather redefined to encompass the practices fostered by SNS and UCC. While it is unlikely there will be a radical shift in this issue within the next six months, it will continue to be an ongoing source of dispute and negotiation as the boundaries of privacy are redefined and the exploitation of UCC continue.
- Hinton, Sam & Hjorth, Larissa, “Social Network Sites” in Understanding Social Media, (London: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2013)
- Hinton, Sam & Hjorth, Larissa, ‘Participation and User Created Content’, in Understanding Social Media, (London: SAGE Publications, 2013)
- Boyd, Danah, ‘Participating in the Always-on Lifestyle’ in The Social Media Reader edited by Michael Mandiberg, (New York City: NYU Press, 2012)