Assessment 3 · Uncategorized

Social Media and SNSs: Use or Being Used?

Jessie NGUYEN (430119136)

Kai Wed 5pm


Social media technologies have transformed how people communicate with one another, and similarly, how organisations communicate with individuals. The valued placed on social media is manifold (Wyrwoll, 2014, p.36), as actors all have different motives and interests.

Unlike mass media, social media is fundamentally participative and interactive (Hinton and Hjorth, 2013, p.55). Participation is broadly categorised as user generated content (UGC), where users share and collect content made by others, or user created content (UCC), where content is made by the user (Hinton and Hjorth, 2013, p.55). Despite this, UGC and UCC should not be treated as a binary. There is certainly a blurred line between the two, with Bruns identifying this grey area as being a ‘produser’. A produser is described as someone being both a producer and user of content online.

With an abundance of information and material, it raises the question of whether people’s content are exploited for another person or company’s gain. This article will focus on UGC and UCC in the context of a capitalist society. First, it is argued that participants in the online space use social media because it encourages creativity and community. Second, a more negative reality of social media is explored through the Marxist lens, where there is an imbalance of labour power on social media. These concepts are then applied to two online campaigns, namely #shareyourears by Disney and Make a Wish Foundation, and the CONsultants’ proposals for the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

Using Social Media

Effectively, social media and SNSs are used by people around the world to express their ideas and to be a part of a virtual network. Today, there is generally more access to the tools needed to produce online content. Interaction with materials on social media has led to people being ‘co-creators’ of value (Herman, 2014, p.40) where meaning is no longer created by the original post. Sometimes, this virtual world is an escape from the real world. For example, in Turkey there are limited social relations for young women- considering that it is a traditionally male-dominated culture (Costa, 2016, p.31). To these women their smartphones are seen as devices that provide access to the internet where they can create content and interact with others (Costa, 2016, p.31). Practically, with little barriers of entry there has been a shift towards social media (Manovich, 2009, p.319). It is also increasingly recognised that the motive behind creating content has moved beyond the content itself. Production of creative works is a way people assert and define their citizenship in an online network (Hinton and Hjorth, 2013, p.61). Creativity is influenced more so by the ability to build new connections (Boyd, 2012, p.75) or as Boyd (2012, p.73) describes it as the “the squishy, gooey content that keeps us connected as people”. This highlights that humans are instinctively social beings, and hence why social media and SNSs have such prominence in everyday life. SNSs are platforms that allow users to bolster existing connections, as well as establish new ones.


Being Used via Social Media

 However, it is also important to consider that these online connections can be misused. This is when communication on SNSs and the content uploaded onto social media is commoditised. Marxist political economists Adorno and Hoekheimer believed that mass media played a role in establishing and reinforcing social relations of power in capitalist society (Herman, 2014, p.33). Now with social media, it can be argued that this imbalance of power is reproduced online as well. In Marxism, the imbalance of power centres around labour and labour power. SNSs are no longer only used by individuals. Businesses and large companies are increasingly becoming aware of the importance of these web platforms in connecting with consumers. They extend their influence with a new approach, and are successful because SNSs are often intimate and personal. However, it is clear that they do not engage with these websites like an individual. This is due to a difference in motives and expectations of SNSs. Businesses often subject the “process and product of communication to commodification and profit maximisation” (Herman, 2014, p.33), which align with capitalist objectives.  Complementing the real world, there are structures and relations of power that shape the production, consumption, and labour of content and goods (Herman, 2014, p.30). With private citizens creating more and more content online, there has been a parallel trend in appropriating this content for commercial use. Rather than companies creating their own content, there is a shift in labour, with individuals not employed by the business creating the content instead. Instead of merely responding to online content created by an organisation, the user now becomes the source of original material (Hinton and Hjorth, 2013, p.58). The labour of the audience (Herman, 2014, p.33) is often acknowledged, however it is not necessarily rewarded. That is why there is this imbalance of labour power. This concept of used or being used will be explored further with the use of two case studies.

Case Study: #ShareYourEars

In this case, Make-A-Wish Foundation and Disney partnered together to encourage the public to share images of them wearing Mickey Mouse ears on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #ShareYourEars (Gallegos, 2016, para. 19). With each post, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts donated US$5 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and was capped at US$1 million (Gallegos, 2016, para. 20). Astonished by the sheer volume of online posts, it was later announced in the middle of the campaign by Disney Parks that it would double its original pledge and donate US $2 million (Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, 2016, para. 4).

This campaign is an example of the effective use of UGC because it was a positive PR stunt disguised as a social movement. Here, online citizens used social media to participate in an activity and contribute to a noble cause. But also, they are being used by these large corporations for publicity and reputation gain. Following the conclusion of the campaign, it was evaluated that brand engagement for Disney increased by 28%, and also encouraged more purchases (Gallegos, 2016, para. 24). Web 2.0 applications and platforms are used by Disney to appropriate user generated content, and labelled it as such as a part of a “networked collaboration” (Herman, 2014, p.40). #ShareYourEars also involves the idea of ‘audience commodity’, a term developed by Canadian communication scholar Dallas Smythe where “organisational processes of the media industries that turn the consumers of media content into commodities themselves” (Herman, 2014, p.34). Disney relied heavily on networks and momentum where most of the work was produced by the audience themselves. This campaign tapped into the ‘hashtag culture’ which was used and shared within online communities. #ShareYourEars eventually turned into a community itself, where social capital was shared. This virtual community offered membership, personal expression, and connection- the three conditions Parks identified (Hinton and Hjorth, 2013, p.43).

How SNS was Used in The Con Campaign

The CONsultants recognised that for a successful engagement campaign, certain strategies were more effective than others. We had to execute ideas that made use of interactive relationships and online communication. Content and news have become tokens used to initiate or maintain a conversation (Manovich, 2009, p.326), and this is what we intended for the Lunchbreak Concert series. It needed to be noticed, and then consequently remain relevant. In a sense our campaign paralleled elements of individuals ‘being used’, especially in regards to exploitation of labour. There were plans to share and use UGC to further promote the Lunchbreak Concerts. However unlike #ShareYourEars, we expected the Con to create their own content as well. UGC was supposed to supplement UCC. To capitalise on the tools and unlimited space for storage SNSs provide was conducted in a way to promote The Con, and was not done so in a malicious manner. This would promote ‘bad publicity’, a PR nightmare for an academic institution.


In the world of Web 2.0 and capitalism reigns, the openness of shared media is studied. “Publicness is one of the strange and yet powerful aspects of this new world” (Boyd, 2012, p.75), and there have been discussions to whether this is positive or negative for the individual. Overall, social media encourages political, social and economic freedoms. Social media in general offers a space where users can express their views and creativity with little restrictions. However, as a result of this openness, people and their content are vulnerable to exploitation and misuse. The positives of social media use are based on the assumption of good intentions (Wyrwoll, 2014, p.36). Users want to be connected and feel a part of a wider network. They also want to be able to express their creativity and share their ideas with others. Yet, there are others who want to take advantage of this content and use information for their own agenda.


Boyd, D. (2012). Participating in the always-on lifestyle. In M. Mandiberg (Ed.), The Social Media Reader (pp. 71-76). New York: New York University Press.

Costa, E. (2016). Social Media in Southeast Turkey. London: UCL Press.

Gallegos, J. A. (2016). ‘The best social media marketing campaigns of 2016’. Viewed 20 April 2017,

Herman, A. (2014). Production, consumption, and labor in the social media mode of communication and production. In J. Hunsinger & T. Senft (Eds.), The Social Media Handbook (pp. 30 – 44). New York: Routledge.

Hinton, S. & Hjorth, L. (2013). Understanding Social Media. London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Manovich, L. (2009). ‘The Practice of Everyday (Media) Life: From Mass Consumption to Mass Cultural Production?’, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Winter 2009), pp. 319-331.

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts (2016). ‘Disneyland® Resort and Make-A-Wish® Celebrate the Success of Worldwide “Share Your Ears” Campaign’. viewed 21 April,

Wyrwoll, C. (2014). Social Media: Fundamentals, Models, and Ranking of User-Generated Content. Hamburg: Springer Vieweg.



One thought on “Social Media and SNSs: Use or Being Used?

  1. I really enjoyed your comparison of the social media participation labour with the role of mass media in the Marxist power imbalance. I think it’s critical to understand the power imbalances in mass media that are being replicated in social media also, but that critics are focusing on the participatory nature and ignoring the labour of participation through a bias of “new media” through Web 2.0. The adopting abundances of online content for commercial use is a clear example of how organisations are abusing the labour of participation for their own financial benefit. Your example of #ShareYourEars was a great example of how an organisation can financially benefit from UGC and UCC, even without the campaign being directly about financial gain for the organisation. Acknowledging the manipulation of users as producing content, can we completely condemn the ability for such campaigns to raise money for charity? There is no doubt that organisations often abuse users for their own exclusive benefit, but I find it interesting to consider where the line is drawn for mutual benefit and abuse. I definitely think the underlying economic benefit for Disney that is not clearly illustrated in the campaign creates a power imbalance, but if Disney was more upfront about the indirect benefits would this adjust the imbalance? And could you consider the fact that they doubled their donation due to the success of the campaign a fitting response for such financial benefits?


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