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Reflection on Social Media and It’s Future

January 27, 2013

This week’s reflection was on three articles:  Jay Rosen’s The People Formerly Known as the Audience, Brian Solis’ blog Social Media as the Next Web, and a Fox News article (I know, I’m sorry…) Users Flee Instagram After Privacy Outcry.  

 

In 2006, I was one of the very few users who utilized Facebook, and you had to have a college/university email address in order to even use it.  For a couple of years, I was quite the loner on the now-popular social networking site.  The majority of my “friends” on Facebook are people whom I’ve never met.  I can literally trace them all back to one person I actually do know- a friend who was a fellow Communication Studies major.  At one point in time, people looked at me in disbelief, and with a slight sideways glance as if to say, “why are you friends with people you don’t even know?  I told them simply- I like connecting with people with common interests.  In today’s social networking world, it almost seems weird not to interact or be “friends” with people you’ve never met and don’t know outside of the internet. 

 Brian Solis’ blog, “Social Media as the Next Web’ states that, “Most people connect because they know someone in real life or because they share mutual friends…human nature also permeates engagement, albeit at a smaller scale, tying profile photos, attractiveness, and a number of connections to why people decide to connect.”  This is entirely reflective of my experience on Facebook and Twitter.  In the early days of my Facebook use, I connected with people I didn’t know because we had similar interests; Facebook and Twitter were like exclusive clubs. The majority of my 200 plus followers on Twitter are Pittsburgh sports fans.  I am absolutely certain that the two main reasons why I have that many followers are due to our similar interest in sports, and the fact that I’m a woman.  Most of my followers are male, and most of the people they follow are women who are sports fans.  This may not be a true phenomenon outside of the sports-fan-social-networking-world.  I have seen this common theme repeatedly on Twitter.  In fact, Solis provided data that reflected the trends of the quality of a profile photo and a person’s physical attractiveness with the reasons of making a connection.  While women did this 8% and 9% respectively, men did this 10% and 14%; this data reflects my hypothesis. 

 People have a natural tendency to want to connect with one another, and social networking makes it easier to do so in a fast paced world.  I prefer computer-mediated-communication based on the amount of personal time I have to spend with people.  Not only do I work full time, take 6 credit hours, and have other personal interests, but I’m also trying to fit friendships in there.  Today’s average American is infinitely busier than they were 20 years ago.  Solis’ blog contained data that showed a 21% increase in one year alone (2011-2012) of time spent on the Internet; a third of overall social networking time was via mobile apps.  Not only are we connecting with a greater variety of people, but also are doing so more often, and for longer periods of time.  As busy as we’ve become, we’ve resorted to connecting while taking care of personal business- Bolis’ blog stated that 31% of those aged 18-24 use social networking on the toilet.  Either we’re addicted to connecting, or too busy to connect face to face so we’re doing it when we can.  Likely, it’s a combination of both.  Simultaneous social networking and toilet duty (horribly bad pun intended) are fine, as long as you wash your hands and sanitize your phone afterward. 

Not only are we connecting via Facebook and Twitter, but also through sites like Pinterest and Instagram.  Admittedly, I initially hated Pinterest, and still use it sparingly.  I have, however, been very into Instagram, specifically, for the filters.  Instagram has become a new way to document the photographic catalogue of my life, and to see the same from my friends.  It’s much more intimate than seeing status updates on Facebook.  I may obtain more information from Facebook, but Instagram allows me to see the world through my friend’s photographic lens.  Clearly, many other people agree with me.  According to the “Users Flee Instagram After Privacy Outcry” article on foxnews.com, Instagram had 16.4 million daily users at its peak in December, 2012.  However, the same week they peaked their user accounts, they changed their privacy settings and promptly dropped 4 million daily users, to 12.4 million.  The changes were simple, but significant. 

 Instagram’s changes essentially made it possible to profit from its users photos.  This is problematic since it absolves the user of any ownership said user would have of their photographs.  I have many photographer friends, all of whom despise Instagram.  Not because it’s a photo sharing site, but because in their eyes, it enables users to apply filters in a way that distorts the integrity of the photo.  They all fondly call Instagram, Instacrap.  That mentality aside, they do believe in a photographer’s right to own his/her photos, and Instagram’s new policy ripped that essential, basic right away from the photographer, no matter how bad the applied filter made the photo.  Regardless, the outcry was quick and effective.  The article states, “just about the time the hashtag #boycottinstagram popped up on Twitter, Kevin Systrom, the CEO and co-founder, chalked it up to a big misunderstanding and insisted the company had no intention of selling users’ photos. Instagram has reverted to its old policy.

 It’s easy to see how important social networking has become in our daily lives.  I still know people who don’t have a Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.  However, they all use at least one of those platforms to communicate and share details of their lives.  Though they may not use all three networking platforms as I do, and in the same way I do, it’s telling just how far reaching the concept of social networking has become.  While I’ve always used it as a way to connect to family and friends I know or don’t know, I’ve also used it as a platform to voice my opinion.  Naturally an opinionated person, there is rarely a time that I won’t share some semblance of what I’m thinking with someone.  My instinct to be both social and opinionated is what has led me into the Public Relations career path. 

 Furthermore, I’ve rarely liked simply receiving information; I’ve always felt feedback is important.  That being said, Jay Rosen’s article “The People Formerly Known as the Audience” was incredibly insightful.  As a Communication Studies undergrad, I was constantly reminded that (paraphrased) “media doesn’t tell you want to think, it tells you what to think about”.   We learned about “gatekeepers” and “agenda setting theory” and “message framing”.  And it all made sense.  There are seven major media conglomerates in the entire world that own every thing you see as a media consumer:  NewsCorp; Bertelsmann; Vivendi Universal; Sony; AOL Time Warner; Walt Disney: and Viacom.  This is why you rarely see any major news stories that detract from mainstream media.  And this is the entire reason why Rosen’s article made sense, and is such an important way to reflect and react on the current state of media in our world.  

Rosen describes it beautifully: “Think of passengers on your ship who got a boat of their own.  The writing readers.  The viewers who picked up a camera.  The formerly atomized listeners who with modest effort can connect with each other and gain the means to speak—to the world, as it were.”  This is where we are in today’s society.  And I love it.  Twitter engages the “writing reader” in me.  And Twitter seems to host the writing readers in everyone else.  This is why some form of the phrase “opinions are my own” is in almost all media pundits profiles on twitter.  Or those aspiring to be pundits or social media managers like myself.  No longer are we expected to simply absorb and retain information, and then discuss it ‘round the water cooler Monday morning at the office.  No!  We absorb the information… Process it… Form opinions, and then tell others about those opinions.  On Twitter.  On blogs.  Even on Facebook.  As Rosen said, “we graduate from wanting media when want it, to wanting it without the filler, to wanting media to be way better than it is, to publishing and broadcasting ourselves when it meets a need or sounds like fun…  You don’t own the eyballs.  You don’t own the press, which is now divided into pro and amateur zones.  You don’t control production on the new platform, which isn’t one-way.  There is a new balance of power between you and us. 

So, how do I define social media, and where do I think it’s headed?  It’s simple, really.  Social media is the platform on which amateurs and professionals have a level playing field- the breadth and depth is as far as one can market oneself.  It is heading into uncharted territory, but it’s providing variety in a way that has been needed in media for quite some time.

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