here comes everybody

Yes, social media users are diverse, but we all value the same things.

Say what you will about social media, its purpose in communication is to transfer information. Thus, if you’re an avid user, you can’t help but be informed, even as a bystander. Yet, it appears that different demographics have their own preferred means of online communication (and that shouldn’t surprise the anthropologists).

“The membership of certain online communities mirrors people’s social networks in their everyday lives,” said Eszter Hargittai in “Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites.” In reality, one will notice that various demographics congregate in certain neighborhoods, places of worship, and display unique cultural characteristics.

In addition, socio-economics also determine how people live, work, and play. In Danah Boyd‘s “Viewing American Class Divisions Through Facebook and MySpace,” she observed that there were distinct educational differences between MySpace and Facebook superusers.

Social networking users with college ties were more likely to be active on Facebook whereas people with less education preferred MySpace. While this article dates back to 2007 and there’s no explicit reason for this, I can’t help but think that Facebook’s business model affected it.

I recall being an active MySpace user from ages 15 until 18. Why did I stop? I enrolled at a university. Facebook was exclusively for collegiate users. It was a rite of passage for matriculating freshmen. And that’s where my friends were: My social network mirrored my actual life.

Academics have also delved into making sense of how multiple demographics use social media. In 2014, it was documented by Pew Research that 40% of young African Americans ages 18 to 29 use Twitter, compared to 28% of young white people in the same age range.

Carrie Brown et al., found that Twitter served as an online supplement to offline relationships, especially among young African Americans. Thus, real life connections are doubling as followers.

Farhad Manjoo wrote in “How Black People Use Twitter” that certain trending hashtags have been started and dominated by African American users. BET even named the “Top Twitter Black Hashtags of 2013” that included #AskArmani and #PaulasBestDishes. Both hashtags were saturated with rhetorical and tongue-in-check responses to the Armani and Paula Deen brands, which many deemed had made appalling and regrettable mistakes and statements.

“While users from a variety of backgrounds joke and play games on Twitter, many Black users engage in these activities in ways that closely mirror longstanding traditions in Black American communities,” said Sarah Florini in “Tweet, Tweeps, and Signifyin’.”

If that’s true, then I see this practice as a sturdy use of Twitter. It allows an individual who has been moved by a particular topic to speak with others about it.

Since I’ve mentioned demographics and socio-economics, I might as well bring up psychographics, or subgroups of those interested in particular topics. If someone took my Twitter away during the quadrennial Republican and Democratic conventions, I would tear up. I crave the second-by-second commentary of the nation. I don’t care what Wolf Blitzer says in a post-recap, I want to read public snark and raw emotion.

This participation allows me to connect to fellow politicos, even for a night. I can’t talk to my family or coworkers about politics, and sometimes it’s even dicey to speak among my friends, thus Twitter is my outlet.

While I can’t transfer my feelings to a different group of people, I can boil this post down to something more simple: collective ideas. That’s social media’s greatest aptitude. If all social media did was “connect” us to one another, we’d still be using phone books. Social media takes the ethereal and transforms it into reality. (My favorite example is embedded below.)

One shouldn’t label certain social media sites as being primarily for one group of people over another. It all comes down to use. How does one person and the group that he or she identifies with intend to use the tool?

Sometimes organizations and journalists get caught up in reporting data by race, age, income, and education like the census. While it’s interesting, we could also just ask: Why are we drawn to social media?

To have a voice, to discourse, to raise concerns, to laugh, to cry, to help others, to add more value to our everyday lives…

 

Silly rabbit, memes are for kids.

Or are they? If anything has evolved (or regressed) with our sense of humor, it’s the tolerance for online silliness.

Mischievous catsHillary Clinton. And…the Harlem Shake? That viral YouTube clip garnered more than a billion views and enticed thousands of spinoffs that included NBA teams, colleges, and even NASA.

What’s so appealing? A combo of amateurs, parodies, and laughter. That’s what Olga Goriunova discussed in her article, “New Media Idiocy.” Goriunova said that it’s the “homemade feel” that keeps a piece, or video, authentic, and that is captivating. Today’s digital culture encompasses many tools, academic theories, and business models, yet we shouldn’t overlook the power of the idiotic. Or the “sincerely comic,” according to Goriunova.

So how did YouTube convince people that it was acceptable (and possibly profitable) for parents to showcase their children biting one another? Clay Shirky‘s Here Comes Everybody boils it down to three factors: a promise, the tool, and a bargain.

YouTube promises uploaders that others will not only watch a video, they’ll react to it. Each reaction is positively correlated to the number of visible views. When the views increase, the video is then promoted exponentially across several platforms. Thus, YouTube the medium also serves as a tool that encourages and tracks engagement. Does this site deliver on its promise? I’d wager that by having more than one billion unique viewers each month, YouTube lives up to its bargain.

People are clearly satisfied with YouTube’s structure, and it continues to reign as the most-visited video-sharing site. (If people didn’t like it or liked it less than a competitor, they’d quit using it.)

As silly as it sounds to post personal stream-of-consciousness tirades, they too are YouTube-worthy because others can relate to the message. When I first watched Krissychula‘s profanity-laced rant about trying to survive the “91,000 damn degrees” of summer…I buckled over with laughter. Why? Because I was staying in a sweltering Harlem apartment during the Fourth of July with no air conditioning. My misery found solace in Krissy’s company.

And for Krissy’s bargain? Well, I can assume she’s being financially rewarded as her videos have garnered more than two million views, and she’s now hawking an app for users to download.

While it’s still hard to explain why silly stuff spreads so easily, I think a good place to start is with relatable emotion. (People are absurd!)

Texts from Hillary Tumblr

Texts from Hillary Tumblr

References:

Goriunova, O. (2013). New media idiocy. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, (19)2, 223-235. Retrieved from http://con.sagepub.com/content/19/2/223

Shirky, C. (2008). Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations. New York: Penguin Press.

Supersocialgeoconnectedocious

Take that, Mary Poppins!

Social media has found its niche by being able to create bonds over pretty much…anything. (Hence, the super duper headline above.) Mundane tasks such as making lists have been re-envisioned as communal activities. Pinterest has attracted brides-to-be and established a daydream-like forum to ogle mason jar glasses and barnyard backdrops. Even Steve Buttry has found that pros use it to spice up the newsroom.

What’s more fascinating is how social media has fervently sorted and introduced people like Yente the matchmaker. LinkedIn visually maps how people know or could know one another through three degrees of separation. (If they upped it to six, I could finally meet Kevin Bacon!)

In Here Comes EverybodyClay Shirky describes how many applications and sites are social tools. People naturally congregate with one another, and our favorite people-finding apps facilitate this action. The geo-tracking features within apps and mobile devices have supercharged real-life connections. By checking in on Foursquare, one can more confidently search for the 5-foot roommate who’s hidden in a mosh pit. And these features are getting more precise.

The new neighbors on the block are Bluetooth-style transmitters and beacons that more accurately track one’s physical location by applying it to the surrounding environment or venue. The NFL has tested this by sending alerts to stadium attendees so they can fast-pass their way to shorter hot dog queues. And that’s just a sliver of the capabilities being developed.

Well, isn’t that special?

But what if companies, the NSA, or (even worse) helicopter moms start tracking us like blood hounds? For all the convenience that social media has granted us, privacy issues may dominate the next century.

Orwellian? Definitely. But as a super-social Leo, I can dig it.

SNL's "The Church Lady"

SNL’s “The Church Lady”