tweeps

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…

 

YouTube Stardom Takes Work

So you think scores of people can become famous because of the Internet? Well, they can. Hollywood, network execs, and station owners no longer exclusively control what content is seen by audiences.

YouTube gives everyone the freedom to distribute compelling, informative, and silly videos. I tried my hand at it for a class project and learned that even a 3-minute campy short involves trial and error, hours of work, perseverance, and patience.

Memphis’ most recent ice storm was covered by thousands of local Memphians through social networks. Yet, Twitter housed a groundswell of comedic-laced posts via #MEMICE. Thus, I scavenged for content.

Next, I storyboarded the most descriptive tweets and carefully cast the roles to ensure that the personality of each tweet would come to life.  I must brag: My friends are AWESOME! They routinely expect me to drag them into projects and events, yet this was the first time some had ever acted. (I’m more than proud.)

The low-fidelity props and background cost $18 and served as a nice juxtaposition for this hashtag-inspired short. Give the actors their lines and winter-weather gear, and you’ll get two hysterical hours of filming take after take.

With limited seconds, the intro (and subsequently, the credits) needed to convey quite a bit of information in order to provide context to the viewer. I envisioned a movie-trailer theme and turned to Fiverr, a comprehensive market place that let’s you buy just about any creative service for $5. (Think personalized online singing telegrams.) I hired Jordan, a voiceover pro, and he turned around the job the next morning.

To complete the video, I filmed some campy B-roll of toy cars, a hand-drawn background, and paper punches to mimic the weather’s toll on the city. The tools? (Apple could have sponsored this project.) Filming was done on an iPhone 5 and editing was completed in iMovie using a MacBook Pro. (Mindy McAdams offers solid tips.)

Finally, it was time to upload to the MemphisMaverick channel and promote the video. Thankfully, the persons featured were flattered (and not offended). They graciously forwarded the video to their networks, and it spread to those that I do not personally know. Here’s a Storify outlining reactions to the video by key influencers.

In all, 20 hours (see graph below) were spent on a 3-minute movie. Was it worth it? Absolutely! Will I try it again? Definitely…but maybe this summer.

galvanizing your peeps…and tweeps

As social media dominates the next century, it continually undermines something that happened 300 million years ago. Pangaea, our planet’s former super-continent, broke apart and created divides that separated people until travel finally intervened. Today, physical barriers no longer obstruct communication, ideation, or galvanization. While people may still be far from one another physically, the influence that social media continues to garner worldwide is nearly Pangaea-like.

In Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody, the notion of connecting people behind a cause is not portrayed as novel but powerful. His account of Evan Guttman’s attempt to retrieve his friend’s stolen cell phone by publicly blogging the ordeal conveyed that human emotion and mass participation had a direct influence on government bureaucracy. Readers of Guttman’s blog rallied behind a cause that they connected with and lent their voice (and outrage) to solving a problem.

Because social media is fueled by technology, there are Orwellian fears that it will increase distance between people. While Nicholas Carr makes a strong argument that social media causes more distracted people, the opportunities for game-changing collaboration and open source projects outweigh having harried attention spans (in my opinion).

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (my employer) open sources its side projects and research related to its Pediatric Cancer Genome Project. St. Jude believes that the more access scientists have to information related to anomalies in the genetic code (that lead to cancer), the better. It allows researchers across the globe that have a vested interest to request access and explore the data. Why? Because children could be ultimately be helped by others with a fresh set of eyes, other resources, and different ways of thinking.

That harkens to Shirky’s point, and others. People have already converged. Now, we’re in the next phase of witnessing results, actions, and progress.

Pictorial reaction to class readings by Burton Bridges.

Pictorial reaction to class readings by Burton Bridges.

Other articles of interest from this week: