Reflections on Readings Week 11

This week in my Social Media Theory & Practice class, we read articles about how different demographic groups use social media. The first article was “Viewing American Class Divisions Through Facebook and MySpace” by Danah Boyd. This article is from 2007 and discusses the rise of MySpace in conjunction with competition from Facebook. Boyd proposes some demographic theories on why MySpace has not been as successful as Facebook and compares its loss of members to the Civil Rights era phenomenon known as “white flight.” In the early days of MySpace, it appealed to the high school market, and Facebook was started at Harvard and enjoyed a following mainly from college students. Boyd then describes how she came to the conclusion that beyond age brackets, the divide became more about class with the preppy, college-bound elites flocking to Facebook and the geeks, misfits, outsiders clinging to MySpace. I think Boyd’s explanation was a little too simplistic. In my opinion, Facebook overshadowed MySpace based on ease of use and the visual presentation of the platform. It looked nicer, was easier to see friend updates, etc. MySpace took on a whole new demographic when music bands created pages (and I confess, I still visit MySpace when I hear a new song and want to check out the band and other songs by them). I did find it interesting here that the military banned the use of MySpace — I was previously unaware of that.

I would also like to counter Boyd’s premise about how in the larger world working class kids remain working class out of fear of loosing their friends and community. I am a first generation college student. Neither of my parents even have a high school degree (only made it to the 8th grade). They worked in factories their whole lives, as has most of my immediate and extended families. I achieved 2 undergrad degrees and am now going for my Master’s. I have a high level administrative position where I work, making almost double what my parents made at the height of their careers. So I have jumped a level in the class system and not lost any sense of identity or community. I am fortunate to still get to live and work in my hometown. I believe it all comes down to internal dedication and desire to achieve more than race or class (okay, getting off my soapbox).

The second article we read, “How Racist Language Frames Social Media (And Why You Should Care),” was also by Danah Boyd. This piece was an extension of the earlier article, but focused on the language that gets used on social media and on the internet in general, and how much of that language exposes deep race and class divides. I agree with Boyd here — for many, the internet is a way to let all the ugly show due in large part to its anonymity. However, I think the trend I see is that is changing for the better. Many comment sections now require you log in with your Facebook account, etc. So it shows your real name and photo, which I think compels the user to be more civil in conversation. I hope to see this continue. 

The third article was “How Black People Use Twitter” by Farhad Manjoo was very interesting. As someone who does special campaigns to market the university where I work to minority students, I think this was a good insight into how Twitter is being used. Aside the the cultural overtones that Manjoo was getting at, it makes sense to me that minorities (especially those in the lower income brackets) would use Twitter much like a text messaging service since they might not can afford that kind of service with a cellphone. It was also interesting to note that most African American Twitter users know their Twitter followers in real life. I might know 3-5 of my followers in real life, so this further goes to the point, that they are using Twitter as a personal communication tool versus social media platform. In marketing to minorities, we have known that shotgun broad messages don’t work. This audience wants a personal connection — through their family, church or community. That is where we get our best minority recruitment from. We need to learn to better apply those techniques to social media. The link for the counter article by Jessica Faye Carter did not work — I even tried searching online for it and couldn’t find it. 

The next article for this week was also about Twitter with “Twitter Offers News Orgs Opportunity to Reach Diverse, Underserved Communities.” This goes back to what the previous article was getting at. African Americans are heavy Twitter users, but the challenge is they use it for their personal circle of family and friends, so breaking into that stream of communication can be hard for news organizations. Beyond race with this article, I am still fascinated by the younger generation and their approach to news. They have the attitude that if the news is important enough, it will find me and that you don’t have to seek it out. I am probably biased here since although I work in marketing, I have a journalism background and did work as a reporter. I think that is a very narrow-minded shallow view of getting news. If you only ever get news by hearing it from family/friends, then you are most likely getting like-minded news — you are not getting diversity of opinions. Even worse, in this article, one kid interviewed said that he didn’t like reading all the bad stuff that the news covers. Well that is part of the larger world and whether you find it depressing or not, I believe you should still be exposed to it. This selectivity that is happening in the way people receive their news I believe is what has led to much bipartisanship nationally and the inability of many to see another’s point of view (sheesh, second time in this post I need to get off my soapbox 🙂

The final article for class this week was a chapter from the book, entitled “From Dabblers to Omnivores: A Typology of Social Network Site Usage” by Eszter Hargittai and Yu-li Patrick Hsieh. This article takes a look at social network sites taking into consideration both frequency and diversity of usage and level of engagement. The authors have 4 categories of users on social network sites: dabblers, samplers, devotees and omnivores. Dabblers are those who only use one such site and do so only sometimes. Samplers visit more than one site, but none of them often. Devotees are often active on one site only. Omnivores are those that visit more than one such site and use at least one of them often. To test frequency and diversity of usage, the authors conducted a survey of 1,060 students at the University of Illinois in Chicago. In their findings, they reported that context of use and Internet experience do make a difference for the students versus just looking at demographics. They found that students who do not live with their parents, who have internet access at a friend’s or family member’s home and who spend more time online per week are more likely to use social network sites often. I think the methodology used here was very good and could be replicated at our university. We are always challenged by how best to communicate internally with students. We have found social media like Facebook and Twitter more effective in getting messages out versus our daily e-newsletter, posting to the homepage or sending text alerts.

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