The Digital Vibes

Measuring Social Media
September 24, 2008, 11:18 pm
Filed under: Social Media | Tags: , ,

It’s been a long while since I’ve written… Started a new job that’s been keeping me very busy but it’s interesting to enter the realm of client servicing where I am no longer the gatekeeper and decision-maker for an organization’s PR campaign.

I had the chance to attend a breakfast briefing with Jim Macnamara as a speaker, and I found it very insightful. It was also a good starting point to think about social media monitoring. Here’s a post written by him on the Measurement Standard blog, enjoy the read!

The Not-So-New Social/Anti-Social Media

Jim Macnamara”s “Measuring Up”

Welcome to a new age where media are software and the audiences are the networks.

I don’t know about you but, as fascinated as I am with media developments, I am fed up with hearing the term “new media.” And I am not too enamored with “social media” either.

What’s So New About New Media?

Why? First, because many of the media that we are talking about are increasingly not new. OK, so Web 2.0 has upped the ante with interactivity and participation, but newsgroup chat rooms celebrate their 30th anniversary next year, having been conceived by Duke University graduate students Tom Trucott and Jim Ellis in 1979. The term “Weblog” was created in 1997 and bloggers have been blogging for a decade. Google is into its second decade, celebrating its 10th anniversary as a company in 2008, while MySpace will celebrate its 10th anniversary next year. Even YouTube and FaceBook are three and four years old respectively and, with hundreds of millions of users between them, are hardly new.

Apart from being increasingly inaccurate, the term “new media” leads us to an inevitable terminology trap when the next wave of media developments arrive. Web 3.0 is already under construction and new hybrid forms of media are evolving – what Roger Fidler calls “mediamorphosis.” Rather than a choice between “old” or “traditional” and “new” media, which suggests a simple two-horse race, we are living through a period of ongoing media and communications change.

What’s So Social About Social Media?

“Social media” is also a problematic term. As much as social networking has wide interpretations and social network mapping is all the rage, “social media” suggests to most that these media are primarily used for chat and gossip, friendship, dating, etcetera. It is this confusion that is causing many businesses to ignore these media or underestimate them. In reality, so-called social networking utilities and social media are making and breaking brands and products every day, building and destroying political careers, and shaping corporate reputations. They are used for civic and political engagement, research, job searching, marketing, shopping, knowledge sharing, and a host of other purposes.

While the U.S. progresses through its primaries in preparation for the November 2008 Presidential election, Australian had a national election in late 2007 which was widely dubbed “the YouTube election,” and resulted in a new government. The new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and his party were elected in a landmark campaign spearheaded by Kevin07, a Web-based strategy which extensively used MySpace, blogs, YouTube and other so-called social media. Even though many conservative politicians clung to traditional media advertising — particularly those who lost the election — Web 2.0 type media were used for political communication and civic engagement by a large number of both politicians and interest groups.

The U.S. Presidential race is also seeing Web 2.0 media used at an unprecedented level — even more than in the 2004 election which was described as a critical turning point in media use for political electioneering. (See, for instance, this article, previously in The Measurement Standard.)The term “social media” fails to reflect the serious and substantial communication that is flowing through these channels.

To take the point further, a few hours of research will show that many of the so-called social media are also downright anti-social. Political spoofs and parodies that ridicule, mash-ups of children’s nursery rhymes with lyrics replaced by obscenities, and various types of pornography, racism, and other abuses are features and challenges of the Internet and the new forms and genre of media that it facilitates.

What’s In a Name?

So what do we call emerging media forms and genre? And is it important what we call them? I suggest it is because our way of describing things frames our understanding. Language limits or delimits the concepts we deal with. It seems clear that we need a review of terminology in relation to media as convergence escalates. In preparing a public lecture which I am due to deliver in June, I compiled a list of 32 different terms used for media today. Many of these are based on delivery systems that are increasingly redundant — such as film, video tape, broadcast, and so on. Even traditional terms such as “newspapers,” “press,” “broadcast,” “radio” and “television” no longer adequately describe our media, as newspapers are less and less provided on paper, radio programs are increasingly distributed as podcasts rather than broadcasts, and television content is being “transmitted” via the Internet and watched on computers and even hand phones. And “phones” are not phones any more.

The benefit of a review of terminology is that we would find we can dispense with more than half the terms in use and simplify discussion considerably. What does it matter that content is distributed on paper, plastic, magnetic tape or disk, celluloid, cable, broadcast waves, or in jello? Only two things seem to matter: content and users — whether they are producers or consumers, or a combination of both, as reflected in the terms “prosumers” or “produsers.”

This raises three points that I will throw out there for comment. The first observation is that media are becoming immaterial. By that I do not mean that media don’t matter per se; I mean the materiality of media is becoming unimportant. With convergence, content pays no mind to the medium on which it is distributed — nor do most users. In the digital art world, Lev Manovich talks about “post-media” referring to the same notion, so I am not alone in this thinking.

In the same way, hardware technology such as computers and telecommunications networks are disappearing and becoming invisible. The invisible computer was first forecast in 1998 by Donald Norman and research continues through the Disappearing Computer Initiative in the U.S. Similarly, cables and wires are disappearing as we move to wireless. And “logging on,” which was an often troublesome ritual that regularly reminded us that we were entering a complex world of machines, is increasingly being replaced with “always on.” But it is not only the increasing physical invisibility of hardware that is significant; what is most significant is the growing psychological invisibility of hardware. Today, what Marc Prensky calls “digital natives” and assimilated “digital immigrants” move seamlessly and effortlessly between sources of content without a moment’s thought to the hardware infrastructure that delivers them.

Today media are software — intellectual property in the form of both applications and content. And audiences are the network, actively connecting, linking, redirecting, forwarding, and injecting local comment and static into communications.

Welcome to a new age in which media are software and audiences are the networks.

Dr Jim Macnamara MA, PhD, FPRIA, FAMI, CPM, FAMEC became Professor of Public Communication at the University of Technology Sydney in late 2007. His 30-year career in journalism, public relations and media research culminated in the 2006 sale of CARMA Asia Pacific, which he founded, to Media Monitors. He worked as Group Research Director with Media Monitors – CARMA Asia Pacific following the sale and continues as a Consultant with the Group.


2 Comments so far
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Jim’s the best, I totally agree. One of the my all time mavens, and thanks for linking to our newsletter!

Comment by Katie Paine

Thank you for your post, I am pleased that you enjoyed the breakfast briefing, regards, Leon Hudson, Media Monitors.

Comment by Leon Hudson

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