In our social media session at SWU today, we discussed how we share and spread media content online through our social networks. Rather than thinking of social media as a form of mass-media or broadcasting, we discussed how social media is dependent on building relationship, maintaining contacts and support within a network, and creating content that people will find engaging and interesting.
We focussed on two models of social media interaction, social network theory, and social capital theory, and we discussed how both of these approaches are relevant to an actively engaged form of media sharing. Rather than thinking in broadcast terms, which legacy models of marketing often retain even though we have moved on from the days of limited channels and scarce resources, we are thinking, instead, of a world of infinite capability based around two-way and multiple-way communications.
Content, as a result has to be designed to circulate and flow within networks, rather than being amplified by turning up the volume, or increasing the transmitter power. Networks need content, as Henry Jenkins described, that spreads. If it doesn’t spread then it is dead, remarked Jenkins.
If we amplify analogue media we have to turn up the volume so that more people who are within reach of the central broadcast point can hear it. Whereas with social media, each person in the network is a relay point. A node in a network that is either going to be interested in you content, or stop it dead because it isn’t deemed spreadable.
Our focus, then, was on thinking of what kind of content tends to get shared. We discussed meme culture and the challenge of creating content that is creative, playful, and which offers something meaningful to the people who share it. My experience of meme culture is that they often confound expectations, which in turn makes them engaging, especially as the float around, passed from person to person freed from their context.
If we want to maximise our social capital within our social networks we have to be strategic about how we achieve our goals. It’s no use treating all posts in the same way and expecting different results for each one. Perhaps we can update Einstein’s maxim of madness to say that if we keep posting the same kind of messages and don’t get the results we want, then what do we expect?
The focus, then, is on building a network of both strong and weak ties, and to foster social capital that both bonds and bridges our relationships. We can’t take advantage of our more open networks and connections if we only retain a focus on the security and comfort of our bonded relationships. Likewise, we might lose our sense of belonging if we are prepared to skate around our networks without establishing any deeper ties with others.
Building a network is limited, however, by the social reality, according to the Dunbar theory, that we can only really maintain one hundred and fifty connections and acquaintances. We might be incredibly popular in our network, but this might only be temporary. Instead, the aim of our networking is to make ourselves useful and to find a long-lasting role that we find fulfilling and gives us something, not just to care about, but to care for.