Yesterday I was interviewed by a researcher from the University of Manchester who is working on a collaborative research project examining the use of social media platforms such as Twitter. The project aims to explore how people use social media in their daily lives and the extent to which people’s use of social media reflects local issues, events and concerns. It is part of the Manchester eResearch Centre which exists to explore how the recent explosion in social media and the interactive web opens up opportunities for understanding societal issues and concerns. So far so interesting…
Having already interviewed a community forum, the police, city council and local MPs, the researcher is in the process of recruiting and interviewing individuals who live in South Manchester and are ‘well-networked users of Twitter.’ She’d got in touch with me via someone she met at a networking event, who had given my name as someone who he thought would fit the bill. I was slightly surprised – I tend to think that I don’t really know what I’m doing with Twitter, and I’m an extremely long way removed from the major league ‘twitterati‘. Aside from that, I don’t use Twitter all that much to share information about or discuss local issues, so I wasn’t convinced I was quite what she was looking for.
I tend to think that I don’t really know what I’m doing with Twitter, and I’m an extremely long way removed from the major league ‘twitterati’.
Nevertheless, I agreed to be interviewed, not least because I was keen to hear more about the research project, and mindful of potential connections or overlaps of interest that might emerge through having the conversation. I wasn’t disappointed. Aside from anything else, it was interesting to be on the other side of the voice recorder for once – there’s a lot to learn from being interviewed rather than doing the interviewing.
Answering questions on my use of Twitter, the role it plays in my professional life, my personal life, and the connections between my use of Twitter and the community in which I live made me think about all these things in a particularly reflective way.
I was asked questions relating to how I use Twitter to provide information to other people, to organise debate and discussion, to gather support and interest and to portray sentiment in relation to various local issues, concerns and events. Like I’ve said, I don’t really think of myself as someone who really knows how to use Twitter to great effect, so it was curious for me to discover that I had at least something to say in relation to each of these lines of questioning.
On one level, Twitter has facilitated the democratisation of news creation, information sharing and agenda setting. On another, it does little to engage, empower or enable members of society who are, in various ways, isolated or marginalised.
In answering the questions, I began to give examples and the discussion turned to the inclusiveness or otherwise of the Twittersphere. On one level, Twitter has facilitated the democratisation of news creation, information sharing and agenda setting. On another, it does little to engage, empower or enable some members of society who are, in various ways, isolated or marginalised. Aside from those members of society who do not have access to an internet enabled device, there are those for whom Twitter simply doesn’t appeal. It isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and why should it be?
My interviewer mentioned one member of the community forum she’d interviewed who was deeply negative, resistant, and unable to see any potential benefits of using social media to engage with the local community. We talked about professionals such as teachers, nurses and social workers, whose day jobs are are structured in such a way as to make it very difficult to be tweeting all the time alongside doing the job.
They may also already be part of existing communication networks that they are used to and that work well for them, or they may feel that using Twitter is a quasi-work activity that they’d rather not get involved in after hours. There’s the public bodies for whom it is very difficult to use Twitter in the organic, instantaneous way that it needs to be used because of the need to adhere to policies and have all public communication formally approved and signed off. And there are people for whom Twitter is confusing, off-putting, boring or simply not their medium of choice
I’m sure I’m not the first person to suggest that Twitter is a sort of bubble – a group of relatively similar people talking to each other about the things that matter to them. It is easy, when you’re part of that bubble, to imagine that all the important voices are being heard, that anyone who wants to be included in the debate will be. It’s also easy to feel – if you find yourself amidst a storm of retweets – as though you’re really making a difference, that the important people are listening and that you’re at the heart of the action.
But there’s also a world out there that doesn’t live itself out on Twitter. For all the unique opportunities and connections that Twitter may facilitate, there are plenty of people outside the Twitterverse who may be doing really important and valuable things without tweeting about it, or whose voices are easily overlooked. The research I took part in is due to be published this summer and it will be fascinating to find out more about the ways in which Twitter represents, enables or excludes people from participating in community life. In the meantime, I’m very happy to hear any thoughts. Use the comment function below, write me an email, post me a letter (wouldn’t that be novel?) or, if you really want to, you can even send me a tweet.
When my boss told me that I needed to raise my profile on social media, I was somewhat lost. After all, life as a part of the Fellowship Services team rarely seems to throw up the need to use Facebook, Twitter or what have you. We’re the stagehands of the RSA Fellowship; we keep the production going, pulling ropes, adjusting lights, making sure the scene is as it should be. And who, I thought, wants to hear about how the mise en scène is arranged?
But last week, I embraced Facebook. Five years after joining the site and four years and 362 days since I last looked at it, last week I finally had reason to sign in again. I’d only signed up in the first place to see my friends’ photos of my engagement party, and quickly became tired of the in-depth intellectual discussions that seemed to me to be the core of the Facebook experience – “I can’t decide whether to have a Rich Tea or a Hobnob!”, one friend would declare in frustration. “Have you considered the Bourbon?”, someone would reply. I couldn’t understand how anyone has the time or the patience to read all of this, let alone what the point of writing it in the first place was. Just pick a biscuit! Have one of each! Don’t tell the world!
I embraced Facebook, for I was imbued with purpose. I’m off to the Singapore Grand Prix this month, the trip of a lifetime, and there was a competition where I could win upgrades on my tickets and enjoy the “Ultimate Fan Experience”. All I had to do was dress up as the ‘Ultimate F1 Fan’ and submit the picture to the Singapore GP website. If I’d read the terms and conditions, I’d have realised that my picture would then be put on Facebook, where other F1 fans could vote on it. I didn’t read the terms and conditions.
Quickly acclimatising myself with Facebook after so long away – it’s amazing how much you can learn quickly when there’s a need and you have fire in your belly…
I’m not sure my boss had this Ferrari nightmare in mind!
A lamentable aspect of friendship involves watching movies.
Specifically, when one friend has seen the film and the other hasn’t. For me, it’s a simple truth- not because I’m (that) disagreeable, moody or withdrawn, but because some of my friends succumb to the temptation of announcement. You know who you are.
We’ve all been there:
A living room, two friends, X and Y are midway through a film:
X: Oh, this part- mate, this, this is such a funny bit- watch this:
Event happens in the movie.
X reels with laughter, seeks confirmation from Y that it was, truly, oh so funny.
Y is silent.
X: Wasn’t it funny? I love that part.
In Hitch-22 ,the late Christopher Hitchens cited Theodore Adorno on this point:
Adorno made a beautiful corkscrew or double-helix-shaped aphorism about the Hays Office, which was then the headquarters of moralistic and ideological invigilation of the movie industry. Under its unsmiling rules, no double beds could be shown, no “race-mixing,” no untoward conduct or risqué speech. Nonetheless, ventured Adorno, an intellectually and aesthetically satisfying film could be made, observing all the limitations prescribed by the Hays Office, on the sole condition that there was no Hays Office.
Or, by enforcing, endorsing or applying a proposition or plan, one defeats or perverts the intended outcome. Y almost certainly would have found the part in the movie funny if only X hadn’t announced its funniness. Or the deflation New Year’s Eve revellers feel after making overzealous declarations of debauchery at the start of the night. A Parisian friend swears the least romantic thing a handholding date can do is swoon at the Eiffel tower, pout beneath his fringe and say ‘oh isn’t it romantic’? Feel free to add your own.
New technologies and social media however influence behaviour subtly. They permeate our lives ubiquitously, allowing us to snap, update and share wherever we like. So frequent is our online activity that we’re amateur photographers, reporters or commenters without even realising it. Of course, activity and accomplishment are not the same things; I’m not suggesting that a photo of dinner or giving the peace sign before a monument will be recognised by the WPO.
Why do we do it? Well, precisely because there is no imperative to do so. People seem to prefer doing things without overt prompting or advertising. I’m certain the Social Brain team here in the RSA can explain or refute this with something more than mere assertion. But consider it: using a social network is not normally the result of a heavy-handed advertising campaign. Indeed, all David Dimbleby has to say during Question Time is ‘if you’re following us on Twitter, the hashtag is-”. If.
Therefore, you don’t need me to tell you that you can interact with the RSA through social media. In fact, given Adorno’s gorgeous thought-problem, you’d probably cringe with shame if another human being told you that it was ‘really great to upload your photos to our Flickr group’.
So I’m not. I’m just going to leave a link here, which you can choose to click or not: RSA Flickr Group.
Whether or not you click on the first group in the list, I promise not to tell you how fun it is, or how much I love it or how it’s my absolute favourite site…..
Gurmeet Singh is a Fellowship Researcher. You can contact him on email@example.com
At the end of January I was part of a ‘Knowledge Exchange Network’ seminar organised by Leila Jancovich and her team at Leeds Metropolitan University held at the fittingly interdisciplinary home that is Culture Lab at Newcastle University. Through this Network Leila has successfully brought together policy makers, academics and practitioners to share research and ideas and to debate the issues around cultural engagement and participation. With a theme of engagement and participation in the arts on this particular day we focussed on the role that technology plays.
My contribution was around Citizen Power Peterborough and the social media approaches we’ve adopted, with some of the lessons learnt along way as a project that is trying to communicate what we are doing in the city whilst trying to involve and enthuse people in that as much as possible.
I thought I’d share some of the conversation here as it turned towards how the arts and technologies can be a tool for engaging people, here’s some of the abbreviated highlights:
- Social media offers great opportunity to share cultural content through networks of networks
- You can tell people about your work and generate a buzz when it might be challenging to do so on the street
- Social media can be a creative force behind new forms of cultural production as shown by the Royal Opera House and Mudlark/Royal Shakespeare Company
- Film is hugely powerful, participatory and largely accessible as a device for community groups. Check out Citizen Power’s Rebecca Daddow and the FREE group’s simple, effecting film
- Initiatives like NT Live showed how technologies open up new audiences and create a new kind of cultural experience through sharing live content in cinemas
- Social media can encourage people to come back to the local
- Social media doesn’t replace face to face – instead it should strengthen and deepen real life
- Be careful there is a digital divide and social media excludes some groups totally creating a new form of exclusion
- Equally social media can be used as a way over overcoming social exclusion for some groups
- But resist the pressure to always be new. Don’t innovate for the sake of it. If it works already, great, stick with it and see if you can’t make it bigger. This is what business would do.
There’s conference that brings together all the different themes explored by the Knowledge Exchange Network; internationalism, engagement strategies, place and geography and socially engaged practice on Tuesday 26 June at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. To join the off-line conversation book here.
Tapping into the buzz surrounding social networks and the analysis of them, Klout has created a user-friendly way of ranking your online social reach. Plug in your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumbler, Flicker, Google+ or YouTube details and Klout will generate a number between 1 to 100, using over 35 variables (including clicks, likes, comments and retweets) to measure the relative size and influence of your social network.
I currently weigh in at a fairly pitiful 15, pipped at the post by Citizen Power Peterborough at a relatively healthy 33. Klout reckons that Citizen Power has ‘built a good size network that is highly engaged’, is ‘effectively using social media to influence its networks across a variety of topics’, and is ‘more likely to have its message amplified than the average person’.
On a scale from my Mum (who, despite having both a facebook and twitter account, still cannot tell her pokes from her tweets and has an underwhelming klout of 1) to Justin Bieber (who tops the chart with a perfect score of 100, narrowly out-performing the likes of Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama), I’d say that Citizen Power isn’t doing too badly.
So far so good. Many, however, are largely critical of the fact that Klout’s algorithms aren’t the right ones, or are easily tricked (or ‘gamed’) into producing an overinflated Klout score (clearly I haven’t played my cards right here…). There’s also the question of whether one’s Klout score actually corresponds with one’s ability to influence others in the offline (sometimes quaintly referred to as the ‘real’) world. A high Klout score may reflect a great deal of negative feedback rather than positive affirmation. Or, someone who’s highly influential in real life may only observe social media trends online. Others worry that social media metrics like Klout might create a ‘social media caste system’, where those with a broader online presence get more freebies, faster promotions or a better love life.
Despite these criticisms, Klout is being used to identify key social influencers by organisations as diverse as Disney, Nike, Virgin and Audi. Could we use it as part of our work in Peterborough to identify the key ChangeMakers (those well-connected but potentially untapped hubs of social innovation who could be mobilised to spread positive change throughout their networks) across the city? Or are we better off identifying these people the old-fashioned way, through real-life word of mouth?
In the interests of identifying the Justin Bieber of the think tank world, what’s your klout score? And, perhaps more importantly, should we care?
Last night I presented at the Facebook Developer Garage London.
It was a fun event where I learnt, amongst other things, that the Farmville game on Facebook has nearly 60 million users a month.
I was making an argument, based on the work we have done in New Cross Gate, that many of the problems which governments try to solve can be best understood as network problems. We can think of high levels of spatially concentrated unemployment, feelings of powerlessness and even low mental well being as network problems.
Going further we can argue that these problems are best solved using the logic of social networks. Rather than focusing on dealing with individuals or groups we could focus on building or diversifying connections.
This points to the power of social media and hence my presence at a Facebook Developers Garage.
Social media has a unique role in building more empowered, resilient communities
•Researchers in the US find internet users tend to have more bridging social capital than non-users
•17% of British users say they communicate with strangers and 35% with friends of friends via social networking sites.
•The various mySociety projects, such as Pledgebank and Fixmystreet, employ the interactive, networked capabilities of the internet to help people coordinate their political and local concerns, and feed them into the democratic process
•The internet allows campaigns to ‘scale’ quickly, in the sense that small groups can swiftly turn into large-scale networks and campaigns, with no extra cost
•There is a growing number of online projects that seek to circulate specifically local information and put residents in touch with each other. Harringay Online is an exemplary site, featuring discussion forums, a blogging platform, a user search and event announcements.
I could add more but this certainly suggests to me that social media has a unique role in building more empowered, resilient communities.
I am not making the argument, which Gladwell recently dismissed, that social media will lead to more or more effective activism. Rather, I am suggesting that if a group or agency is seeking to invest in and build connections in a given area that social media is an invaluable tool.
One of the most moving findings in our work from New Cross Gate concerns people who are extremely isolated. One 75 year old man told our researcher “all I do is watch TV all day”. Perhaps, for him, social television, which allows viewers to discuss what they are watching with others, would be a better way of breaking down this isolation than coffee mornings.
I would love to know your thoughts on this.