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The annual conference of the National Communication Association is typically a whirlwind of thought-provoking formal sessions and informal discussions. This year was no exception.
I began this conference with a 5.14 mile run, complete with a beautiful view of Sunday’s sunrise (at right). My run took me down Market Street to the bay, around the Embarcadero to Fisherman’s Wharf, and then up the famed Frisco hills through North Beach and Chinatown. As I made my way downhill, back to Union Square, my sprint took on a whole new pace.
I decided to blog in real time about the conference, a task which I truly enjoyed. I typically return from conferences a full legal pad of notes. This year, my virtual legal pad proved so much more effective both from an archival perspective and an information-sharing one.
On Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, I attended numerous sessions, many of which are documented on this site. Some of the highlights included Dr. David Zarefsky’s keynote address, ‘The State of the Communication Discipline”; a lively session about the need for social media in public relations education; a panel of respected authors discussing potential theories for social media research; and GIFTS and Scholar-to-Scholar sessions about the scholarship of teaching and learning.
The culture of this conference is one of open communication. Each year, I informally meet (and sometimes dine with) talented scholars whose work I have read and encountered in my own research or on Twitter. I see old friends, former professors, and current mentors. And, I enjoy the company of my colleagues attending from my own school.
Thanks to all of you who made this conference an enjoyable one. Thanks also to those who read, commented, shared, and tweeted about my writing. I hope you continue to find this site a rich resource for your own work.
See you next year in New Orleans.
When I decided to immerse myself in Twitter in early 2009, my goal was to learn the means whereby a business might effectively tweet. I chose Pete Cashmore of Mashable (then named “Mashup”) as a guide for my learning and performed a content analysis of his 747 tweets in the month of May 2009. The result was that I learned invaluable lessons about creating connections to content using Twitter and gained several thoughts on best practice for professional social media efforts.
The resulting paper, “A Month with Mashable: Bridging Information Content and Media Expression using Twitter,” was submitted for the National Communication Association (NCA) 2010 annual conference shortly thereafter and the time has finally come to present it.
Now, over a year after I completed the study, this data set has become a historical artifact of past Twitter use. Yet, the findings in this paper offer several insights. First, the paper establishes a proposed methodology for studying a user’s tweets from both content and style perspectives. Secondly, the tweets provide a baseline set of data upon which other research can draw inspiration and comparison. Third, the paper sets up a series of longitudinal studies in the changing nature of writing on Twitter. Finally, the paper can inform businesses grappling with the idea of implementing social media as a part of an overall marketing strategy.
Below is a copy of the slides from the presentation given at NCA. If you would like a copy of the paper, please contact me directly. And, if you find this research helpful, please use it with appropriate attribution:
McArthur, J.A. (2010). A Month with Mashable: Bridging information content and media expression using Twitter. Presented at National Communication Association Annual Conference, San Francisco, CA, November, 2010. Retrieved from http://jamcarthur.com/2010/11/16/a-month-with-mashable/
Dan O’Hair, Dean of the College of Communications and Information Studies at the University of Kentucky and past-president of the National Communication Association (NCA), is a leader in the field of communication. At the NCA 2010 annual conference, Dr. O’Hair presented on his experiences with online and hybrid instruction.
Online and hybrid education has many benefits and consequences for scheduling, faculty resources, and student engagement in the classroom. According to O’Hair, three major issues face the adoption and success of online and hybrid instruction:
- Content. The information in the course should remain a leading factor in the decision about taking a course to the online or hybrid market. Course content and learning objectives cannot be sacrificed in favor of delivery. However, this raises intriguing questions about the use of technology in classes. Technologies should be chosen with course content in mind. This may also suggest that some classes should employ certain tools on a regular basis. Are we failing students by not incorporating information technology into the delivery of selected classes?
- Market Trends. E-book adoption, distance education, and tuition costs impact the market in higher education. Among students, the jury is still out. Some students love the idea of online and hybrid courses (mostly for their own convenience). Other students prefer technology to remain one part of a set of teaching strategies.
- Instructor Match. The willingness and ability of an instructor to develop a successful online or hybrid course continues to be of great importance. The skills associated with successful face-to-face instruction may be different than the skills used to create effective online learning.
Exploring Privacy Management and Disclosure on Facebook
Camille A. Hall, Keturi D. Beatty, Bethany Petty, and Zuoming Wang (University of North Texas)
Hall et.al. discussed the effects of profile-owner’s gender and potential profile viewer on a Facebook user’s willingness to disclose private information. Participants were asked to identify the information they would hide on Facebook from various users: (your boss, a love interest, a total stranger, a peer, and a professor).
The basis for their research, Communication Privacy Management Theory (Petronio, 2007), contains five principles:
- We perceive ownership of private information.
- We perceive that we have the right to use our own private information as we see fit.
- We utilize “boundary rules” to define privacy.
- Others become shareholders in our private information when we reveal it.
- We may experience boundary turbulence may occur during privacy management.
Even though men and women reported similar willingness to disclose information, women chose to remove far more Facebook profile information for various audiences than did men. Interestingly, this contradicts past research suggesting that women tend to self-disclose more than men, suggesting that context matters for self-disclosure.
Facebook as a Toolkit: Motivations predicting future use
Andrew Smock, Nicole Ellison, D. Yvette Wohn (Michigan State University)
Rooted in the uses and gratifications theory, this presentation asks, what gratifications individuals seek from the various features of Facebook? Past research indicates that some of these reasons might include information seeking, passing time, and social comparison (Forreggei 2008, Johnson 2008, Papacharissi & Mendelsson, 2010, which proposed Facebook motives scales).
According the these researchers, even though the motivation to be entertained was related to overall Facebook use, different motivations guide Facebook use among the various components of Facebook. For example, use of status updates and comments related to the motive of expressive information sharing; use of chat and wall posts related to the motive of social interaction; and, interestingly, use of wall posts were related to professional advancement and passing-the-time.
Facebook and Social Capital
Two other presentations in this panel addressed Putnam’s social capital and the creation of social capital using Facebook. Namkee Park (University of Oklahoma), Seungyoon Lee (Purdue University); Jang Hyun Kim (University of Hawaii, Manoa) discussed a quantitative approach to assessing social capital among Facebook users whereas Jessica Vitak and Nicole Ellison (Michigan State University) employed a qualitative approach to studying Facebook use as tool for bridging and bonding in social capital. Vitak and Ellison suggest that social emotional support and information-seeking behavior is dependent upon the types of social capital present. One participant suggest that he would rather access information via trusted friends on Facebook rather than Google: “Surely somebody out of the 350 people would have an answer to something I needed, or know where to direct me to find it.”
Knowledge of the role of Internet surveillance could play a role in our privacy behaviors online. For the typical Internet user, survelliance knowledge could include Internet tracking, marketing research, and demographic-driven advertising, among others. Yet, many typical Internet users lack basic knowledge of the surveillance practices that occur on sites they visit regularly.
Some of Yong Jin Park‘s (of Howard University) excellent references on the issues of Internet knowledge, power, and literacy include:
- Pool (1983), which suggests that the centrality of knowledge prospered by the invention of the printing press.
- Dutton & Anderson (1998), Bunz (2004), which suggest that computers can spread democratic access to and creation of information.
- Hargittai (2002, 2004, 2008), which suggests that a user’s available access points and knowledge have clear implications for behaviors in a digital sphere.
- Turow (2003, 2005); Turow et.al. (2009), which suggest that power assymetry occurs in relation to knowledge.
Alongside the typical digital divide measures (age, gender, socioeconomic level, and education), Park’s findings suggest that familiarity with (1) technology, (2) institutional practices, and (3) Internet regulatory policy create a knowledge divide among users. This knowledge divide is strongly associated with digital privacy behaviors. In short, digital privacy literacy is highest among populations that are younger, male, affluent, educated, and among populations that possess knowledge of surveillance practices.
Park suggests that, first, digital divide literature and literature about common surveillance practice could benefit users who have limited knowledge on the subject. Secondly, current regulatory policy of Internet sites assumes that users possess a strong understanding of surveillance practices common to the Internet. This assumption may be flawed. And third, the digital divide is not only one of access, but also one of literacy.
Social media outlets have a role to play as one tool in an effective crisis communication strategy, say researchers Shari Veil (University of Kentucky), Tara Buehner (University of Oklahoma), and Michael Palenchar (Univ of Tennessee, Knoxville). At the National Communication Association 2010 annual conference, they presented a paper entitled, “Increasing Dialogue in Disasters: Incorporating Social Media in Risk and Crisis Communication.”
During a crisis, social media tools offer powerful opportunities for organizations to:
- listen to the pulse of the crisis
- view social media trends as “a snapshot of public opinion”
- respond, as a demonstration of care and trust
- correct misinformation in real-time
- create a network of credible information and resources during the crisis
- engage, rather than avoid the issues
- pause generic marketing campaigns that might appear inappropriate during a crisis
- humanize the crisis response
- repackage and critique media portrayals of the crisis
- involve stakeholders in the messages
Each of these opportunities puts organizations in touch with their constituencies during a crisis. But, which social media tool is best for a crisis? These researchers suggest that the tool should match the scenario, the timing, the target audience, and the message.
Public relations practice has been dramatically impacted by social media. Papers presented in the Public Relations Division at the National Communication Association 2010 annual conference tied social media and web-based tools to core functions of public relations practice – using a variety of theoretical frames. Each provides unique insights into the theory and practice of public relations in an increasingly digital environment. Read on.
Influence in a World of Unknown Influencers: Attenuating Uncertainty by Engaging Personal Media in a Public Space
Jeffrey Treem (Northwestern University)
Social media creates an opportunity for public relations practitioners to engage in dialogue with publics. However, the industry seems reticent to participate. Treem attributes this reticence to the following issues: (1) social media strategy lacks commercial outcomes; performance doesn’t require a stable public; and (3) the use of social media favors the negative comment. To incorporate social media, public relations must focus more on volume and speed of interactions, and make a shift from considering “publics” to considering “communities.”
Practitioner Perceptions of the Importance, Function, and Actual Utilization of Dialogic Internet Tools
Sheila McAllister-Spooner (Monmouth University)
The Dialogic Theory of Public Relations (Kent & Taylor, 2002) suggests that content on the Web should incorporate mutuality, propinquity, empathy, risk, and commitment. Building on her previous research, McAllister-Spooner conducted survey research among public relations practitioners. The survey demonstrated clear differences between the functions of a website and social media tools. An institution’s website was perceived to be a source for (in order of perceived importance) providing information, promoting image, engaging and interacting with publics, conducting media relations, and fundraising. However, social media tools were perceived to be an outlet for engaging and interacting, providing information, and promoting image.
The Role of Social Media in Non-profits’ Relationships with their Publics
Catherine Capers (University of Georgia), Lesley Anne Fenton (University of Georgia), Kristin Eichbauer (University of Georgia), Rebecca Holton (University of Georgia), Lauren J. Miller (University of Georgia), Kaye Sweetser (University of Georgia)
In public relations, we tend to draw lines between relationships and action. Prospective publics were surveyed to determine the functions of a website design in non-profit goals of fundraising. In almost every case, human voice was the significant factor related to satisfaction, trust, and commitment. In addition, a link for donation on the non-profit’s website increases volunteer trust and commitment to the organization. This suggests that fundraising might be improved with a clear and accessible opportunity for donor response on the home page.
Standing room only in a packed meeting room set the tone for a session on “Theorizing social media” at the National Communication Association Annual Conference, demonstrating the growing interest among communication scholars for understanding advancing technologies in the framework of existing communication theory.
One attendee remarked, “All the scholarship on social media, when it is published, is historical artifact.” The room concurred that we have to come up with a new way to do scholarship to make study of changing technologies a viable agenda. Theorizing social media requires timely publication outlets for work in the area of study.
Theories considered include systems ecology, interpersonal reciprocity, social behavior, media theory, re-mediation, two-step flow theory, and play theory, among others. Papers combined these theories to practice by researching influence vs. popularity on Twitter, letters and comments to the editor on news sites, graphic interface, social rules and norms in online participation, online gender roles, and return on investment.
Papers presented included:
The Complex Meaning System of Social Media
Dawn R. Gilpin (Arizona State University)
Toward a Theoretical Framework for Building Dialogic Communication on the Internet: Twitter, Comcast and Southwest Airlines
Corey Hickerson (James Madison Univ)
Social Media Cultures: Developing Local Understandings
Mihaela Vorvoreanu (Purdue University)
The New Communication Model for New Media: Why the Arrival of Social Media Reshapes Traditional Theories in Communication
Rebecca Hayes (Univ of Michigan, Flint)
A Crowd or Public: An Examination of Comments Adjacent to Opinion Articles through the Lens of Play Theory and Collective Behavior
Serena Carpenter (Arizona State University)
Social Media Opinion Leaders: Two-Step Flow in the Social Media Sphere
Amber Hutchins (Trinity University)
Do Social Media Change Collaboration in College Courses?
Michele Jackson (Univ of Colorado, Boulder), Amanda Porter (Univ of Colorado, Boulder)
Panel respondent Zizi Papacharissi (University of Illinois, Chicago), closed the presentations with two questions which I leave here, unanswered for your ideas and comments:
- For scholars and educators, what skills does a person need to learn to be able to offer a fluent performances of self online?
- How has social media reinterpreted the communication issues of privacy, sociality, and publicity?
The National Communication Association offered its inaugural “State of the Discipline” Address at the 2010 Annual Conference. Dr. David Zarefsky of Northwestern University was chosen to begin this discussion having attended 43 consecutive NCA conferences and served in numerous leadership roles.
From Zarefsky’s perspective, is communication a discipline? “Yes and no.” We lack widely-known scholarly exemplars (perhaps Aristotle is the closest), a common methodology, and an agreed-upon framework of study. Yet, we all have one central unifying focus: the relationship between messages and people. And Zarefsky notes, “goodness knows, we have the organizational infrastructure of a discipline: governing body, journals, and committees.”
Zarefsky spent time as a visiting professor of English at Harvard. His experience led to several lessons about the communication as a discipline:
- “There is much more interest in our subject than in our discipline.” Communication pervades society. Yet, people often assume that communication is everyone’s subject.
- “There is no sense of arrogance or intellectual smugness suggesting that folks at Harvard might find our work on a lower academic pecking order than their own.”
- “What is old is new again.” The cutting-edge of our discipline is no longer American public address, yet the study of communication in all forms remains compelling. Thus, a discipline’s heritage moves not in a line, but in a circle.
The discipline faces 5 predicaments, according to Zarefsky, that pose questions central to our future:
- We have a hard time forecasting and predicting disciplinary trends. We sit on the balance of theory and practice; and, we have experienced expanded sophistication and specialization. But, if asked about the trends, we can’t make justified claims.
- We have shown a decided preference for addressing the contemporary. Rhetoric in the 1960s, Organizational communication in the 1980s, Media studies in the 2000s. These moves are valuable, but “traditional” areas of study are equally important toward the establishment of a knowledge base.
- We’re not sure how to balance our commitments to both scholarship and pedagogy. The two have become disconnected, to the detriment of our discipline.
- We’re unsure how to position ourselves strategically. We could be a “service” discipline providing lessons for other disciplines; a “self-contained” discipline in “splendid isolation”; an interdisciplinary discipline which contributes to multiple conversations.
- We need to understand the politics of our discipline. The roots of communication are rooted in politics, citizenship, and participation in public life. Our foundation is in the training of citizens who understand and advocate for their rights and freedoms.
In communication, “our strengths are also our weaknesses.” If we avoid these predicaments, our discipline will find itself positioned in ways that we may not enjoy. Instead, we must act together to move forward a discipline that is, like this speaker, truly compelling.
In what ways have social media expanded the ideas of public relations instruction? How does social media challenge traditional models of instruction? How can social media impact research? Is social media even valuable at all? These questions guided the conversation today in the NCA panel entitled,”Bridging Social Media with Teaching, Research and Practice: Exploring the Challenges and Opportunities.”
Discussion leaders included Gee Ekachai, Sarah Feldner, Amanda Stageman, and Kati Berg (Marquette University), Mihaela Vorvoreanu (Purdue University), Kaye Sweetser (University of Georgia), and Michael Kent (University of Oklahoma).
Instruction using social media is not for the faint of heart. Social media in instruction (and in practice) represents a loss of control of the message. This loss of control can be rewarding for a brand, but it can also harm the brand’s image. Is the risk worth the reward? These presenters say, “Yes, in most cases.” But above all, brands failing to engage in Internet-based public relations may be the ultimate losers. Success is about participating, and participating well.
This dramatically impacts our teaching of public relations. Ekachai notes, “I don’t think you can teach public relations without integrating social media.” Perhaps she’s right. My strategic communication students are blogging, tweeting, and learning how to monitor the Internet for consumer-generated media. These seem to be the necessary skills for a current strategic communication professional.
Vorvoreanu led the conversation on research agendas,highlighting three main topics surrounding the impact of social media on research:
- social media and its impact on users can be a research topic in its own right.
- social media can provide tools and new methodologies for advanced collaboration among researchers and authors.
- social media can serve as an entry point for interdisciplinary research endeavors with experts in fields outside of communication.
Social media and public relations are natural partners in the changing digital landscape. However, Kent raises the concern that perhaps we shouldn’t be spending our instructional time on social media or interactive technology.
Is technology as pervasive as social media gurus would have us believe? How does it really add value to an organization? According to Kent, the question is not “Should we be using social media?” The question is “Who should be using it and how?” What are your thoughts?