Theorizing Social Media

National Communication AssociationStanding 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:

  1. For scholars and educators, what skills does a person need to learn to be able to offer a fluent performances of self online?
  2. How has social media reinterpreted the communication issues of privacy, sociality, and publicity?


  1. Presenter responses on Twitter:

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