Skip to main content
Social Sci LibreTexts

9.3: Social Media and Web 2.0

  • Page ID
    108052
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    Learning Objectives

    • Identify some major social networking sites, and give possible uses and demographics for each one.
    • Show the positive and negative effects of blogs on the distribution and creation of information.
    • Explain the ways privacy has been addressed on the Internet.
    • Identify new information that marketers can use because of social networking.

    Although GeoCities lost market share, Friendster fell stagnant, and theGlobe.com never really made it to the 21st century, social networking has persisted. There are many different types of social media available today, from social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, to video centers like YouTube and Vimeo, multimedia communication platforms like Tik-Tok and SnapChat, photo repositories like Instagram, Tumblr and Flickr, or micro-communicators like Twitter, or blogging services like Liverjournal, Blogger and WordPress. All these sites bring something different to the table, and a few of them even try to bring just about everything to the table at once. Some are optimized to work best on mobile/cellular devices, while all have access via a desktop platform.

    Social Networking and Mass Communication

    pexels-pixabay-267350.jpgSocial networking services—like Facebook, Twitter, Tik-Tok, and LinkedIn —provide a limited but public platform for users to create a “personal profile” that can reach a mass communication level. As Internet technology evolves rapidly, most users have few qualms about moving to whichever site offers the better experience; most users have profiles and accounts on many services at once. But as relational networks become more and more established and concentrated on a few social media sites, it becomes increasingly difficult for newcomers and lagging challengers to offer the same rich networking experience. The character of social networking is highly dependent on the type of social circle.

    LinkedIn caters to business professionals looking for networking opportunities. LinkedIn is free to join and allows users to post resumes and job qualifications to make "connections" of various degrees. Its tagline, “Relationships matter,” emphasizes the role of an increasingly networked world in business, a LinkedIn user can use the site to promote professional services. 

    Twitter offers a different approach to social networking, allowing users to “tweet” 140+-character messages to their “followers,” making it something of a hybrid of instant messaging and blogging. Twitter is openly searchable, meaning that anyone can visit the site and quickly find out what other Twitter users are saying about any subject. Twitter has proved useful for journalists reporting on breaking news, as well as highlighting the “best of” the Internet. Twitter has also been useful for marketers looking for a free public forum to disseminate marketing messages. 

    Another category of social media, blogs began as an online, public version of a diary or journal. Short for “web logs,” these personal sites give anyone a platform to write about anything they want to. Posting tweets on the Twitter service is considered micro-blogging (because of the extremely short length of the posts). Some services, like LiveJournal, highlighted their ability to provide up-to-date reports on personal feelings, even going so far as to add a “mood” shorthand at the end of every post. The Blogger service allows users with Google accounts to follow friends’ blogs and post comments. WordPress.com, the company that created the open-source blogging platform WordPress.org, and LiveJournal both started the freemium model by allowing a basic selection of settings for free, with the option to pay for things like custom styles and photo hosting space. What these all have in common, however, is their bundling of social networking (such as the ability to easily link to and comment on friends’ blogs) with an expanded platform for self-expression. At this point, most traditional media companies have incorporated blogs, Twitter, and other social media as a way to allow their reporters to update instantly and often. This form of media convergence is now a necessary part of doing business.

    There are many other types of social media out there, many of which can be called to mind with a single name: YouTube (video sharing), Wikipedia (open-source encyclopedia composed of “wikis” editable by any user), Reddit and Discord (community billboards) Flickr (photo sharing), Digg (content sharing), Instagram (photoblogging), SnapChat (video communication) and TikTok with hundreds more that cater to niche audiences. Traditional media outlets have begun referring to these social media services and others like them as “Web 2.0.” Web 2.0 is not a new version of the web; rather, the term is a reference to the increased focus on user-generated content and social interaction on the web, as well as the evolution of online tools to facilitate that focus. Instead of relying on professional reporters to get information about a protest in Iran, a person could just search for “Iran” on Twitter and likely end up with hundreds of tweets linking to everything from blogs to CNN.com to YouTube videos from Iranian citizens themselves. In addition, many of these tweets may actually be instant updates from people using Twitter in Iran. This allows people to receive information straight from the source, without being filtered through news organizations or censored by governments.

    Going Viral

    Ok Go viral video on treadmills
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): A homemade music video of the band Ok Go went viral in 2006 creating an international marketing phenomenon.

    Media that is spread from person to person when, for example, a friend sends you a link saying “You’ve got to see this!” is said to have “gone viral.” Marketing and advertising agencies have deemed advertising that makes use of this phenomenon as “viral marketing.” Yet many YouTube/Snapchat/TikTok sensations have not come from large marketing firms. For instance, the four-piece pop-punk band OK Go filmed a music video on a tiny budget for their song “Here It Goes Again” and released it exclusively on YouTube in 2006. Featuring a choreographed dance done on eight separate treadmills, the video quickly became a viral sensation. The video helped OK Go attract millions of new fans and earned them a Grammy award in 2007, making it one of the most notable successes of viral Internet marketing. As of May 2021, the remastered official video released in 2009 has over 56,265,825 views and counting. Viral marketing is, however, notoriously unpredictable and is liable to spawn remixes, spin-offs, and spoofs that can dilute or damage the messages that marketers intend to spread. Yet, when it is successful, viral marketing can reach millions of people for very little money and can even make it into mainstream news.

    Recent successes and failures in viral marketing demonstrate how difficult it is for marketers to control their message as it is unleashed virally. 

    Not all viral media is marketing, however. In 2007, someone posted a link to a new trailer for Grand Theft Auto IV on the video games message board of the web forum 4chan.org. When users followed the link, they were greeted not with a video game trailer but with Rick Astley singing his 1987 hit “Never Gonna Give You Up.” This technique—redirecting someone to that particular music video—became known as Rickrolling and quickly became one of the most well-known Internet memes of all time. Even then-President Obama succumbed to an attack. Fox News, “The Biggest Little Internet Hoax on Wheels Hits Mainstream,” April 22, 2008, www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,352010,00.html.

    An Internet meme is a concept that quickly replicates itself throughout the Internet, and it is often nonsensical and absurd. One of the earliest memes, “Lolcats,” consists of misspelled captions—“I can has cheezburger?” is a classic example—over pictures of cats. Often, these memes take on a metatextual quality, such as the meme “Milhouse is not a meme,” in which the character Milhouse (from the television show The Simpsons) is told that he is not a meme. Chronicling memes is notoriously difficult, because they typically spring into existence seemingly overnight, propagate rapidly, and disappear before ever making it onto the radar of mainstream media—or even the mainstream Internet user.

    Benefits and Problems of Social Media

    Social media allows an unprecedented volume of personal, informal communication in real-time from anywhere in the world. It allows users to keep in touch with friends on other continents, yet keeps the conversation as casual as a Facebook post. In addition, blogs allow us to gauge a wide variety of opinions and have given “breaking news” a whole new meaning. Now, news can be distributed through many major outlets almost instantaneously, and different perspectives on any one event can be aired concurrently. In addition, news organizations can harness bloggers as sources of real-time news, in effect outsourcing some of their news-gathering efforts to bystanders on the scene. This practice of harnessing the efforts of several individuals online to solve a problem is known as crowdsourcing.

    The downside of the seemingly infinite breadth of online information is that there is often not much depth to the coverage of any given topic. The superficiality of information on the Internet is a common gripe among many journalists who are now rushed to file news reports several times a day in an effort to complete with the “blogosphere,” or the crowd of bloggers who post both original news stories and aggregate previously published news from other sources. Whereas traditional print organizations at least had the “luxury” of the daily print deadline, now journalists are expected to blog or tweet every story and file reports with little or no analysis, often without adequate time to confirm the reliability of their sources. Ken Auletta, “Non-Stop News,” Annals of Communications, New Yorker, January 25, 2010.

    Additionally, news aggregators like Google News profit from linking to journalists’ stories at major newspapers and selling advertising, but these profits are not shared with the news organizations and journalists who created the stories. It is often difficult for journalists to keep up with the immediacy of the nonstop news cycle, and with revenues for their efforts being diverted to news aggregators, journalists and news organizations increasingly lack the resources to keep up this fast pace. Twitter presents a similar problem: Instead of getting news from a specific newspaper, many people simply read the articles that are linked from a Twitter feed. As a result, the news cycle leaves journalists no time for analysis or cross-examination. Increasingly, they will simply report, for example, what a politician or public relations representative says without following up on these comments or fact-checking them. This further shortens the news cycle and makes it much easier for journalists to be exploited as the mouthpieces of propaganda.

    Consequently, the very presence of blogs and their seeming importance even among mainstream media has made some critics wary. Internet entrepreneur Andrew Keen is one of these people, and his book The Cult of the Amateur follows up on the famous thought experiment suggesting that infinite monkeys, given infinite typewriters, will one day randomly produce a great work of literature: Proposed by T. H. Huxley (the father of Aldous Huxley), this thought experiment suggests that infinite monkeys given infinite typewriters would, given infinite time, eventually write Hamlet. “In our Web 2.0 world, the typewriters aren’t quite typewriters, but rather networked personal computers, and the monkeys aren’t quite monkeys, but rather Internet users.”Andrew Keen, The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture (New York: Doubleday, 2007). Keen also suggests that the Internet is really just a case of my-word-against-yours, where bloggers are not required to back up their arguments with credible sources. “These days, kids can’t tell the difference between credible news by objective professional journalists and what they read on [a random website],” Keen said. Commentators like Keen worry that this trend will lead to people’s inability to distinguish credible information from a mass of sources, eventually leading to a sharp decrease of credible sources of information.

    For defenders of the Internet, this argument seems a bit overwrought: “A legitimate interest in the possible effects of significant technological change in our daily lives can inadvertently dovetail seamlessly into a ‘kids these days’ curmudgeonly sense of generational degeneration, which is hardly new.”Greg Downey, “Is Facebook Rotting Our Children’s Brains?” Neuroanthropology.net, March 2, 2009, http://neuroanthropology.net/2009/03/02/is-facebook-rotting-our-childrens-brains/. Greg Downey, who runs the collaborative blog Neuroanthropology, says that fear of kids on the Internet—and on social media in particular—can slip into “a ‘one-paranoia-fits-all’ approach to technological change.” For the argument that online experiences are “devoid of cohesive narrative and long-term significance,” Downey offers that, on the contrary, “far from evacuating narrative, some social networking sites might be said to cause users to ‘narrativize’ their experience, engaging with everyday life already with an eye toward how they will represent it on their personal pages.”

    Another argument in favor of social media defies the warning that time spent on social networking sites is destroying the social skills of young people. “The debasement of the word ‘friend’ by [Facebook’s] use of it should not make us assume that users can’t tell the difference between friends and Facebook ‘friends,’” writes Downey. On the contrary, social networks (like the Usenet of the past) can even provide a place for people with more obscure interests to meet one another and share commonalities. Twitter has, in many ways, changed yet again the way social media is conceived. Rather than connecting with “friends,” Twitter allows social media to be purely a source of information, thereby making it far more appealing to adults. In addition, while 140 characters may seem like a constraint to some, it can be remarkably useful to the time-strapped user looking to catch up on recent news.

    Social media’s detractors also point to the sheer banality of much of the conversation on the Internet. Again, Downey keeps this in perspective: “The banality of most conversation is also pretty frustrating,” he says. Downey suggests that many of the young people using social networking tools see them as just another aspect of communication. However, Downey warns that online bullying can pervade larger social networks while shielding perpetrators through anonymity.

    Another downside of many of the Internet’s segmented communities is that users tend to be exposed only to the information they are interested in and opinions they agree with. This lack of exposure to novel ideas and contrary opinions can create or reinforce a lack of understanding among people with different beliefs, and make political and social compromise more difficult to come by.

    There are clearly some important arguments to consider regarding the effects of the web and social media in particular. The main concerns come down to two things: the possibility that the volume of amateur, user-generated content online is overshadowing better-researched sources, and the questionable ability of users to tell the difference between the two.

    Marketing & Privacy Issues With Social Networking

    Social networking provides unprecedented ways to keep in touch with friends, but that ability can sometimes be a double-edged sword. Users can update friends with every latest achievement—“[your name here] just won three straight games of solitaire!”—but may also unwittingly be updating bosses and others from whom particular bits of information should be hidden. The shrinking of privacy online has been rapidly exacerbated by social networks, and for a surprising reason: conscious decisions made by participants. Putting personal information online—even if it is set to be viewed by only select friends—has become fairly standard.

    pexels-saksham-choudhary-2036656 (1).jpg

    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Photo by Saksham Choudhary from Pexels.

     

    Dr. Kieron O’Hara studies privacy in social media and calls this era “Intimacy 2.0,” Zoe Kleinman, “How Online Life Distorts Privacy Rights for All,” BBC News, January 8, 2010, a riff on the buzzword “Web 2.0.” One of O’Hara’s arguments is that legal issues of privacy are based on what is called a “reasonable standard.” According to O’Hara, the excessive sharing of personal information on the Internet by some constitutes an offense to the privacy of all, because it lowers the “reasonable standard” that can be legally enforced. In other words, as cultural tendencies toward privacy degrade on the Internet, it affects not only the privacy of those who choose to share their information but also the privacy of those who do not.

    Social media on the Internet has been around for a while, and it has always been of some interest to marketers. The ability to target advertising based on demographic information given willingly to the service—age, political preference, gender, and location—allows marketers to target advertising extremely efficiently. Increasingly, marketers are turning to social networks as a way to reach these consumers even creating a new category of employment called Social Media "Influencers" and "Content Creators" who monetize their fanbase on various sites and apps. Culturally, these developments indicate a mistrust among consumers of traditional marketing techniques; marketers must now use new and more personalized ways of reaching consumers if they are going to sell their products.

    Key Takeaways

    • Social networking sites often encompass many aspects of other social media. For example, Facebook began as a collection of profile pictures with very little information, but soon expanded to include photo albums (like Flickr) and micro-blogging (like Twitter). Other sites, like MySpace, emphasize connections to music and customizable pages, catering to a younger demographic. LinkedIn specifically caters to a professional demographic by allowing only certain kinds of information that is professionally relevant.
    • Blogs speed the flow of information around the Internet and provide a critical way for nonprofessionals with adequate time to investigate sources and news stories without the necessary platform of a well-known publication. On the other hand, they can lead to an “echo chamber” effect, where they simply repeat one another and add nothing new. Often, the analysis is wide-ranging, but it can also be shallow and lack the depth and knowledge of good critical journalism.
    • Facebook has been the leader in privacy-related controversy, with its seemingly constant issues with privacy settings. One of the critical things to keep in mind is that as more people become comfortable with more information out in the open, the “reasonable standard” of privacy is lowered. This affects even people who would rather keep more things private.
    • Social networking allows marketers to reach consumers directly and to know more about each specific consumer than ever before. Search algorithms allow marketers to place advertisements in areas that get the most traffic from targeted consumers. Whereas putting an ad on TV reaches all demographics, online advertisements can now be targeted specifically to different groups.

    Exercise

    1. Draw a Venn diagram of two social networking sites mentioned in this chapter. Sign up for both of them (if you’re not signed up already) and make a list of their features and their interfaces. How do they differ? How are they the same?
    2. Write a few sentences about how a marketer might use these tools to reach different demographics.

    9.3: Social Media and Web 2.0 is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Lisa Coleman, Thomas King, & William Turner.