Welcome to the the 11th course lecture for COM/SOC 375: the Social Networks class of the University of Maine at Augusta. Before you started this course and you heard the phrase “social network,” did your mind jump to thoughts of Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest? Social networks exist offline, to be sure, but in a very short amount of time a very large number of people have become users of online social networks. These networks track your behavior patterns; how can you in turn learn to track patterns of the networks you use? Follow the path set out in this week’s and next week’s work and you’ll be on your way.
In this lecture, we’ll consider the following subjects in a combination of text, audio, images and video (be sure to review them all):
- What is Social Media? How did online networks get started?
- Professional Social Media and the Boundary between Communication and Commodification
- Redeeming Relations: Should You Sell Your Friends?
- Collecting Twitter Network Data with NodeXL
To prepare for this lecture you should first read Chapter 1 of Analyzing Social Media Networks with NodeXL by Derek L. Hansen, Ben Shneiderman and Marc A. Smith. Also read “Do Not Sell Your Friends,” Chapter 7 in Douglas Rushkoff’s Program Or Be Programmed. This reading is available to officially registered students on Blackboard. Log on this course’s Blackboard page and look for the “Rushkoff” link on the left-hand side of the main page.
What is Social Media? How did Social Media Get Started?
Before the advent of modern communications technologies, traditional interpersonal interaction involved reciprocal (back-and forth) and face-to-face discussion. Because that interaction was direct, we refer to it as “unmediated.” In contrast, traditional forms of mass media are indirect, mediated, non-reciprocal. Mass media such as books, radio, television and film operate in a unidirectional sense: creators share work with an audience that is not expected to respond. Mass media also prevents direct content between a broadcaster and his or her audience; there is almost always a screen, a speaker or a page between them. Social media offers a different combination of features than either in-person contact or mass media. In forms such as blogs, wikis, discussion boards, Facebook and Twitter, social media incorporates two-way interaction and group formation, supported by digital technology.
The following video was shot in the fall of 2012, and so the trends it describes are a bit dated. Nevertheless, the overall patterns remain relevant for this fall 2015 course. In the video, we start off by considering the original, literal “on line” form of social media, along with the offline inspiration for Pinterest. To be “on line” now means something rather different than it did even a decade ago in technological terms, but our patterns of human behavior remain strikingly similar despite those changes.
Professional Social Media and the Boundary between Communication and Commodification
In the following video, I interview Shannon Kinney, the founder and General Manager of the Maine social media firm Dream Local Digital. The subject: the management of person-to-person and person-to-brand social relations online for instrumental purposes. After a consideration of the various ways that a social media firm can help businesspeople tell a story successfully, Kinney discusses the thorny question of boundaries between personal relations and profitable interactions:
In Program or Be Programmed, Douglas Rushkoff declares that in social media “the content is not the message, the contact is.” But many businesses and organizations have a strong desire to spread content through contact. As you watch this interview with Tracy O’Clair of Central Maine networking firm TOC Media, consider whether the use of social media for the accomplishment of business goals should from the use of social media for the maintenance of emotional ties. If communication can be commodified, why not blur the line between the two?
Redeeming Relations: Should You Sell Your Friends?
“Friendships, both digital and incarnate, do create value. But this doesn’t mean the people in our lives can be understood as commodities to be collected and counted.” — Douglas Rushkoff, Program or Be Programmed.
Dream Local helps corporations, small businesses and non-profits to be more responsive and effective communicators, with the idea that a relationship established will lead to purchases or further recommendations between friends down the line. But there is a different model of social media marketing pursued by a different class of agencies. As papers by Bhatt and Guo describe, the combination of messages from a seller and endorsements by friends can significantly increase the likelihood of a sale.
This finding isn’t merely academic. The recommendation of these and similar recent studies has been implemented by social media giant Facebook. If you are a Facebook user, did you notice a new set of advertisements appearing last year, advertisements that tell you a Facebook friend of yours “likes” WalMart or Amazon.com or McDonald’s or some other corporate brand? These advertisements were once called “Sponsored Stories,” and businesses are purchasing them left and right. When you “like” a business, the arrangement doesn’t make businesses wait for you to independently tell your friends how and why you like that business. When businesses pay for the “Sponsored Stories” service, Facebook tells your friends what businesses you like on the businesses’ behalf.
According to Devon Glenn of Social Media Times and Craig Robinson of Media Funnel, Facebook users are significantly more likely to click on these advertisements featuring your name in endorsement than they are to click on the old-style advertisements that didn’t have your name associated with them. Rushkoff’s protest aside, users of Facebook have indeed become “commodities to be collected and counted.” Mashable reported that as of April 2014, Facebook’s Sponsored Stories program was shut down — but not because the service didn’t work. To the contrary, the feature will be included now as a part of all paid advertising on Facebook. Your likes will be sold more often in the months to come.
With the conversion of social connections into cash money (popularly called “monetization” in marketing circles), why should you be left out? What if a corporation could buy your recommendation of a product? Would it want to buy a recommendation from you? You’ve already seen a video from Statusboom, a start-up company that has recently gone belly-up but that built its profit model off of rewarding “influencers” (remember Bhatt) who agree to promote products and services to their Facebook friends and Twitter followers:
But Statusboom is not alone. Although the similar service Klout has recently hidden the algorithm to determine what sort of people it considers to be “influencers,” a glimpse at an archived presentation by Klout leaders shows that Klout rewards social media users with modified measures of high degree…
and eigenvector centrality…
… with “perks: rewards given to you from brands in recognition of your influence.”
Similar monetary and non-monetary rewards are offered by BubblesOut, Sponsored Reviews, PayPerPost and Social Influencers to help create waves of activated “influencers,” friends willing to tell friends they like a product if they’re compensated for it.
In this week’s in-lecture discussion, I’d like you to participate in the Padlet below (or the comments section at the end of this lecture if Padlet won’t work for you). In your participation, consider how social media connections are being measured and managed to maximize sales. What role do you think businesses and people should play when interacting via social media? What interactions do you consider to be appropriate or inappropriate? Is Rushkoff right on target or behind the times? Share your thoughts, justify those thoughts — and respond thoughtfully to the contributions of others!
Collecting Twitter Network Data with NodeXL
As parties with monetary interest in online network connections learn more and more about how to track influence online, everyday people like you and I are not entirely out of the game. Non-profit open source software like NodeXL can be used by anyone with a computer to track communication on various social networking webpages. In this week’s homework, I want you to familiarize yourself with NodeXL’s Twitter search tool. Twitter is a “microblogging” web page on which people share messages containing no more than 140 characters of text — but in few words, Twitter users share a surprising amount of information, including links to sources and references to one another that create directional network ties. Hashtags gather individual tweets into subject-oriented categories of conversation. This week, I’m asking you to gather network data from the #MEPolitics hashtag on Twitter and visualize the results. Next week, I’ll be asking you to strike out on your own and look at a hashtag of your own choosing, regarding a subject of interest to you.
Before you get started on this exercise, you need to follow two simple, quick, but crucial steps:
1) Create a Twitter account and link it to NodeXL.
2) Update the version of NodeXL on your computer (or a school computer) to the most recent version.
The following video shows you how:
Once you take care of those steps, you should be ready to dive in to this week’s homework:
Homework #7, due by 11:59 pm Eastern time on Sunday, November 15:
- In this homework assignment, you will characterize a social network on Twitter using the NodeXL Twitter Import feature. To use this feature, you must first sign up for an account at Twitter.com. You are not required to actually use the Twitter service yourself in order to carry out this research; you only have to sign up for an account. You may do this using any e-mail address; Twitter accounts are free of charge.
- Open NodeXL, be sure that you have the NodeXL tab selected on top, and select Import->From Twitter Search Network…
- The first time you use NodeXL Twitter search, a pop-up window should appear. In order to carry out Twitter searches, you must authorize NodeXL to be used by your Twitter account. Select the option in the pop-up window that reads “I have a Twitter account, but I have not yet authorized NodeXL to use my account to import Twitter networks. Take me to Twitter’s authorization page.” After you authorize NodeXL, you’ll be given a verifying number to enter back within the NodeXL program.
- Now, back in the Twitter Search import window, make sure the option “Limit to ____ Tweets” is set to 500. Check the box that reads “Expand URLs in Tweets.” “Tweets” is just another word for posts on Twitter.
- Enter “#mepolitics” (without quotes) in the top-most box, right above the words “How to use advanced search operators.” Then click “OK” to start collecting tweets.
- Visualize the network as you deem fit to most suitable express the patterns you find in how people are talking about Maine politics over Twitter. Copy and paste the resulting sociogram into a Microsoft Word document.
- Click the “Graph Metrics” option at the top ribbon of NodeXL and, following the examples of your Hansen text, describe the network using appropriate network measurements. Also be sure to look through the actual text of the “Tweets” that result to get an idea what posters are talking about. In the same Microsoft Word document, report who is talking in what social circles using the #mepolitics hashtag.
- Post a word processing document containing the above information to the appropriate Blackboard section labeled “Homework #7.”
I have verified that these steps will work with both NodeXL Pro and NodeXL Basic, so you don’t need to worry too much about which version you have installed.
As you may have this week and the the last, I’m beginning to take the “training wheels” off by not showing you step-by-step how to complete each homework assignment. The tools to complete your work have been learned in the weeks before; I urge you to think carefully about how to use those skills to complete our latest homework! Of course, should you get stuck or have any questions, please get in touch by e-mail or phone and I’ll be glad to help you troubleshoot. I look forward to seeing what you can do.
You’ll be playing this week with Twitter, just a bit, to start to see what kind of network connections are embedded in it. Next week, you’ll learn more about Twitter and how to work with the large amount of public data it provides. This week’s work is just a start.
References in Videos
Cellan-Jones, Rory. 2011. “Secret History of Social Networking.” Podcast available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/shsn
Hansen, Derek L., Ben Shneiderman and Marc A. Smith. 2011. Analyzing Social Media Networks with NodeXL. Burlington, MA: Morgan Kaufmann.
Pew Internet & American Life Project. 2012. “Usage Over Time Data.” Excel spreadsheet available at http://pewinternet.org/Trend-Data-(Adults)/Usage-Over-Time.aspx