I read the article cited here:
Williams, F., Strover, S. and Grant, A. E. (1994). Social aspects of new media technologies. In J. Bryant J. & D. Zillmann (Eds.), Media effects: Advances in theory and research (pp. 463-482). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
I have substituted their phrase “new media” for “social media”.
This article provides an overview of three main and two ancillary theories used by social scientists to study individuals, groups, organizations and systems in their adoption of and interaction with social media.
The first of these we encountered in an earlier article from Decision Sciences, “Determining Uses and Gratifications for the Internet.” The uses & gratifications (U&G) methodology reports that audiences can derive gratification from:
1. The actual content of the media being studied (e.g. – content on the Internet)
2. The process of using the media (e.g. – the process of surfing or finding content on the Internet)
3. The social circumstances of media use (e.g. – adding to a string of comments about a picture on a friend’s FaceBook page)
As I mentioned in my earlier post, the value of the convergence of the gratifications is high. I consider Amazon one of the single best examples. The content is, broadly, “stuff you want to buy.” Their search and filter functionalities make the process for research, discovery, and comparison very satisfying. The social tools, which include user reviews, comments, ratings and user forums, key into the product community.
The next method mentioned is critical mass. This is the number of individuals who must be involved in a social movement before it must ‘explode’ into being. I also tend to think of this as the tipping point (made popular by Malcolm Gladwell in his book of the same name).
In interactive communications and their user communities, there is a tipping point at work. Before this, adoption of these technologies are at risk of languishing, but afterwards the eventuality of the adoption by the entire community is assured. Other related factors include the resources of the individual and the community (the fewer resources – time, money, skills – required to engage in using a technology, the greater the likelihood of achieving the critical mass leading to adoption). Within a community, the greater heterogeneity of resources, as well as adoption by ‘high resource’ individuals, will increase the likelihood of achieving critical mass. An example would be Twitter. Despite only starting in March of 2006, the community adoption pushing it to the tipping point was along a normal adoption curve, and then it was used for broader and larger events, messaging and even the presidential campaign of 2008, pushing it over.
The next theory is the diffusion of innovations. This describes a process bywhich ideas are communicated through various channels, over time, among people who belong to a given social system. The areas of focus include:
- Communications channels
- Stages of awareness and decision making
- Criteria for decisions
- Characteristics of potential adopters
- Likely advantages of the adoption
- Complexity of what is being adopted
- Costs (relative & monetary)
- Who, if anyone, is promoting the adoption
The process is summarized in the article in four steps (I include a Twitter example):
- Knowledge – An individual or group gains awareness of something new. No opinion as to the value of this idea is yet formed. (e.g. – I read about Twitter on a blog post.)
- Persuasion – Potential adopters make attitudinal evaluations of the idea. These are not just evaluative opinions but also personally associated with the individual or group. (e.g. – How many friends are using Twitter? Will I be considered more tech-savvy by using Twitter?)
- Decision – The idea is either accepted or rejected. (e.g. – I sign up for a Twitter account and maybe download a tool like Twitterlicious or TweetDeck to use.)
- Confirmation – This is an evaluation of the decision that was made and its consequences. (e.g. – I start talking Twitter up with my colleagues. I mention it on my blog. I “fish” for feedback from people I admire.)
The two ancillary theories mentioned are:
Media system dependency theory – This suggests that in order to understand media-related phenomena, it is important to analyze dependency relationships within and across levels of analysis. The power of media is a function of the dependencies of individuals, groups, organizations and systems on the scarce information resources controlled by the media. Therefore, media content is a product of a variety of dependency relationships operating at multiple levels of analysis. One example would be YouTube. There are numerous systemic dependencies that have brought this service to its level of usage and popularity, including the growing availability of broadband, the lowering cost of video equipment, more user-friendly video editing tools, the ubiquity of video opportunities (news events, individuals with messages, vanity, etc.) and so on.
Social Information Processing Theory – This suggests that, rather than engage in an objective, rational process in which new media are evaluated based on their characteristics, people engage in a process in which the evaluations of others is crucial in choosing among competing media. Therefore, what social norms are in my workplace and circle of friends, along with the opinions of the groups I am a part of or wish to be a part of, are all important in my adoption of a technology.
My presentation for the discussion may be found here. Discussion questions will be presented Tuesday.
This article provides a solid overview of some of the primary theories used by social scientists when addressing social media or any new technology. The tools mentioned in my earlier post are complmented by these theories.