A Networked World

I found Howard Rheingold’s (2012) chapter on networks in Net Smart to be interesting and extremely applicable to the discussion of social media’s use in the professional world. While it seems obvious that social media (especially sites like LinkedIn) has been beneficial in extending and utilizing networks to obtain professional opportunities, what Rheingold makes clear is that social media can also be very effective in use by companies and organizations to communicate with their users/buyers.

Although he does not specifically mention the use of social media by organizations, his discussion of “social capital” clearly can be applied to such uses. Social capital is the trust and reliability one creates (in this case online) through acts of goodwill, reciprocity, compassion, etc. This could be an extremely useful tool for companies and organizations to use to improve their image and create a “network” of satisfied customers. By using social media to quickly and compassionately respond to concerns or criticisms, organizations can build “social capital” with the public, which will directly correlate to a better image and more revenue.

This has been my argument for the use of social media by businesses for a while; my paper for Rhetorical Theory last semester focused on utilizing social media in just this way. One way in which social media could become more of a hindrance for companies, however, is the idea of user-generated content. Some people are advocating for  the ability of users to create their own documents “on behalf” of the company – much like a wiki. The danger of this was examined a bit in Rheingold’s discussion of Wikipedia; there is a distinct possibility and danger of “trolls” and those who would (either on purpose or unintentionally) post incorrect or damaging content. This possibility has poses a bigger risk when discussing the documents for an organization versus Wikipedia. The incorrect or misleading information could end up decreasing their social capital, as the reader may not know where the information came from.

There are probably many people out there who would still advocate for such content, but in my opinion, social media should be used by businesses to create a conversation with their users/customers, not to let the public create for them. By creating social capital for themselves by promptly responding to their consumer base and maintaining a positive ethos for themselves, businesses (especially big companies) can certainly benefit from utilizing social media.

Posted on October 28, 2016, in Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I think the term “social network” can be a very broad term not just the sites that you have to be a member of, such as LinkedIn or Facebook, because any site that we can engage conversation or comments is essentially a “social network.”

    I joined Facebook in 2008 before there were “pages,” “groups,” and advertising. We were just exploring how FB could be used as a marketing tool for businesses; the only thing available was company sponsored “Visa page” which I think was essentially just adding a company name and some location info.

    I agree that companies need to be active and engage conversation with their audience. It is now a viable tool for creating conversation and one of the best free marketing tools for businesses.

    What is your experience with the evolution of social media marketing for businesses? Have you seen changes with business/companies marketing themselves through LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc., over the past 5 years or so? I think companies should be active in any social network where their customers/consumers are…the more visibility the better.

    • From my research into this topic last semester, I gathered that while a great majority of businesses are utilizing social media for marketing purposes, not many are using it as a source of feedback from consumers or a way to engage in more of a “conversation” with the public. Marketing is certainly a valid use of social media, and definitely a profitable one, but I think that utilizing social media (of all kinds) to create a “relationship” with the public and encourage a “conversation” with consumers will help companies develop an ethos that will pay off in the long run.

      • I think this will continue to evolve with businesses as they learn the value of collective knowledge and connecting with consumers. I recently joined a dietary supplement company (Plexus Worldwide) who’s primary method of marketing is via independent contractors and use of social media. It’s not sold in stores, so there’s a continuous conversation between the company or their marketers via social media about the products.

  2. Can you provide me with some examples of those who “are advocating for the ability of users to create their own documents “on behalf” of the company – much like a wiki”? I’m more in alignment with your point of view of social media as customer service, but I’m intrigued to know if there are companies out there promoting this type of openness.

    FYI: more on social capital can be found in Putnam’s seminal work, Bowling Alone: http://bowlingalone.com

    • I don’t know of any businesses that are promoting the user generated content, I think the general consensus on that is in line with my opinions. But when writing my paper on this topic last semester, I came across a few sources (I used this article in my paper http://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2010/04/user-generated-content-embracing-social-networking-to-deliver-more-engaging-technical-documentation.php) that proposed this additional user-generated mode of interaction between businesses and consumers. I didn’t delve into that a whole lot though because my position was against that use and more as a feedback method.

    • Microsoft does this, to an extent. They don’t go so far as having users write the documentation, but many of their answers on their Q&A forums are answered by users. Microsoft employees moderate, ensuring that bad answers get deleted.

      Open source projects are sometimes documented by users, as well. When I was first out of undergrad, an oft-heard suggestion for job searching was to find an open source project to document to bolster my portfolio.

      A local STC member I spoke with once mentioned that his company involves users in their documentation. I don’t remember much more than that, and I wish I’d discussed it with him more in depth.

  3. I think that user-generated content is rather useful for a business. It may not help everyday customers with ratings and how to perform a task, but a business can learn from any feedback they can get. In any case, maybe users of a product might be using it a special way that the manufacturer didn’t intend to design for. The company can then learn what customers are using their product and create a specific one for this purpose.

    I can think that user-generated content, if curated properly, can be helpful for everyone. When I was in Dublin this summer at the Guinness Museum, I was encouraged to post a photo on Twitter with a certain tag and then if approved would show up on their massive digital wall. I thought it was cool. There was a similar thing at the Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas, NV. If done right and purposeful, user-generated content can live.

    I also see a new generation of user-generated content in the form of YouTube videos showing how to perform a task using a product. I tend to think that most people are not malicious, rather they solve a problem and want to share it with everyone else and others seek to find a solution that someone else has solved already.

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