Social Media Collaboration and Symbolic Work

This week’s articles evaluated and iterated social media’s convergence of collaborative, collective knowledge and symbolic analytic work for business and personal purposes.


Mobile Social Media Apps. Image courtesy of

Symbolic and Distribution

Stacey Pigg’s (2014) “Coordinating Constant Invention: Social Media’s Role in Distributed Work” analyzed how one freelance blogger used several social media sites to draft a blog and maintain relationships and conversations with other networks. The symbolic analyst, according to Reich (as cited in Pigg, 2014) “involves creative and critical thinking and managing information” from different sites/places. Writing these weekly blogs are an example of symbolic work according to Reich’s definition and if I shared this blog on other social media sites, it would be “distributed” to other audiences. However, distribution is also important to maintain conversations with other social media sites. For example, monitoring sites where one has posted or commented previously to check if others have continued the conversation. Often found on blog sites and LinkedIn, these conversations not only further conversation, but they also provide collective knowledge and can lead to collaboration. Pigg (2014) states, “Social media are common  places not only for creating ideas and texts but identify and professional trajectory are continually invented…” (p. 84). Specifically, where personal and professional interactions meet online but also contribute to symbolic work.

Collective Knowledge and Collaboration

Bernadette Longo (2014), Toni Ferro and Mark Zachary (2014) examined collective knowledge through the use of social media by following the theory of “one to many” shared ideas and experiences contribute to greater knowledge as a whole. Longo (2014) begins with “New technologies for making and sharing information in a variety of media have made it easy for users to tell their own stories and share their knowledge across media” (p. 22). This holds true for both crap detection and authentic collaboration. We’ve seen the string of comments after a blog post or hastily shared news article that piques our interest. However, collaborative spaces like LinkedIn and Facebook groups also contribute to specific knowledge-making goals for its members. This knowledge is then shared outside the group and invites further conversation and knowledge-making. Ferro and Zachary (2014) affirm,

“Understanding the ways in which knowledge workers are employing social software can help technical communicator scholars understand the changes taking place in knowledge work in general as well as in workplace communication” (p. 9).

Ferro and Zachary (2014) also propose, “What are we teaching students and what do they need to learn for post grad job positions?” and How can we help them (students) engage in critical thinking when using social media – as contributors, collaborators, and users? (p. 19). Longo (2014) attempts to answer these questions, but it’s not without similar regards for recognizing the shared learning experiences from both instructor and student. Longo (2014) says as educators, we create a culture for learning in listening to our students experience and knowledge of social media and our own experiences that contributes to knowledge as a whole (p. 31).

Posted on November 13, 2016, in Social Media, Teaching, Technology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I like your referencing of these 745 blog posts and how sharing them in different spaces (and to different groups) could continue conversations, although also push the author/audience to continue to check for responses. Online permanence is something usually glossed over sine many prefer the most up-to-date information, but your point about networking and collaborating suggests that if the content is good, it’s worth discussing further.

  2. I like your last point that educators are facilitating a learning culture by listening to students experience. I think of it as a give-and-take dynamic. More along the same lines that when we create something and set it out in the wild, we will see what kind of feedback we’ll get. There might be enormous, little, or no feedback (our experience). Without trying, we aren’t learning.

    Speaking of Ferro and Zachary’s proposal about what to teach students is tricky. I have a hard time thinking about that. We had a co-worker’s niece who is in college visit our office today to ask us about what we do in the Marketing & Communications Department. She’s considering a field in medical or marketing, but can’t decide where to go. During our discussion, I felt that there is so much that I do as a technical communicator and the many tiny facets and details about my position.

    Here’s the example I provided for her about writing clearly and simple for the web: 1.) people who read our website need to understand our information quickly; 2.) search engines will drop people off anywhere on our site based on keywords; 3.) web pages can be shared easily on social media; 4.) every page on our website is the homepage/landing page; 5.) we have thousands of potential marketable pages people visit every day.

    In essence, I made a neat point to a “future” technical communicator (I hope she becomes one, she seemed interested in it!) that producing content impacts other aspects that you might not think about. For me, I analyze the global aspect of anything I do at work because that the smallest things will have the most impact elsewhere and that future technical communicators should learn that kind of skill.

  3. The idea of collective knowledge and social collaboration has been discussed in earlier threads, but I think your post brings out an interesting new aspect in how technical communicators can leverage the knowledge of the community. How can we promote meaningful and helpful conversations that don’t devolve into the rants or randomness of blog comments?

    It reminded me of comments on online recipes and food blogs. I get a lot of recipes online, and I always check out the comments. I like to see other peoples’ experiences, find gotchas, or creative ways to tweak it. Many times, the comments on recipes have steered me in the right direction or prevented a common mistake. As tech comm, how can we not only create high-quality “recipes,” but also facilitate comments from users that could be helpful to others? My organization has taken a step in this direction by opening up our online documentation to comments/posts from employees in other roles. I wonder what a good model would be for taking this a step further so that the audience is also contributing, and what kind of guardrails and filtering would need to be in place.

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