Thesis Proposal

18May10

Abstract: This project will examine the social media revolution that is taking place.  It will study three subject areas very closely to evaluate the changes and effects social media is creating.  They include: interpersonal communication, business and marketing, and journalism.  A combination of both primary and secondary research will be used to evaluate how social media has already changed these areas of everyday life and also the direction they may be going as a direct result of social media.  The project will conclude how social media is changing society, particularly the way people communicate, do business, and get news.

Description: I will attempt to investigate the societal transformation brought on by new technologies, particularly social media and digital technology.  Specifically, I will study three major topics that are undergoing significant changes at the height of the digital age.  I will examine how each of these areas is changing with the advent of Media 2.0, as the social web is being called, and at what rate certain changes are taking place.

The first area I will detail is how interpersonal communication is changing.  I will examine how it has changed since the advent of the worldwide web (using secondary research) and further investigate how it is changing today with the advent of social media (using a combination of primary and secondary research).  Secondly, I will look at the effects social media is bringing to the business world, particularly marketing, advertising, and public relations.  Again, I will use a combination of both secondary and primary research.  Finally, I will also look at how journalism is undergoing one of its largest transformations with the rise of social media.  Some sources point to a “death” of journalism while others say the news has never been more accurate. I will utilize sources containing both opinions, and additionally, examine how digital readers are changing journalism and the way users are accustomed to reading the news.

I will combine all findings into one conclusion that summarizes the effects this digital age is having on society and its individuals.  If my research allows, I will predict what these changes mean for our culture and the future if social media continues to accelerate at its current pace.  With these components, I intend to exhaustively answer the question: How is social media changing modern society, particularly the way people communicate, do business, and get news?

Rationale: The purpose of this project is to explore a new technology that has worked its way into the daily lives of people, in both work and leisure.  The presence of social media is undeniable and its transition to being a normal method of communication has occurred so drastically.  For this reason, as well as the fact that it is such a new concept, there is little research that has been conducted on the topic.  Preliminary research has revealed several observations, leading me to conclude that in some opinions, the landscape of interpersonal communication, business, and journalism are all changing.  However, very little extensive research has been done and many conclusions about the future of our media world are only loosely based on professional research.

Historically, media has referred to the newspaper, and in recent years, it has included television, film, and only very recently, the web.  Today, a new form of media has been created and introduced with almost immediate reception.  Social media has become more instantly viral than any other major media form. It has broadened its reach from being a part of the individual’s social scene to becoming practically a necessity in the business world.  The instantaneous takeoff of social media, the quick dissemination, and its relevance in the business world make it worthy of investigation and make it crucial to evaluating the effects it has had on society.

As a public relations practitioner, I have studied social media from the business level.  As a recent college graduate, I have practiced social media on an individual level.  By coming at this new media form from both angles, I was able to enhance my knowledge on the subject and also became interested in exploring it.  I’ve done past research to find current discussions about this media phenomenon, including its history, uses, and effects.  As a professional in the communications field, I constantly look for trends and stay up-to-date with new sites and technologies.

I plan to utilize my knowledge and previous research on the subject and combine it with further research and investigation into the world of social media.  Over a span of six months, I plan to examine the mentioned subtopics and draw conclusions about the effects social media has had since its creation and the effects that are still taking place today.  My research will be among a small amount of literature regarding this subject, as it is a very new topic being analyzed.

Review of Literature:

Public Relations and Marketing: Social media has become a revolutionary phenomenon in itself, but it is also transforming other aspects of the media. Social media has made an impact on the public relations and marketing industries, advertising, and journalism, causing professionals to rethink their marketing strategies and work this new form into their company’s current business plans.

Apart from the obvious advantage of being low-cost, Vocus also explains the increased visibility social media offers businesses.  Social media attracts the attention of users who are already on the web.  By having an online presence, businesses can find it easier to reach this massive audience already surfing the web and companies put their name out in the spectrum in a way that is much more visible than in traditional media.  Additionally, as consumer trust in advertising is continually declining, word-of-mouth is considered the best source of information on new products, according to 92% of consumers (Vocus).

In addition, interactivity is the key benefit to the web that marketing and PR have taken hold of.  If a company blogs or tweets or posts about their new product, users can respond with “retweets” or comments.  Social media implements this business-consumer communication that never existed before (Vocus).

Social media has also benefited a company’s ability to monitor its press.  Search engine optimization is now a crucial part of doing business – for both PR and marketing professionals.  Entering a search term in Google and having your company be in the top ten hits is a marketing tool that is critical for obvious reasons.  While monitoring news has always been a crucial part of the PR industry, it no longer takes days to receive such feedback.  Regulation of what consumers are searching, clicking, and saying is virtually instant (Vocus).

These three benefits – visibility, interactivity, and monitoring – are named as the most important advantages to social media by Vocus.  While its statistics are cited, the advice given is based off of unclear sources.  Because Vocus is a company with public relations software products to sell, its impartiality in research and advice is questionable.

According to Greenfield, PR and interactive marketing are also becoming less distinct from one another with the advancement of social media.  PR and interactive marketing “speak the same language and share common goals.”  They often use the same tools and use social media in similar ways (Greenfield, 2009).  Where there was once a separation between these two industries, there is now a continuously blurring line.  Marketing spoke directly to customers while PR used journalists as an intermediary.  Social media is clearing these distinctions.  Both have taken on a new attitude of openness to the changing communication techniques molded by the evolution of new technologies.

Again, this article is a compilation of the author’s personal experiences with some input from other professionals.  It is not formal research nor does it reference credible sources.  It is, however, one of few sources on the topic of the convergence of marketing and PR through new technologies and an example of the changes social media is bringing to the business world.

Advertising: Advertisers are also tapping into the personalization that social media can bring to an audience. Twitter especially has transformed advertising by providing an outlet for commercial messages to be sent to personal contacts.  Companies like M&M Mars, Amazon, Charter Communications, and the Make a Wish Foundation have issued paychecks to popular micro-bloggers who mention their products in their posts.  John Chow, a Canadian blogger, gets paid up to $3,000 in one month for sending Tweets about new merchandise.  Celebrities like Kim Kardashian can get paid 5 digits to endorse products in their posts.  Critics say such nontraditional advertising is an unfortunate change, and that the ads “commercialize authentic dialogue and undermine people’s credibility” (Stone, 2009). 

Stone uses concrete facts and examples to support his article.  But a topic worthy of addressing goes beyond the scope of this article.  How these forms of payment will affect the advertising industry as a whole in future years needs to be addressed.  To offer a reasonable prediction, we must look at where money in the advertising industry was spent years ago and how it has changed each year until now.

Journalism: As printed newspapers are rumored to be on brink of extinction, social media is coming into the picture as not only a new way to get news, but the way to get news.  Not only are people substituting their Yahoo or iGoogle newsfeed for the morning paper, but they are turning to the stories friends are sharing via Twitter and Facebook.  If someone sees an interesting story, they can share it on their personal page and pass it along.  It’s easy to trust the source of this content, because they’re already your friends – unlike those editors at The New York Times whom you’ve never met in person (Gordhamer, 2009).

Additionally, the debate continues over whether or not a blogger can be considered a journalist.  With no gatekeeper, bloggers can post any story without worrying about the ethical and professional standards of a traditional journalist.  Instead, they rely on fellow bloggers to judge the credibility of the content.  One survey revealed that three-quarters of respondents felt blogs were a credible source of information.  Despite the obvious risk of bias and opinion, this “citizen-journalism” provides more in-depth analysis of current issues.  Whether or not the blogs are a form of journalism is an ongoing debate, but their increasing popularity is unquestionable (Johnson & Kaye, 2004).

Johnson and Kaye do credible, primary research to gauge opinions on the role of citizen-journalism in our culture.  It is important to note the popularity of this type of social media to predict its permanence in our culture.  The diversity of those surveyed and their methodology for measuring attitudes appears credible.  Perhaps this type of research should be expanded to other areas of the social web and then repeated annually to measure change.

The Future: A scarcely studied topic aims to discover what the future holds as a result of social media’s overwhelming presence.  Predictions can be made for how businesses and individuals will change their daily lives as a result of these sites, but because the topic is so new, little research has been done to offer concrete hypotheses about the future of our media culture.   

If, like McLuhan said, the “content of a medium is an older medium,” then perhaps we should be taking his aphorisms a little more literally (McLuhan, 1967).

Social media is a broad term used for websites that involve information exchange, whether it is text, videos, pictures, or other websites.   Although difficult to define, social media is taking over the internet and statistics show the usage of social media sites is still increasing.  Individuals have indulged in the idea of having personalized accounts where they can share ideas and media that they like.  Businesses have jumped at the chance to have direct communication with potential customers through these sites.  But where will this take us?

Years ago, USA Today was criticized for becoming the “McPaper” and dumbing down news.  With messages that must be under 140 characters and flashy videography contributing to our attention-deficient public, will social media contribute to the dumbing down of our news even further?  Or will the unavoidable need for media literacy make the public more intelligent and technologically-savvy?
Our current literature fails to answer these questions, as well as provide many concrete numbers and statistics.  Surveys are just beginning to emerge to measure usage, but the area of industry trends, changes over time, and comparison of types of social media are all lacking.

As printed newspapers are rumored to be on brink of extinction, social media is coming into the picture as not only a new way to get news, but the way to get news.  Not only are people substituting their Yahoo or iGoogle newsfeed for the morning paper, but they are turning to the stories friends are sharing via Twitter and Facebook.  If someone sees an interesting story, they can share it on their personal page and pass it along.  It’s easy to trust the source of this content, because they’re already your friends – unlike those editors at The New York Times whom you’ve never met in person (Gordhamer, 2009).

Additionally, the debate continues over whether or not a blogger can be considered a journalist.  With no gatekeeper, bloggers can post any story without worrying about the ethical and professional standards of a traditional journalist.  Instead, they rely on fellow bloggers to judge the credibility of the content.  One survey revealed that three-quarters of respondents felt blogs were a credible source of information.  Despite the obvious risk of bias and opinion, this “citizen-journalism” provides more in-depth analysis of current issues.  Whether or not the blogs are a form of journalism is an ongoing debate, but their increasing popularity is unquestionable (Johnson, & Kaye, 2004).

Conclusion: Because social media is such “new media,” there is little research and many of the sources mentioned use first-hand accounts.  Advice offered may be based on individual experiences or even speculation.  There are very few studies and analyses that contribute to the topic of social media and its relatively new place in our culture.  With the advent of new media, change is inevitable and few predictions have been made based on existing changes in the cyber sphere. 

The social media trend is growing and has become a staple in the current generation of media users.  It is important, then, to study its creation, impact, and effects as it continues to disseminate through the web and into our daily lives.

Methodology: First, I plan to first do extensive preliminary research. In addition to the sources cited in this proposal, I will find sources regarding social media and its initial takeoff, as well as the effects it has had so far on society.  In these sources, I will pay attention particularly to mentions of interpersonal communication, business and marketing, and journalism.  Any quantitative data will be used as starting points for data I will gather later.  A starting point for such data is that compiled by Erik Qualman who lists many statistics (and cited sources) regarding social media and the impact it has on, what he calls, an “industrial revolution.”  His extensive statistics were compiled into a video in 2009 and it since then, a new video has been released with updated statistics (Qualman, 2010).  (This emphasized the quick and constant escalation of social media.)

Also, I plan to do research by interviewing professionals like Erik Qualman.  In addition to compiling and creating a video on social media impact, Qualman is a digital marketing professor and author of “Socialnomics,” a blog and now best-selling book about the latest trends in social media.  Other professionals I plan to interview and obtain opinions from are CEOs who felt the need (or didn’t feel the need) to incorporate social media into their current marketing strategies.  I will also ask individuals about their use of internal social media, like employee microblogging sites such as Yammer.

I also plan to do primary research based on surveys and my own gauge of social media trends.  To do this, I will setup a survey (most likely on the online and easy-to-use survey site Qualtrics) to be distributed at the start of my research.  This survey, to be distributed to at least 150 web users, will measure social media usage and opinions on different social media sites.  The survey will record what purposes each respondent is using social media for and how this has changed over the course of the last five years (based on the user’s own assessment).

A similar survey will then be given towards the end of the project, which will evaluate the changes over a six-month period.  This will show the rapidity at which social media is expanding and/or changing and the ways in which it is being utilized.   Both surveys will also attempt to measure the effects that social media has had on the user.  A comparison will attempt to be made from the first survey to the second, although in such a short time period it may be hard to measure.

Additionally, I plan to use social media in the evaluation of social media.  In addition to measuring change on my own social networking sites over this time period, I will create several new ones and measure the pace at which it gains a following.  I will pay attention to audience and feedback, comparing it with the audience I assess with my survey and the data I find in my secondary research.

Limitations for this project could include unavailability of data since few experiments have been done on such a new technology.  Additionally, contacting those who have done research or are involved with social media may be difficult (eg. Erik Qualman).  In addition, audience assessment of themselves often proves difficult in surveys since users like to think they are not affected by the media.  To evaluate change and to assess the changes social media has on users, it may be difficult to look beyond their own self-assessment.


Research Plan

The first piece of research I will do is the background research.  I hope to do this before the actual start date of my project, which I estimate to be around January 2012.  Using this research and any prior knowledge, I hope to create the initial survey to be released in the first week of my project timeline.  From here, I will do additional research and organize the data I collect from the survey.  I will then be able to make certain conclusions about current social media usage and effects and predictions about future usage and effects.  I will setup Google Alerts on social media to be updated of any news pertaining to the subject.

After the initial research is done, I will setup the new social media sites (blog, MySpace) I plan to assess.  I will create a spreadsheet to record followers, feedback, and audience and record any changes on these sites or my current social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN, Plaxo, YouTube) throughout the six-month period.  For this I could also use Google Analytics to find number of views, location of users, and entry/exit pages.  I will continuously (at least weekly) add content to the social media sites to keep new information available and entice users to be repeat visitors.

At the end of the six-month period (estimated June 2012) I will give the survey respondents another survey similar to the first one.  This will be used to evaluate changes in usage, opinions, and effects.  Data will be collected and compared to the first survey results.  This will all be compiled into a final conclusion about my findings and the implications it has on society.

Table of Contents

  1. I.     Introduction
    1. Hypothesis
  2. II.     Interpersonal Communication
    1. Preliminary Research
    2. Survey Responses
      1. i.     Predictions
  3. III.     Business/Marketing
    1. Preliminary Research
    2. Business Examples/Interviews
      1. i.     Predictions
  4. IV.     Journalism
    1. Preliminary Research
    2. News Examples/Interviews
      1. i.     Predictions
  5. V.     Conclusions
  6. VI.     Sources


Mediagraphy

  1. (n.d.). Optimizing your public relations with social media. Vocus Whitepaper, Retrieved from http://www.vocus.com/wp/socialmediawp.pdf
  2. Gordhamer, S. (2009, October 16). 5 ways social media is changing our daily lives. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2009/10/16/social-media-changing-lives/
  3. Greenfeld, D. (2009, September 02). Social media is pushing pr and interactive marketing to align. Social Media Today, Retrieved from http://www.socialmediatoday.com/SMC/pages/print/posts/?bid=05f2e461-a0b3-4f6d-b985-4c1e24a48aea&mode=Full
  4. Johnson, T. J. and Kaye, B. K. (2004). Wag the blog: How reliance on traditional media and the internet influence perceptions of weblogs among blog users. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly.
  5. McLuhan, M. (1967). The Medium is the massage. UK: Bantam Books.
  6. Shaw, F. (2007, February 16). What is Social media?. Retrieved from http://scobleizer.com/2007/02/16/what-is-social-media/
  7. Stone, Brad. (2009). A Friend’s tweet could be an ad. New York Times, Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/22/business/22ping.html?_r=2&partner=rss&emc=rss
  8. Qualman, Eric. (2010, May 5). Socialnomics. Retrieved from http://socialnomics.net/
  9. Qualman, Erik. (Producer). (2010). Social media revolution 2. [Web]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFZ0z5Fm-Ng&feature=channel
Advertisements


No Responses Yet to “Thesis Proposal”

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: