So wrote one of the people interviewed in recent research undertaken into danah boyd terms 'micro-celebrities' and I had independently dubbed 'Accidental Social Media Stars'. Both terms encapsulate the fact that such producers of content are not professionals in the sense that they are remunerated for their social media work but have nonetheless gained large followings with great engagement. Are these people the same as others, or do they differ in terms of background, personality or training in some way?
The question that was being pursued was, simply: given that social media requires contributors, what makes someone contribute to the content on the site?
The question following from this was: Can marketers learn from this research, in particular, in terms of employing someone to run their social media effectively - with the emphasis on being effective, producing signal as opposed to the white noise of endless chatter.
I was particularly interested in Google Plus in that, like Twitter and YouTube but unlike Facebook, this social network site does not require two-way reciprocity between people, so anyone can follow anyone else and access anything they publish publicly. It was also a relative newcomer to the social media scene.
If G+ functions like Twitter, then we could expect a few with large followings, a classic longtail graph with a very few with very many followers.
That kind of graph is suggested by this research:
In a recent study by Yahoo Research, 50 percent of the most influential tweets consumed are reportedly generated from just 20,000 elite users — though these posts do not always originate from these 20k accounts. The remaining Twitter users merely retweet or rebroadcast the highly influential content. Media presents the bulk of the information, where celebrities are the most followed [...]
These supposed 20K elite users only represent 0.05% of the actual Twitter population, though dominate the information that most of us on Twitter regurgitate to others on the platform (Macale, 2011).
But how do we classify contributors and contributions?
Within any social network site, we need people to write and share images or videos. Otherwise, there would be no point to being connected. As a result, the term "social media" has gradually replaced the concept of the social network site, precisely because the term does in fact capture the fact that content, in the form of text or images or moving images or a combination thereof, is indeed shared, or, in effect, published on an SNS.
SNSs have varied significantly (though as time elapses, the best practises of one are increasingly being copied - Facebook for instance initially created a 'walled garden' in which all content remained within it and was not searchable, but this has changed), in particular, Google Plus, Twitter, and YouTube does not , G+, for instance, like Twitter, and unlike Facebook or LinkedIn, Like Facebook, G+ requests that the user is not anonymous, although this is hard to police.
However, social media, particularly in a social network site (SNS) such as Facebook, which is ostensibly a network of family and 'friends', and which therefore differs from an SNS such as Twitter or Google Plus, which facilitate interaction and conversations between strangers, the concept of the "Invisible Audience" becomes important.
The question most marketers and individuals would like to know is: what is the size of my actual audience, as opposed to the perceived size of my audience?
In Quantifying the Invisible Audience in Facebook Networks Michael S. Bernstein, Eytan Bakshy, Moira Burke and Brian Karrer were able to gauge the actual audience of a Facebook post as opposed to the imagined audience.
One of the key findings of their research is simply that most people underestimate the size of their audience by a factor of four, though it is hard to predict audience size from factors such as likes, comments and re-shares.
A key writer on the concept of the Invisible Audience is danah boyd, and it is noted that often your imaginary audience is a 'nightmare audience' of bosses, parents, teachers.
The concept of the invisible audience is one I wrote about in 2011 in relation to Facebook, in large part determined by the fact that, as someone who has a heterogenous friend set, the kind of 'context collapse' I had experienced was inimical to my enjoyment of Facebook; furthermore, this is exacerbated by the 'spiral of silence' which refers to the fact that people tend to remain silent when they feel their views are in opposition to the majority view.
Of course, this begs the question as to what, precisely, the majority is - is our perception of a majority simply that of a vocal minority which effectively drowns out all lesser voices?
'Context collapse' is what danah boyd writes about, when information crosses boundaries.
|WTF Welcome to Facebook
What Marwick and boyd note is that context collapse "and may limit personal discourse on Twitter, since the lowest-common-denominator philosophy of sharing limits users to topics that are safe for all possible readers” (Marwick and boyd, 2010, page 10).
In an article published in the Saturday Star, before Google Plus was even launched, I wrote about my own experience of context collapse within Facebook:
In part, I noted that:
"Facebook makes evident Jane Austen’s wry observation that we find ourselves “surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies”. And it is not only that we are spied upon, we eagerly volunteer ourselves to be the spies, or as Facebook marketing speak renders it, “spectators” into others’ lives"
For the whole story, click on Facebook perils give thought for pause first published in the Saturday Star in April 2011.
I shall be updating soon with a more in-depth look at the concept of Context Collapse and different Imagined Audiences.