For the next three days I will be blogging from the Lancaster University Twitter and Microblogging Conference, where Clare Llewellyn (UoE Informatics) and I will be presenting our work on analysing #OR2012 tweets tomorrow.
Introduction to Twitter and Microblogging: Political, Professional and Personal Practices – Julia Gillen and Johnny Unger
Julia is introducing the conference by outlining the interest in this topic at Lancaster. Greg Myers work on blogs and wikis and Nathan Jurgenson’s work on digital dualism, and Julia’s interest is in political discourses. For Julia some of the motivation for today was attending AAAI on weblogs and social media in Dublin in June. In some ways a super experience, cross-discplinary and people from Twitter there. Went to each o fthe Twitter sessions and listened to what they said. Some real overlap with University of Maryland – academics embedded in Twitter. Lots of people at the conference analysing large data sets in social media, and journalists there using social media. But I was uneasy at the event. Why were the Twitter, LinkedIn, IBM poeple there? To analyse the data for profit. Academics had some research interests there. Lots of the research was linguistics research and corpus linguistics but those presenting never used the terms. So there was a need to really examine Twitter from different perspectives, from different linguistics perspectives, real world problems and issues. There are many motivations, academic and otherwise, and a really good mix over the next few days.
Johnny Unger is now giving a brief practical overview of the conference and the Lanyrd site which acts as the authoritative programme. He is also introducing this afternoon’s Twitter Q&A with Nathan Jurgenson who will be joining the room from Twitter and video feed and suggesting we read two of Nathan’s papers ahead of that:
- “When Atoms Meet Bits: Social Media, the Mobile Web and Augmented Revolution” in Future Internet: http://www.mdpi.com/1999-5903/4/…
- “The IRL Fetish” essay in The New Inquiry: http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/…
Plenary: Online freedom and repressive law: The paradox of digital journalism by Lee Salter, University of West of England
Lee’s research loooks at interactions between new media and traditional media. Julia came to know his work through the book he co-authored with Janet Jones, Digital Journalism (Jones & Salter 2011). Lee is also in town as his film is playing in Lancaster tonight.
I wanted to start by pointing to issues we may be talking about at the rest of the conference. My issue in social media is both how it relates to traditional media but also around the paradoxes social media can lead to. I want to focus on some of those issues through some of the more controversial areas where social media has been used.
So as we know Twitter is lots of different things to different people, it’s an integral part of modern journalistic toolkit, a ranting space, a means of sharing links and photos, and it’s a campaign and protesting tool – which I’m particularly interested in, and those discourses around this.
In the book I don’t go for hyperbolism or doom and gloom. However there are real extremes in the coverage and discourses around social media. In the coverage of the Mumbai massacre Tom Sutcliffe, writing in The Independent, rallies against the coverage on Twitter. Of course months later the paper were up and tweeting. But discourses of hyperbole does need to be modified, reined in. Twitter grows out of the use of UGC by journalists. Anar Thorson argues that Moldovan and Iranian elections see Twitter being used to generate news on the ground, “a hub for first hand accounts”.
More recently we see a journalists in a hybrid environment – breaking stories on blogs and twitter before appearance on broadcast or print. Thorson sees the coverage of the election on blogs getting greater viewership than maintream press in some cases. The criticisms of Twitter describe it as nonsense, as repition. Thorson moved to work on the “Arab Spring” and he cites NPR’s Andy Carvin as one of the paragon examples of really good tweeting. He tweeted so rapidly that Twitter tried to delete his account as they thought he might be a spammer. He used Twitter to collect first hand accounts, to verify rumous and discussio, to gather fast moving information. Benjamin Doherty critizes Carvin work as he says that he couldnt see any other NPR journalists working with activists and protestors against the Israeli state in that sort of way, keeping their job.
I want to talk now about whether Twitter really has changed corporate communications, how journalism has changed, what the power relations are.
It’s notable that journalists, as gatekeepers of information, tend to reflect existing power relations. The suggestion is that Twitter and social media have changed those power relations. Thorson argues that journalists do have incentives to protect the traditional press role but that use of social media is changing those power relations. Chadwick argues the change of relations between elite sources and elite journalists, particularly in terms of temporality. The routine news day is based around routine deadlines. Powerful sources of information can sync and interface with those times of day in order to feed the news system. Social media do not follow those patterns so closely, the news routine is interrupted. But I’m not actually sure that interruption is actually occurring. We know that participation and influence is limited by the resource base that people use. The range of people that use Twitter is limited, those that use it effectively is even smaller. Pew’s research in the US finds only 15% of internet users using Twitter, only 8% doing so daily. Only a quarter of Twitter users have ever tweeted. In the Uk research shows Twitter users as being higher income. But in the US Twitter users tend to be younger, female, urban, and more black and hispanic users than might be expected. There isn’t one profile here.
Bruns and Burgess, et al. (2011) [thanks to @mdanganh for the clarification and URL] found Twitter use in Australian elections being about traditional power and professional relations, with social media amplifying those central conversations. But activists are now engaged in loosely coupled relationships with newsmakers, the majority of those interactions have little impact, but only a small number of Twitter users make a real difference, push the conversations, etc.
There has been little work on Tweet’s intregration in mainstream media. Thorson writes not about Twitter but about “Have your Say” information and the BBC during elections. The use of this tended to represent middle ground. Wiki News did things a little differently, they required a neutral point of view. But what does “neutral” mean, especially in controversial areas. Twitter is obviously different to these two spaces. It isn’t censored, it isn’t moderated. A colleague who writes for the Guardian was complaining about Twitter as a chaotic medium, that they integrate it in a conventional linear narrative, but it doesn’t fit with discursive structures of journalism.
Now when I mentioned the Arab Spring, a lot of the attention of journalists and scholars looking at the Arab Spring has been a focus on the particular conflict in the middle east and North Africa. If Twitter had really penetrated the mainstream I think we would have seen different discourses. There has been a real role for Twitter in Syria, Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, and we have seen that covered and rather overstated, but we don’t see coverage Bahrain or Saudi Arabia, say. There are various assumptions we can make about the focuses… social media tends to be used to illustrate what is going on by particular groups, very media savvy protest groups and a need to communicate to the outside world via social media, then bounce back via mainstream media (e.g. particularly in Egypt). So the discourses of social media here fitted with the mainstream news agenda and that’s why it had leverage in some areas much more so than others.
We know that Twitter power relations reflect mainstream roles – mainstream journalists have far more followers than others. Because social media has been used within the mainstream news frames. We see parallels between protest in the middle east and the UK at the same time became reported by mainstream media. I’m going to play a clip of reporting of conflict in Egypt – the images, the placement of the camera, the emphasis, etc. here (from World News Today). The interesting here is the way that the conflict between the protestors and the police are represented, the alignment of the journalist to the protestors, the reference to petrol bombs as defensive, the slight giggle in the discussion of rock throwing. Compare that with a clip from the student protests in the UK at the same time (BBC News), this time the footage includes a dismissive nod towards attacks on students by police here. Social media told a very different story to the new coverage.
This notion of communicative freedom that takes place… when Tunisia and Egypt shut down Twitter and Facebook there is outrage. In the UK David Cameron talks of shutting down BlackBerry, Facebook etc. raises far less media question. But the question
Andrew Cameron and Barbara Tool call the “Californian Ideology”, the internet is just there, it’s natural as John Perry Barlow says. Now that is not a reality, it was set up by government, by institutions etc. Laurance Lessig (in code and cyberspace) talks about political regulation and economic regulation, and norms or hegemony. And I think these may explain why Twitter regulation isn’t neccassary. The traditional public/private dichotomy is disappearing, it’s broken down, but law hasn’t caught up with a paradoxical medium like Twitter. Nor do the users. Take Paris Brown for instance, elected as a Police Youth Comissioner who is 17, and people found tweets from the ages from when she was 14 or 15… they included crude comments about sex and drugs. Do we really expect 14 year olds to understand that dichotomy? She stood down yesterday. Andrew Brown wrote some nasty comments on Facebook and was jailed for 12 weeks. An 18 year old was arrested for making comments about Tom Daley’s deceased father. And of course there is the case of Peter? because an off the cuff comment on Twitter was taken to be a terrorist threat. People aren’t very aware of this dichotomy, and the outdated law is the major problem here. Many of these cases date from the 2003 communications act. This allows prosecution for comments deemed to be offensive, obscene, etc. comments. Many comedians do not get taken to court or taken to prison for comments of those type (e.g. Frankie Boyle or Richard Littlejohn), whilst the same types of comments on Twitter and social media seem to be taken very differently. Which is particularly odd given there are no specific press freedom laws here. “improper use of public communications network”
Mitchell Stancombe was jailed for three years for a tweet asking when the riots would start in Southampton. The idea of incitement to riot predates these media and the punishment has been disproportionate. And discourses did not make it into the mainstream media. Tweets such as “This is what happens when you consistently opress [sic] the youth, have some of your own medicine #londonriots” did not make the headlines. Rob Proctor’s work on Twitter showed the most powerful tweets dominating, dissenting voices shut down, the clean up operation after the riots dwarfed the riot tweets. He argues that those who were rioting did not use Twitter, they knew they would be caught. Blackberry Messenger was far more popular for that reason.
Now another reason not to close down those spaces hasn’t really got anything to do with communicative styles, it’s to do with the modes of British Policing. We can talk about “permissive transgression”. They allow law to be broken to a certain extent “policing by consent” then cracking down, the idea being to minimise conflict. The police also lack intelligence – but social media allows huge gathering of intelligence. The other function of social media during protests and riots is quite amusing. The police try to contact and engage those that they think may be protesting. Since 2010 there really haven’t been a central starting point, an organiser, etc. They try to reach out to a leader in the protest, but there is no leader. When I looked at protests in Bristol, different students from different colleges would arrange 4 or 5 different protests, but which one got popular was luck really. no one was in charge.
Def? and his colleagues have looked in depth at how the police use Twitter in conflict. To try to calm situation, to try to engage, to provide information, and to try and name and shame individuals. On occassion some individuals were acquitted… one of these had his house burned down because he had been named as possibly involved in protest. There is a growing sense of identifiable data, of the need to be private in case seen/named/photographed etc.
And I want to end on the opposite take on this. Anonymous, as a group, is full of paradoxes. On the one hand the group is anonymous in terms of membership, representation etc. but they are also Anonymous, a brand essentially. And they are desperate for their actions and hacks to play a propaganda role so they have to play to the mainstream. They say “Twitter is their link to the world”. Looking at @YourAnonNews this is “one of many” Anonymous accounts, you cannot verify it, there is no hierachy and leadership here. They say “we are legion” and that’s a very deliberate term. Anonymous attached Israel over the weekend, I asked about a previous operation and I spoke to “Commander X” and asked him about interfaces with mainstream media. He advised we watch the “We Are Legion” documentary. They started posting quotations from the documentary at the same time as they appeared in the documentary – wasn’t a coincidence, he had control of my machine. So it’s a very weird group to interact with and talk to.
Commander X called Twitter the frontline, the key medium for publicity, it is designed to reach the mainstream journalists. They send out huge numbers of press releases as well. The operations are designed to Shock and Awe, to be too powerful for mainstream media to miss. Commander X says that that is why full blown complete take downs can force the media to discuss it. 1 million followers on Twitter. This is an important organisation. Anonymous going to war online with Israel… this seems major but all of the reporting says the same thing, from an AP release, stating that actually it hasn’t caused any real damage. Israeli government was main source for article. It illustrates those tricky power relations. But I did ask why Twitter doesn’t reject Anonymous or hack them. They say they know they are being watched, they are better at hacking than them, and they say “we haven’t done anything to offend Twitter”. It’s a paradoxical relationship.
Power relations do not seem to have been addressed by Twitter but there are clear opportunities for transformations. There is something but it’s not transforming mainstream media. The hegemonic status hasn’t changed. The integration of Twitter into news discourses doesn’t cause disruption, it follows the patters, it is normalised. But the law fails to address these mediums. Leveson was an opportunity to address that but it didn’t happen. But the paradox, the tension here, is the issue of Twitter as a sphere of public communication and as a sphere of surveillance.
Q) In that use of Twitter by mainstream media, how does the Guardian fit in here?
A) The Guardian did become different in riots coverage but had previously been similar to other traditional media outlets. A truly different approach would be to frame those involved in the riots as “primary definers”. I argue that the riots were political but I have many debates with intelligent people who argue otherwise. In Egypt that protest wasn’t that focused but muddies the narrative. That would have been a radical alternative discourse.
Q) Can Twitter be considered unmoderated?
A) Of course it is mediated and moderated. Take downs occur, depends if you think pre-selection or post comment take downs. BBC comments are pre-publication, with Twitter moderation tends to be after the fact. Relatively unmoderated.
Q) My name is Ty Graham, been studying how dutch journalists use Twitter, how that selection might change journalists?
A) Nick Davies wrote a great book called “flat earth news” about the role of PR in news. Throughout the 80s and 90s there were fewer journalists covering more and more who became reliant on press releases and PR. Journalism already has it’s problems. The choice isn’t between seeing or calling a source, and doing that directly vs Twitter. It’s more between press releases and Twitter, and Twitter looks better there. But one of the problems is selecting tweets that fit with the journalist or the discursive angle of the journalists. The daily mail won’t highlight tweets against it’s position for instance.
Q) To what extent does reporting of conflict reflect regulation – so in the case of Egypt the UK press is not regulated by the state, in the London Riots they are, their reporting of Tweets may inevitably be related to their own relationship with the state, with the politics of that protest, with regulation (e.g. license fee negotiation).
A) There’s certainly something there, at least in terms of TV coverage as BBC, ITV, C4 etc. are very much regulated by the state. But newspapers are not regulated in the same way and yet they elected not to frame their coverage differently. People were effectively executed around the riots and that was little covered, just as death in police custody isn’t reflected in reporting. There is a much wider issue with journalism that it wants to reflect and frame it’s coverage in ways that its readers/consumers understand, are not unsettled by, are comfortable with and that really prevents alternative discourses, radical reframings etc.
Q) follow up: surely in a rolling news era TV sets the agenda here though? Surely agenda is also set by whatever has the best pictures?
A) Well perhaps but news organisations in print also produce video; TV news producers use social media; there is such blending and merging here. And there is a real concern around the use of video. In the London Riots all of the major broadcasters handed over footage to the police and there is real concern that in the next protest those journalists may well be finding themselves targets for that reason.
We’ve just had a good lunch break, now moving to parallel strands and I have selected:
Giorgia and her colleague C. Degano analysed conference tweeting to understanding discourse. Most participants seem to be addressing tweets to academic peers, not a more public audience. They seem to represent communications within a particular community, an efficient self-promotional tool perhaps? The main question I want to ask is “If scholars’ conference tweets are targeted at an audience of peers, how do they build rapport while sharing information?” and wondering how conference tweeters strategies vary or overlap with speakers strategies, with Erving Goffman’s essay The Lecturn. I am calling on SFG Halliday 1985 (Interpersonal Funcation); Goffman 1981 (Frame Analysis); Hydland 19?? (??)
Corpus was around 2000 tweets, hashtag based collection of 8 pplied linguisitics conference live tweets. With a reference corpus of conference scripts. John Swales Conference Corpus (2009). 23 lectures and around 77k words. I will be sharing the findings of my qualitative analysis rather than my quantitative analysis although the qualitiative results are based on that. In my data 81.5% of tweets were original tweets; 12.8% were retweets; only 5.7% were replies. It doesn’t seem that the tweeters are reluctant to engage, rather they want tweets to reach all or most of their audience instead.
looking at Goffman’s typology for audiences, these don’t seem to quite apply here. Marwick and Boyd 2010 find the effect of “networked audience” – the idea that tweets might reach a global audience of peers rather than replies which only reach a small audience. Hydland 2001 talks about metadiscursive elements and engagement markers. On Twitter there are both engagement language devices (Deixis – in person this is about “I’m pleased to be here” etc. in tweets this is a little different ; questions and imperatives; conversational elements; evaluative elements – these tends to be a matter of positioning yourself in the academic community, paying compliments, etc.) and engagement markers (e.g. @, RT, etc.). Looking at markers – hashtags enact a social relationship. The @ sign are a deictic marker of addressivity at the beginning of the tweet, it is about mentioning when mid-tweet. RTs also are about mentioning another user and representing that in your own stream (User X has posted the following (Zappavigna 2012). But in conferences there is a driver for participants’ own personality and perspective to emerge, probably hence the low level of RT.
Conference live tweeter can act as an “Animator” but there are hybrid or ambigous models here. Sometimes Animator and principal; Author or principal. This hybrid ambiguity amplifies the tweeter’s voice in relation to the speaker. And this relates to the scholarly voice, the role of the speaker (Monacelli 2009) which may represent their role, organisation, etc. and the textual self of the speaker (Goffman 1981). Goffman talks about the speaker as a performer, a method of transmitting content rather than the textural self projects in the course of the lectures delivery. But for me the textual self of the speaker is equally important as, thanks to Twitter affordances, the public and private spheres are collapsing and colliding together and thus the construction of the textual self includes both the scholarly voice and the personal voice. There is a backstage frenzy. Doesn’t mean that distance-altering mechanisms are not there, you see irony and humour, parenthetical remarks, and text brackets as well.
Conclusions. Speakers establish conection with attendees by engaging their rhetorical audience, discursively constructing their textual self and altering their alignmen with the public while transmitting their talk. But that the tweeters also perform, often using the same strategies as the speaker. Conference live tweeters can send notifications; transmit their personal and public self etc. Contact Giorgia @Giorgia_Riboni.
Q) David Matthews, Lancaster: One of the things you mentioned was the low number of retweets. One explanation was that people want their own voice to emerge. I’m wondering whether you’d think about asking them, interviews with those you examine, as there may be other reasons. for example people using twitter at a conference don’t retweet as they know their peers are present at the conference as well, that information will already be available.
A) I agree that ethnographic approach would benefit these studies. As a live tweeter I have my own opinions and have been trying to verify those using my corpus.
Q) Mark: Have you engaged with set up, e.g. TWitter wall. Like this morning the wall ran after the talk but not during them. There is a twitter wall in the foyer/lunch area. What is the impact of that display on live tweeting. What is your experience in that?
A) A good comment. Didn’t do this as part of research, think I should have. What we are experiencing today shows that what we see of the tweets can really shape Tweets and interactions.
Q) Anthony McNeill, Kingston University: Looking at research on Blogging by Susan Herring for instance, that monologue was the trend but dialogue did occur in bursts. Some continuity between blogging and microblogging there perhaps. And 140 chars means a retweet really limits what I can say… does that have an impact.
A) Yes, initially I think that was an issue. New RT button changes that somewhere. Tweeters feel the need to credit the tweet so that may be a challenge. The way that they conserve textuality is also interesting. You consider your own tweet but you also consider your tweet in the wider context of the corpus of Tweets.
Q) Is it normal that live tweeters are present?
A) Yes, but the audience may not be.
Polyphony of discourse on and about Twitter: Analysis of Twitter uses in the European Parliament, Commission and Council by Sandrine Roginsky (@enirdans)
My work started with an article I saw saying that Twitter was useful for commissioners to communicate. I saw a tweet from Vivian Reding, Vice President of European Comission on the election of president Elles in 2012. It certainly won’t be a commission view. Twitter allos some form of free expresion of actors who are also part of institutions. Professionally though there are guidances around speeches etc. Maingeuneau says that “institutions mask the conflict” but on Twitter we still see that conflict. So the research question for me here is whether Twitter make it possible to combine various registers of communication or genres of discourses,and the role of the “neutral speech” the “truth of speech” etc. You cannot have both. My hypotheisis that the communications of the institutions as public organisations on Twitter leads to blurring of personal and private, and that
French discourse analysis – Caroline Olliver-Yaniv and Claire oger which is from perspective of political sociology. See also quote on Witschge 2008 the poential of the internet for opening up public discourse cannot be evaluated without properly understanding the context. My method included participant observation, interview, etc. I had ready access to the institutions for this work. I looked at the European Commission, the European Council, and the European Parliament. Today I will really focus on the European Commission.
In terms of the context you should note that there is a general injunction for institutions and staff of the Commission to use social media (see EP, Stategic Plan of Communication 2011-2014) as it offers “unique cost-efficient oppotunity for interactivity with citizens”. There is often a perception that there is a deficit around EU communication, but worth bearing in mind in the Commission’s use of others’ tools.
Who is in charge here? At the Commission there are 6 people dedicated to SNS (only). Important to know that Commission has very decentralised communications team. The Social media team is quite small – and on short-term contracts – but Twitter use is spread across the Commission. The European Council has one social media manager – not really communicating in general as much. At the European Parliament there is a team of 30 people dedicated to both social media and the website of the institution. The age average of these staff is around 25-35 year olds.
Ollivier-Yaniv and Oger found that institutional discourses re those officially produced by an individual or organisation. There is some evolution here of our understanding of the institution in Twitter. You have speakers who are Commissioners AND politicians. And you have Commissioners and Staffers both communicating on Twitter. Many voices for this one institution. Too many accounts for the institution. I did this full time for three months and I couldn’t track and follow them all! And there are even more since! There was one main institutional account, one for each Director Generals, 16 personal Commissioner accounts, 16 spokespeople of Commisioners, more for specific programmes and services, 27 nationalities etc. Very difficult to keep track of them.
The Commission has pushed for their staff to be on Twitter BUT not everyone is allowed to speak on behalf of the institution. See Bourdieu 2004 on the role of authorised speakers (and unauthorised speakers). However even for a researcher working on Tweets of the Commission it is near impossible to work out who is authorised to speak on behalf of the Comission. No clear guidelines here, even when staff were asked. Was told by one person that it will be obvious form indications of the the Twitter account. But same person said that her Commissioner’s account was “her personal account, she writes whatever she wants”. So very unclear whether personal or Comission views.
Moving to discourses. Institutional communication (Pasquier 2011); Political communication (Gerstle 1992); Personalised Communication (Jacobson 1994?). One Comms Officer tols me there are two types of tweets, political tweets “which are more interesting” and more personal. If we take the account of Jose Manual Barroso (@BarrosoEU) – this actually changed names three times here. The rebrand changed the account to both a more personal and more political account. There are some Tweeters do speak on a more personal basis. Viviane Reding again seems to be much more personal. Laszio Andor does similarly but words those tweets in far more personal and informal ways.
However there are a great many more professional type tweets than wholly personal tweets. I found three types of tweets. But I am interested in the paradoxes of enunciation on Twitter and contradiction between the discourse on and about Twitter. Words like Objectivity, Impartiality, Loyalty, Discreion, Circumspection vs. “the best information are those which have not yet been communicated yet”. There is a tension between the rules and the aim of participation on Twitter. Really a huge contradiction. Interviewees all said the argumentative, very political tweets were the most interesting but at the same time they said that you really can’t do that. Most of what is tweeted is much more institutional communication. Probably rather less than one interviewee’s guestimate of 70% institutional to 30% personal political.
Some validation of hypothesis here. Smoothing of political discourse on Twitter.
Most interviews in their discourses on Twitter, they said it was a good way to reach “citizens” or the “man on the street”. But when we looked at who followed and interacted with them it was predominently media and others from the Brussels e-bubble. So it is not a good tool to reach the “man on the street” but very useful way to reach that “Brussels e-bubble”.
Questions – validation process and control of speech within and outside the organisation suited for Twitter.
Q) Something about identity, and the need to have a certain professional character. It seems that in order to be “professional” they have to tweet a news feed, they are locked within a bubble of who they are, what they are representing, do they belong in a medium like Twitter.
A) A good question, I have the same question myself. I don’t have an answer exactly. The discourse they have about Twitter, especially Twitter rather than Facebook as they see Twitter as most useful, but I’m not sure at all. A researcher (geugeugis?) found that there is a competition between civil servants and politicians. And The civil servants are winning but Twitter is subversive to that, a way to produce own communication. But you can see the touch of civil servants in that prevelance of institutional tweets, very administrative form and tone for this. So many accounts though! There was also a debate around actor, around digital rights, strong debates and those did take place in those debates. None of the EU institutions took part in that debate. They said they don’t know how to act, how to participate, how to be part of the conversation and perhaps take sides in a way.
Q) Simon van Houts: covering the EU as a journalist is notoriously limited, “mediated mediation” – are the Twitter channels another part of this?
A) I think so. I have started to look at journalists and their interactions with EU accounts and I think I would agree there.
And after a biscuit we are back!
Uses and risks of microblogging in organisations by Soureh Latif Shabgahi
Soureh is particularly looking at use of social media tools in SMEs, and use of microblogging here. Two of the relevant tools here are Twitter and Yammer. From previous literature a majority of research into microblogging has taken place in larger organisations. Generally uptake has been large organisations who have adopted tools after early uptake and trials by some of their staff.
Yammer is an enterprise-orientated microblogging tool without restriction on number of characters. (A’lvaro et al 2010; gunther 2009; Giles 2010). The messages shared are private to the organisation and it appears that over 70k organisations are using Yammer. However there is little research on enterprise microblogging, 30 papers starting in 2009. Most papers are in US and Europe. Key authors include Kai Riemer and Dejin Zhao. Riemer focuses on microblogging influence on communications. Dejin has focused more on awareness.
I have categorised themes in usage. The main themes are around coordination; reputation management; forming relationships’ Awareness and sense of connectnedd’; Record information for future reference; sharing knowledge/information; discussion. Personal dimensions also come in here, for instance using Twitter for finding work related updates, I have mapped that to Awareness and a sense of connectedness. There are also face to face discussions that come out of microblogging discussions. These include areas such as work related stress etc.
In considering these tools I also categorised the risks associated with enterprise microblogging. One risk is the restriction on messages, that limitation to 140 characters; difficulties of using the system; distraction – particularly time cost, the noise to value ratio, ; privacy of employees; Security of the organisation.
Data collection via semi structured interviews with 20 SMEs in South Yorkshire area, most of which were IT based companies. But have also gathered results from SMEs in other areas, e.g. educational companies, sports companies. Based on interviews also observations of some companies – of messages posted by employees during the interviews or at a later date. Also used questionnaires to SMEs and received over 100 responses – some from companies I hadn’t contacted directly but had been passed on to them. All interviewees were asked to complete the questionnaires. Analysis has been carried out on a sample of 4 interviews, as the basis for thematic analysis for broader collection. In one SME case I interviewed two staff members, the first was a manager who had introduced Twitter and Yammer, the second was a manager who was using Twitter for their organisation. And I have pulled out some of the uses and some of the risks involved. Interviewee 1 said that Yammer allowed sharing at “speed of thought” making it easy to use, saw Twitter very positively, as a way to market and engage with customers. Yammer as internal tool, Twitter as tool for reaching audience. Interviewee 2 liked perpetual connection – 24/7 mobile access – and talked about network effects, use for marketing etc. and possibility of attracting new customers.
In terms of risks Interviewee 1 said there was a risk of upsetting colleagues via Yammer – can type quickly and find an upset colleague. On Twitter you can phrase things badly, that had happened, and there was a reputation impact. Interviewee 2 also talked about the risk of hacking – Yammer includes very confidential discussion so real risk there – and of distraction of Twitter.
Turning to Interviewee 3, specifically about Twitter, found the scale very positive and liked the “follow” concept. For their business that was really important. There was a real value to restricting their message. Short messages allow people to decide quickly if they want information, they don’t have to read a lot. But also identified “accidentally just mentioning something” as a risk.
These first two organisations were very positive in tone. However Interviewee 4 was much more negative about use of Twitter. They saw Twitter as very famous, good for marketing and attention, probably needed for mass communication. However in his eyes it’s mainly a “social media tool” in that it is effective for communicating with friends, not with professional cololeagues. Because some private information had been leaked they were particularly aware of that risk. Spelling mistakes are a real risk. And they felt that most users of social media were younger and perhaps not mature in dealing with these issues.
As this research goes forward I will add further risks and uses to my diagrams. My study will focus on the risks and will look at policies and guidelines and how to handle risks when they arise. So for instance Reputation (e.g. spelling mistakes) and Upset/Offend Others will be added to the risks.
Q) Me: Risks – have legal risks been incorporated? Also were SMEs
A) Risks: looked at risks of microblogging and regular blogging tools. Lots of similarities. Some risks that are specific to blogging and probably vice versa. And probably will use policies and guidelines into those risks. In terms of SMEs: First question I ask is whether they use microblogging or not, sometimes I have to explain what microblogging is. Almost all companies I contact are using Twitter, lots of IT companies use it. Some are still in process of adoption. Still debating internally. Did interview them as well as wanted to capture that process of adoption. If aware of them and considering them I did include those SMEs.
Q) You picked companies with high IT knowledge. How would that map to companies with less IT knowledge perhaps? e.g. Health and social care.
A) My focus is mainly in the area of IT I have interviewed companies working in education, sports, some charities. It will be interesting… 80% are IT so there should be some scope for comparison of them with other companies.
Q) Peter Evans, UoE: Study is about use of microblogging by companies. Did you look at use of microblogging by employees not just by companies – and regardless of company policies, particularly around knowledge sharing.
A) It was difficult to find companies in the first place, I spoke to max 2 people and focused on manager who introduced it plus one other. One of my questions was about whether personal or business account was being used. One of the risks which majority of companies using personal accounts identified was the sharing of business information on personal accounts, felt that spelled trouble for the whole company. Some had specifically introduced policies and guidelines as a result, e.g. do not mention the business at all.
Q) So I hadn’t heard of Yammer before…?
A) It was hard to find Yammer companies because that is private communication but I met some of the Yammer staff and was able to find some companies through them.
Comment) Yammer is used a lot in local government.
More than just passing notes in class? Twitter backchannels as new literacy practice by Tony McNeill, Principal Lecturer in Educational Technology
Tony wants to start by linking his presentation to the main conference themes, on the many diverse and creative ways Twitter is being used… or maybe misused. So I love this Onion headline “Twitter creator on Iran: I Never Intended for Twitter to be useful” which is quite fun, not as funny as some others in the Onion, but it raises a few things. That negative, trivial, vacuus perception of Twitter. The other side is that all technology is really a misuse of technology – to put it to purposes for which it was never intended (e.g. using screwdriver to open a can of paint). Like Howard Bloom saying all reading is misreading, so all technology use is all misuse.
So in an image of a lecture we see a lecturer in the room and two participants in the backchannel. It was a minority force a few years ago. Now it’s commonplace, participation starts weeks or months in advance. Signing up for a conference means the schedule, the people, but also the hashtag. See eg a tweet about conferences sounding like the tic tic tic of typing – maybe out of date in era of smart phones.
Tony’s core question is whether this back channel is new or just a new take on old/existing practice. To answer it we need descriptions of practice and theorisations of practice. So I want to start by thinking of ways to theorise the backchannel. Tony defines this “the digital communications space used for primarily textual interactions alongside live spoken presentations generally delivered in a physical environment”. Sometimes there are images and multimodal elements in the backchannel too.
You can see Nathan Jurgenson’s critique of the term “there will not be separate online and offline conferences happening, [...] Twitter isn’t a backchannel it’s the session at the front.”. My own take is that there are backchannels and that front channels are not automatically physical, they can be digital. Back channels go way back – looking at this painting we see chatter at the back of the room. But there are roles in this room.
So I want to stick with the notion of backchannel. My theoretical frameworks are New Literacy Studies and New Mobilities Paradigm, both of which have their origins in Lancashire. So firstly New Literacy Studies are an approach around reading and writing practices, sees literacy as plural, socially embeded, and about identity and power. And a sub area of this, New Literacies, is whether new digital technologies really lead to new literary practices. Is there a new ethos in Twitter backchannels or does technology just enable what we’ve already done.
Types of backchannel tweets:
- minute-by-minute/live tweeting
- note taking/resource sharing – and co construction and collaborative aspects
- personal commentary
- dialogue – some dialogue but more monologue than dialogue
- fun /playfulness.
There are also new conventions in the backchannel, competances to be a participant:
- use of event specific hashtags
- @ messages
- retweets (RTs)
- invite muting/unfollowing when backchannelling
All of these are implicit knowledge we need to understand.
New Literacy Studies are interested in context and in power. I was at a conference a few years ago on podcasting and there was a hastily improvised hashtag, We had a speaker from Apple and we were interested to hear ideas etc. but we got a real sales pitch. So one comment here “I really *want* to like this talk but it’s not playing to me… ” and others followed suit. We are shown a promotional video and the tweets get more angry and more defensive of being sold to. It was interesting to see that very tense mismatch between audience giggling and speaker presentation. What was going on here? Was it just silliness, boredom, irritation? I think it was something else. Academics were going beyond that academic identity but at the same time reinforcing the importance of the conference space for sharing and discussion, a reaffirmation against the sales pitch.
My second theoretical framework are the New Mobilities Paradigm (Shelly and Urry 2006) which about social life no longer being about physical proximity, being more about moving, technologies enable remote connections. Having intense but meaningful contact at a distance. A book I’ve been reading lately, by Daniel Millar, on parenting and migrant workers from the Phillipines and how that is facilitated by Skype seems to fit with these theoretical frameworks. And Shelly and Urry are against sedentarism.
So, with a new mobilities perspective how might we see the conference. The “sedentarist” conference is about face to face encounter; bounded in time and space’ impermeable (delegates only); backchannels a “distraction”.
Backchannels potentially challenge those ideas in many ways:
- virtual/phsyical (e.g. I tweeted various links days ago using a tweet scheduler that you should see now)
- not here/here
There are all sorts of bizarre things. The digital is present in physical spaces – twitter walls appear in a few conferences. danah boyd had a really Twitter wall fail a few years back when very uncomplimentary tweets weren’t visible and thus weren’t addressable.
Early ethnographic perspective. Miller and Slater (2000) wrote about needing to treat the internet as embedded and continuous in daily lives.
On the backchannel theme…. Starbucks sponsored an ice skating rink at the Natural History Museum. Tweet to their tag: #spreadthecheer and you appeared at the ice rink. Starbucks weren’t stupid, they moderated it when they saw the tweets appearing but not fast enough… a skater had photographed it. The virtual was made physical in the space, photographed and tweeted and shared over 1000 times back in the digital realm.
A tentative conclusion: Backchannels constitute a new literacy practice and structure (plus two sub points
Q) A question here… in a previous role I looked at digital scholarship… given the cost and environmental reasons will there always be physical conferences?
A) I think that we are between two ways of doing things. We are doing some video streaming of some of the plenaries. Live bloggers here… we are mid point between physical and online conference. I’ve done some technology conferences where that participation is online and that’s comfortable, there will be more use of that in the future…
Comment) Actually I think the real back channel is in the pub so I don’t agree…
Q) I went to a conference called Gin and Joy Division specifically about that… I wanted to ask about the backchannel and the thing… it’s often very multilayered. Some events I’ve been to have huge numbers of parallel conversations, which sort of gives you more of a sense of response to what is presented. Have you thought about that at all? What does the back channel say in response to the paper? Is it always sniping and jokes?
A) I always enjoy that… If someone is looking at the laptop when I’m talking you may be doing something broadly positive – looking something up, following up interesting themes. For this conference I’m not sure but a colleague who has done more quantitative work found that some conferences with successful and busy hashtags actually it comes down to half a dozen or a dozen people producing most of the tweets. But I see it as generally positive, ranging from banal (wifi, dinner, etc.). I have seen some real dialogue and co production of knowledge going on… a lot of people talking about automatic transcriptions etc… real dialogue… One post at that conference said the participant was struggling but backchannel was keeping them engaged. But it can be snarky too.
Q) Rhianon: I have to admit the description of backchannels being snarky… maybe a British thing… in fan communities especially the back channel can be about informing those beyond the room who cannot be physically present. Not about criticising the speaker but dissemination of information… about an augmented confrerence.
A) The same happens here. But snarkiness comes from US blogs, and IRC backchat really. But still broadly positive.
And it’s back to the main room for our second plenary…
This session is taking place in a more novel way. Nathan is joining us via Google+ Hangout on video, and also via Twitter. Johnny is chairing in the room. We have been asked to read Nathan’s work on the IRL fetish and to think about his work on digital dualism. Do we as academic researchers critique these things, are we guilty of these things… ?
Johnny: I will start with a question from my own experience: I often talk with colleagues about students using technology in the lecture room – computes, smartphones, tablets etc. Some find that quite concerning and threatening.
Nathan: That is one of the issues of digital dualism. A lot of the time these issues are confused with access and presence. We are trying to come to terms with that. Digital dualism we often overestimate the role of the online in the offline, and the other side of that, we underestimate the role of the offline in the online. The assumption can be concerns that students are checking out of the room. They may be but they may not. But it’s not about whether to make that compromise or not, it’s not about online or offline, its about how you augment the on and offline with each other. They are different spaces but they are enmeshed. And we should neither under or over estimate that enmeshment. Personally I am terrified of MOOCs, the idea of no face to face contact scares me. I run a conference, Theorising the Web, is certainly enmeshed though, if you weren’t on Twitter you only see half the conference.
Digital dualism is the fallacy of looking at the online and offline as disconnected and unrelated. Facebook is real of course. And the IRL Fetish is about value judgements about those spaces, as seeing people on phones, using technologies etc. as anti social, to see ourselves as more real or authentic because we are offline. When Sheryl Turkle talks about walks on the beach… she wasn’t disconnected, she’s connected but her social space is the NYT op-ed pages, rather than Facebook.
And, with that Nathan is offscreen and turning to questions on Twitter… the room has fallen silent and migrated to #njqa. And I shall move with it but return to liveblogging when Nathan appears onscreen again shortly.
And… after a weird half hour…
Johnny asks how that went? Nathan says we agree too much! He has lots of stuff to read and look at after the questions, I think there was a lot of digital thinking going on there. I am joking there but some long reads, some discussion online. Feedback from the audience is “too loud” which is very much an ironic comment, it’s been super quiet. I’ve commented that we’ve privileged the backchannel to frontchannel… very little backchat in the room. So two lessons, maybe Twitter isn’t the backchannel, maybe you need music… or more person to person chat…. maybe it was too quiet. But we are in a lecture theatre and the physical layout certainly doesn’t encourage chatter. Nathan: architecture affordances is one-to-many structure. Twitter is many-to-many format so disjunction there, conceptually interesting. Comment from the room: quite creative, real creation of content in the room. Johnny: when people are asked to create content they do that rather than chat. Nathan: indeed, may not be best format for conference where networking is so important. But really great experiment, test running this novel way, really interesting.
Our final plenary for the day took place after dinner and was, it must be said, pretty much unbloggable. In:
We were treated to something between performance art, a great retro DJ set, and a really thoughtful musing on the cultures and practices of social media. I can’t sum it up adequately here and without Kill’s unique DJing persona, but her slides and some of the music can be found in this blog post from her performance at the Shift Happens conference in 2012.
And with that Day One is truly over. Day two sees my own presentation taking place so expect a few gaps in the blogging!