Remember that time at band camp? You gathered with individuals of similar interests, and even though you could play your instrument at home, you still found value in getting together in person, and leaving with a sense of accomplishment and agency that you didn’t arrive with on the bus full of braces and backpacks. Fast forward a few decades and professional designations, and you’ll find a similar event in Halifax: Podcamp.
Described on their website (Podcamp Halifax, 2012) as “an unconference for people interested in social media, blogging, mobile, web design and all the internets in between,” Podcamp is in essence a gathering of a digital polity in HRM and surrounding areas. And while it’s an unconventional conference, Podcamp is not to be taken lightly. This one-day demonstration of digital citizenship connects citizens with a unifying thread of new media, for an exploration of the challenges, shortfalls, opportunities and industry trends within the digital sphere. The irony of an in-person conference for those who typically work online is likely not lost on anyone, but it raises interesting questions as to the limitations of social and new media. While opportunity is abundant, one should have managed expectations as to what social media “can do for me”.
Limitation #1: Connectedness, a key characteristic of globalization, has not removed the need benefit of interacting face to face.
Globalization is often equated with “…accelerated, intensified connections and networks in both physical and virtual senses… flattens barriers of time and space… a utopia of free movement…” (Jackson, Nielsen, & Hsu, 2011). Why meet in person when we can dial, click and Skype? Simply put, we don’t have to; however, in a profession where long-term relationships are the focus of professional activity, there remains a benefit to face-time.
Limitation #2: Social media‘s efficacy engagement is maximized when audiences are being treated as participants.
The motivating factors that contribute to an organization stepping into the digital space may be varied. But one thing is certain – if an organization is strategic, their social media presence is measured by more than engagement. One Podcamp presenter noted, “If you’re not selling something on social media, you’re doing something wrong” (Simmonds, 2013).
It made me realize that, while his point was rather shocking, he was partially right. Social media agents often find themselves striking a balance between treating their audiences as a target, a commodity and as a participant. And even when you engage them as a participant, it’s often that there’s an underlying purpose to your content – at least, there should be.
Defining your goal in social media is important. When I assessed my own content on the Mount’s Facebook and twitter pages, there was a balance between treating the audience as a participant. When the posts are photos, just for fun, wishing people a good day – the engagement is much higher than when an event or upcoming conference is promoted. While I am certainly not suggesting we should employ social media as a “machinery of mass opinion” (Miller, 2009), I don’t think efficacy and engagement are synonymous, and audiences are best served when considered a ‘targeted’ participant.
Look at sports broadcasting networks such as TSN; tweets always piping in on the bottom of the screen through most programs. Does TSN do this (and subsequently share them with their viewers) to create an impression that their audience is participatory? And just because they are sharing opinions, is it necessarily a sign of agency? I would argue no, in many cases.
Limitation #3: Social Media creates provides an opportunity for digital citizenship.
Social media doesn’t create citizenship. It does, however allow individuals with similar interests to meet, to share, to grow, to impress and discover a sense of agency. Social media merely creates another public sphere in which this interaction and relationship-building can grow.
Citizenship is described as when “membership in a polity entails ‘sharing and participating in a common project or identity” (Jackson, Nielsen, & Hsu, 2011), which is exactly what I saw taking place at Podcamp. Participants gathered together with a common interest, to share knowledge and best practices, to discuss how we could better educate those around us who don’t work in new media, and to affect change.
Jackson, J. D., Nielsen, G. M., & Hsu, Y. (2011). Mediated Society: A Critical Sociology of Media. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Miller, T. (2009). Audiences. In T. Miller, Television Studies (pp. 111-143). Hoboken: Routledge.
Podcamp Halifax. (2012, December 15). Home Page: Podcamp Halifax. Retrieved January 20, 2013, from Podcamp Halifax web site: http://www.podcamphalifax.ca
Simmonds, R. (2013, January 20). The Recipe for Social Media Success. Podcamp Presentation. Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada.