Dr. Mariann Hardey

Digitally on.

Speaker, Writer, Academic.

Durham University Lecturer.

I do stuff for the BBC.

Feminist & lovely.

Slanguage of social media

the most knowledgeable people about participatory culture

November 2015

This week at Durham Univeristy, my students will be preparing to offer their own introduction to current theory on contemporary marketing communications, along with advertising theory from literature in sociology, management, communication, law, geo-spatial theory and more! I like a varied set of readings for anything I teach.

Up to now, the most popular topic is exploring the contradictory status of the viral brand 'influence' and medium.

The three principal differentiating characteristics of contemporary marketing communications are its aesthetic, its ambiguous ownership, and its distribution networks. Each of these characteristics in relation to law and legislation, aspects of the viral medium which are in tension with existing brand ownership - though we are beginning to see new methods of, for example, PR coming to the fore.

Up to now, my students have been paying much greater attention to the status of 'viral' in debates about the ‘future of consumption’ in the digital age. 

Who then are the main mover and shakers in this area? In summary, some of our favourites include: 

Howard Rheingold - 'retired', but still very much bevering away today - see his latest post on Partcipatory Culture in a Networked Era

Keith Hampton - Rutgers University, often publishes reports with Pew - read his latest Pew report as an analysis of social media use and stress - the cost of caring: 


The survey analysis produced two major findings that illustrate the complex interplay of digital technology and stress:

  1. Overall, frequent internet and social media users do not have higher levels of stress. In fact, for women, the opposite is true for at least some digital technologies. Holding other factors constant, women who use Twitter, email and cellphone picture sharing report lower levels of stress.
  2. At the same time, the data show there are circumstances under which the social use of digital technology increases awareness of stressful events in the lives of others. Especially for women, this greater awareness is tied to higher levels of stress and it has been called “the cost of caring.” Stress is not associated with the frequency of people’s technology use, or even how many friends users have on social media platforms. But there is one way that people’s use of digital technology can be linked to stress: Those users who feel more stress are those whose use of digital tech is tied to higher levels of awareness of stressful events in others’ lives. This finding about “the cost of caring” adds to the evidence that stress is contagious. 

danah boyd - Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Of interest to my students - yours, if you have the privilege to teach - or simply if you are a researcher yourself is boyd's post: Which students get to have privacy?

Christian Fuchs - culture and economy in the 'social media' age. A preview of his book - just published - gives a glimpse into productive labour, co-consumptive methods of distribution and global context for product, services, campaigns and more. 

Julie Cohen - Georgetown law Professor - Cohen's latest work on a modulated society  speaks to a new civilality in a global and networked era - or is it? Far from pushing aside the legal issues of the networked self, Cohen must be read to take into account individuality, ownership 'rights' and steady process of social media naturalisation for future generations. 

Finally, for social surveillance see Daniel Trottier - Trottier is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Media and Communication at Erasmus University Rotterdam. His current research considers the use of social media by police and intelligence agencies, as well as other forms of policing that occur on these platforms. At Durham, we have found his work on open source, intelligence, social media and law enforcement, published in European Journal of Cultural Stuides, most enlightening. 

In summary, open source, open data, 'open marketing' (could this be a 'thing') intelligence infused with social media data enables an access to consumer's social lives for investigation, management, targeting, 'manipulation', and big data pursuits. These 'sexy themes' should provoke a preoccupation with the origins and circulations of consumer content.

Those above, deal with new consumer tensions - as we do with institutional concerns, government recommendations and legal and legislative methods. They are also, in my modest opinion, the most knowledgeable people about networked and participatory culture.