Sociology is one of the fields of science that remains very vague to me. Albeit that one of my greatest favorite science fiction series, Isaac Asimov’s the Foundation is centered around a character named Hari Sheldon, who for my understanding is a sociologist. I am in the understanding that sociology is some sort of applied psychology, like my own personal field, the computer sciences, is essentially applied mathematics and physics. (I am also minoring in psychology.)
With that said, one might argue that I would probably have a clearer insight of the essence of Psychological Media, if that was a thing, than I can claim to have of Social Media, which appears to be a thing. So what kind of a thing is social media?
I just read an interesting article “Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media” by Andreas M. Kaplan and Michael Haenlein. This article is a part of the reading I’ve been doing in trying to understand what is social media and what is the need for it. The social-part (as opposed to the technical part) of social media seems to come in several different forms.
First we have the social media, where public figures are commenting contemporary issues and these comments are shared onwards by the common people. This is the descendant of people reading commentary on the news and discussing it at coffee tables, bars and other traditional social media. Currently here in Finland I perceive this by the tons. There is the refugee issue being discussed as a huge part of the current national politics, which are otherwise hot too after last years parliament elections. Also, the presidential elections of USA are echoed strongly all the way here.
Second we have the social media, where people are publicly giving feedback to companies and the companies are responding to it. This would appear to be the second most visible in discussions about social media. Even I have written on this form earlier here in my blog. Feedback is valuable for companies, as by improving their customer relations through feedback they can get more customers and sales. This, of course, also typically benefits the common people, as the customers get better products and service – if they need and can afford it.
Third is the fusion of the first two, where companies are approaching the customers and they arrange public marketing campaigns in the social media services. This is the equivalent of arranging marketing events at shopping malls or public places. Not an unpreceded way of doing marketing – only an old trick implemented in the ways of the digital era.
Only as fourth I mention here the social media, where common people interact with each other. Although I perceive this as the original, and still prevalent ideal of the developers of social media, it is in practice, curiously enough, being considered as least important. For example, even Kaplan and Haenlein in their article talk about “a platform to facilitate information exchange between users”, and discuss in principle this fourth type of social media while explaining the backgrounds of the social media altogether in the first two chapters, but this is only a part of these chapters that act as the introduction to the subject. In the following two main chapters, with all their subchapters (which the first two have none), as well as in the concluding fifth chapter, the discussion is all about the first, second and third form of social media. There is not a single mentioning of peer-level interaction of common people in the conclusions, and the article finishes with: “Business, take note–and don’t miss the train!” I am not to say here that this is a bad paper – indeed, I will certainly be citing this article in my own future articles. I am only pointing out the prevalent bias on the field, and possibly the power of money, which seems to typically overcome issues of human wellbeing.
The fifth form of social media is people reporting from newsworthy events to the public. This is a significant part of the revolution of traditional media – especially broadcast. The first reporter on the scene of disaster is no longer the best working journalist, but a common person, who just happened to be on site with their smart phone at hand.
None of this is really substantially new. Only novelty here is in the form and effectiveness. When you design a car and bring the prototype to a Formula 1 event for the audience to see, you may reach thousands of people, but when you bring the prototype in a virtual world for the audience to test drive it, you can easily reach millions. Ever since the beginning of industrialization, the corporation have learned to harness effectively the power of increasing visibility – they are even seeking for it. The “man from the street”, however, easily finds this all very perplexing. The only thing that many people want is to have a secure life with a home, family and food – and the right to complain quietly to their in the bars and the confines of their homes. These people have a lot to learn on how the social media effects this, and there would be a lot of work for the developers to design the social media easier for these people to really master.
 Kaplan, Andreas M. and Haenlein, Michael: “Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media” in Business Horizons (2010) 53, 59–68, doi: 10.1016/j.bushor.2009.09.003