The emergence of the digital era coupled with major technology advancements has created a world in which everyone can be connected via the Internet, apps, mobile devices, and computers. Participatory media have transformed how content is shared, accessed and created thus making it easy to stay connected to the global digital community. Today, it can be argued that almost everyone has a social media account and it is rare to find a person who is not on at least one social media site. With websites such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, the opportunities to share, create and access content have become nearly endless. This transformation offers many opportunities for society; however, it offers just as many threats. Ultimately, participatory media has created an entirely new media environment.
Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green argue in Spreadable Media (2013), that these changes in content sharing, access, and creation are the result of participatory cultures. The authors describe participatory culture as “a range of different groups deploying media production and distribution to serve their collective interests…” (p. 2). As our cultures become more dependent on easy connection and networking, the more dependent we become on media technologies to help us stay involved with online content.
The advancements in smartphones have resulted in the ability to distribute and produce content “on the go”.
For example, Apple iPhones offer the ability to share a short video from Snap Chat to all your family, friends and followers. It has become so easy to share content from one app to multiple accounts with one swift, easy “click”. Smartphones contain everything a person would need to create, share and access emails or social media accounts anywhere with cell service or a Wi-fi connection.
In this changing media environment, it has become commonplace for professionals, and even amateurs, to have basic knowledge of social media websites and apps. Smartphones have even become essential in some industries such as communications, the media, and entertainment. To take full advantage of participatory media it helps to know which platform is best for your message to reach your desired audience.
Social Media’s Role in a Transforming Media Environment
With the rise of social networking websites in the 2000s came the possibility for anyone with the desire and skills to create, share and access online content. Spreadable Media (2013) cites and explains “Web 2.0” as the realization that business could take place online. Jenkins et al. attribute Tim O’Reilly’s idea that “companies rely on the Internet as the platform for promoting, distributing and refining their products” (p. 48, 2013).
Regular people were introduced to Facebook in 2004, YouTube in 2005, Twitter in 2006 and Instagram in 2010. It became possible to see what was happening in the news across the world, what their long-distance friend was photographing, or they could share hobby videos or articles to an audience all their own. Social media offered a whole new version of interaction through cool new technology to people who were interested in participating more online.
An article written in the World Economic Forum asserts social media’s impact on the world:
- Across industries, social media is going from a “nice to have” to an essential component of any business strategy
- Social media platforms may be the banks of the future
- Social media is shaking up healthcare and public health
- Social media is changing how we govern and are governed
- Social media is helping us better respond to disasters
- Social media helping us tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges, from human rights violations to climate change
6 ways social media is changing the world (Alejandra Guzman and Farida Vis, 2016)
The idea that social media has become necessary for contemporary online businesses can be seen in any consumer product or service, government/political campaign, online shopping website, online advertisement, or online news source. Social media offers a way for companies to interact, monitor and market their audiences. However, moving into digital work environments can be tricky and risky to navigate for businesses.
Social media as “banks of the future” can be seen in today’s influencer culture paired with strong online marketing industries. Morgan Glucksman (2017), a communications research undergraduate student, explains the relationship between lifestyle influencers and the marketing industry:
Lifestyle influencers focus on working with companies whose products non-celebrity individuals use in their everyday lives. By working alongside social media influencers, public relations agencies can capture the attention of brand consumers and promote relevant and relatable content to clients. (p. 77)
Social media’s role in healthcare, public health, government, disasters, climate change and human rights (Guzman, Vis, 2016) was also argued in Spreadable Media’s notion of “civic media [as] content intended to increase civic engagement or to motivate participation in the political process” (2013, p. 219). Based on these two arguments social media has the ability to:
- Facilitate coverage and information about protests, demonstrations, rallies, etc.
- Allow participation in conversations on healthcare, governance, politics, etc.
- Monitor international disease outbreaks and natural disasters, as well as government agencies and political figures
Examples of Media Environment Transformations; SWOT Analysis
Participatory and social media have changed the world in many countless ways. Consider these social media platforms and their unique purposes and abilities:
- Snapchat and YouTube are video platforms, people can subscribe/follow, comment, send messages and videos.
- Instagram is a photo and caption platform; this platform appears to be the popular choice of Influencers because of the visual aspect.
- Twitter takes an immediate approach to news/business/political updates and coverage.
- Facebook offers ways to connect to friends, family, employers and local businesses.
The following is an analysis of the strengths, opportunities, weaknesses, and threats of participatory and social media.
Strengths and Opportunities
A strength of participatory cultures and media is the ability to pursue personal passions and interests. For example, beauty influencers can help audiences choose products and services, learn beauty techniques or be entertained. Some influencers have created cosmetics, haircare, and skincare lines. Beauty influencers can also create a solid sense of community amongst their followers. For example, beauty influencer James Charles’ signature “Hey sisters” introduction to his YouTube videos can create a sense of belonging and exclusivity amongst his audience and subscribers. Beauty influencers also offer opportunities for brand marketing.
For example, once an influencer builds up their fan base which is the foundation their popularity depends upon, they also gain trust and loyalty. Brands recognize these connections and see the advantages of choosing an influencer to represent their brand to their pre-established fan base. An article written by Kristen Forbes (2016) examines the beauty industry’s use of social media influencers:
Social media allows for brands to directly engage in conversations that build relationships with consumers and encourage brand loyalty (Booth & Matic, 2011) …. Influencers … allow brands to have a direct voice in the conversation, reaching consumers through their more trusted consumer peers (80).
Beauty Influencers have large and devoted fan bases, their social media accounts can reach hundreds, if not millions of people at a time, so they are ideal for the marketing and advertising industries.
Weakness and Threats
There are many dark sides to sharing, accessing and creating content on the internet and social media, such as hate comments, trolling and bullying. The transformed media environment has made it too easy for people to be malicious behind a screen. This can be especially concerning when so many young and impressionable people are involved with social media, especially when they reach influencer status.
Jack Neff’s 2018 article, Peer Pressure: Gen Z Shakes Up Influencer Ranks, makes three important points concerning young social media influencers and their roles in participatory culture:
- Gen Z are the new influencers, as though it is the ultimate social status and marketing companies are “rushing to sign [them] up”
- Gen Z may play a vital role in the marketing industry estimated to reach “$44 billion in buying power”, however, young influencers are potentially risky to work with
- Everyone is creating, accessing and sharing content, so there is a lot of material to sift through, marketing companies may soon only choose the most elite of the elite
Finally, participatory cultures depend on whether or not individuals have equal access to the technology necessary to stay involved online. The concept that almost everyone has a social media account does not imply that everyone has regular access to technology or the skills to create online content that will spread across participatory media for others to share and access.
Jenkins et al. (2013) argue that technological advancements were not the single driving force in the new media environment. It also depends on people using social media, or not, depending on their contexts. For example, “as low income… residents have gained access to networked computers… their wealthier counterparts have gained… unlimited access from their homes” (p.189). Until more financial and skill-level barriers are broken, this new media environment will continue to exclude an extensive amount of people from the opportunities to distribute, create and access participatory media and interact with the digital culture that has begun to dominate the world.