A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words…and Perhaps A Whole Lot More

A few months ago I watched a short documentary on Vimeo called Instagram Is.

The film was created by Paul Tellefson and features a number of Instagrammers.  The documentary project all started in a class when Paul was asked to create a trailer for  a mock film; after creating the short trailer, Paul realized there was an entire story right in front of him.  He ended up creating Instagram Is as part of his capstone project at the University of Texas at Dallas.

A year and half ago, I graduated from a college where I had an amazing four years with an amazing group of friends, and shortly after I picked up my life and moved from upstate New York to Portland, Oregon.  Before stumbling across the video on Instagram, I liked Instagram because it allowed me to quickly document my daily life and post a picture for my friends and family to see three thousand miles away.  And it’s reciprocal, so I got to see everything my best friends were up to even though we were now sprinkled across the country and not living on campus within five minutes of each other; it was a great way to keep in touch and to a certain extent made me feel like we were still physically a part of each of my friends’ lives.  Then I watched Instagram Is, and became obsessed with Instagram – as a mobile app, as a community, as a window into other worlds, as a way to document and change perspective.

After watching Instagram Is, I still see it as a window into other worlds and method by which to document a life story, but also a lot more.  It’s a way to meet and connect with other people from different states, different countries, and different worlds.  Through conversation on user photographs, users created Instameets to meet up with members of the Instagram community in cities all over the world.  Users crafted a community and took a uniform, digital community and infused it with creativity and physicality.  I hadn’t realized the strength and realness embedded in Instagram; most digital communities seem cold and lacking genuine sentiment.  Since watching, I’ve got to admit, I’ve become obsessed – to a certain extent – with Instagram.  I love being able to create and share photos with not only my friends, but also people around the world; being able to explore other worlds and different perspectives on my own world through photographs.

Instagram – and my obsession for it – gives me a little more faith in social media and makes me want to dive into new platforms to see what’s going on! What social media platforms are you obsessed with? What platform inspires you to create, share, and explore?

Examining Social Media in Organizations

My last semester of graduate school has arrived! Despite my excitement about this forthcoming accomplishment, this last hurdle to freedom means that I have to write my capstone – I shudder when I remember the frantic feeling that was present when I wrote my undergraduate thesis.  I sat down a few weeks ago to hash out ideas for my capstone; what topic was I going to want to examine, study, and write about for four months?  I’ve always been really intrigued by social media – its uses, applications, culture, all of it. Over the course of my MS program, I’ve become really interested in organizational communication. Ta-da! I had found a basis for my topic: social media use in social movements.  Now I was left to whittle down to a more detailed topic and figure out what methods I wanted to use while exploring my topic.  A few cups of coffee and a slice of cheesecake later and I had my plan, complete with a title.

The Digital Wave: How Social Movements Take Flight on Social Media

The title is pretty self-explanatory, but I want to examine how specific social movements use social media to manage their identity and accomplish their goals.  Do social movements use social media effectively? Are social movement’s able to accomplish their desired goals and outcomes by using social media? Do they post in conjunction with ‘on the ground’ efforts or on social media alone? Do they monitor their own posts and the posting of their friends to ensure “accuracy” in the eyes of readers?

To answer all of these questions, I decided to use both quantitative and qualitative methods to collect data.  I will be conducting interviews with volunteers. I will also be distributing a survey to gather answers to questions regarding social media use in social movements.  My goals are really to dive into the topic and examine it under a lens of interpersonal communication and network theory.  I want to see how individuals that are a part of social movements use and prohibit social media compared to their personal life and compared to individuals that are a part of different social movements.  I’m curious as to whether it varies industry to industry (i.e. are some industries more prone to have activists on social media), and I hope to find out how an individual’s social media activism might shape the movement, as well as the success of the movement.

So, it’s time to hit the ground – and the library – running!

The Reality Behind Social Media

Watching the documentary ‘Catfish’ brought a lot of thoughts swirling through my mind.  We’ve all heard how dangerous the internet can be or how misleading a social media profile can be, and the first thing that I think upon hearing warnings such as these is, “creepy”.  But I realized, there’s a whole set of different layers that delve much deeper than the quick cast-off summary of creepy.  In the documentary, you see a story unravel about a women who mislead a young photographer, and yes, it is creepy.  But it’s also sad, depressing, strange, and dare I say – somewhat understandable.  Angela, a forty-something women disguises herself as a younger, more beautiful version of herself under the guise of a falsified Facebook profile.  You see the every day stresses that she lives with; two handicapped children, a marriage that isn’t very fulfilling, and life in a small country town that isn’t very glamorous.  Angela wants so much out of life – to paint and sell her art, to dance once again, to be someone other than herself – and she used Facebook as a way to escape and create the life she felt she was missing out on.

By no means do I think her scheme was acceptable or rational.  But it’s understandable. Every once in a while we all want to escape into a fantasy life.  For me, it would mean jet-setting around the world with no responsibility other than to see all the amazing things there are to see.  If I think about it, to a certain extent I do live this fantasy out online albeit in a less deceptive fashion than Angela; I pin pictures of foreign landscapes, google information about trips I probably won’t be able to take anytime soon, and explore the pictures my friends’ travels.

I think what made me think the most wasn’t Angela’s entire scheme, but instead the realization of how easily someone can access, steal, and manipulate information from one’s social media profile.  I currently have (and have had for a while) relatively strict privacy settings on my Facebook; it’s the platform that I have the most personal information on and I see it as a means by which to communicate and connect with people I already know – I don’t need or particularly want strangers scoping out what I did last weekend or where I’m going to be tomorrow.  Yet it surprises me how many individuals have loose privacy settings, or what’s worse, how many individuals don’t even know how to change their privacy settings.  Social media culture has given individuals a sense of security and infallibility.  Growing up we all heard “Don’t talk to strangers”, yet  somehow it now seems harmless to interact with strangers on the internet.  Where’s the sense in that?  I don’t believe people should be paranoid on the internet, but I think we all need to become smarter about what we’re posting and who can see it.  So by all means post pictures of your awesome trip for your friends and family to see, but make sure your profile is more restricted to those people whom you don’t know!

Social Media Goals: I Didn’t Even Know I Had Any

Over the last few years I’ve given a lot of thought to how I want my social media profiles to look and what message I want them to convey, on both a personal and professional level.  I want profiles to be inspirational, entertaining, and representative of my personality and myself.  Alternately, on a professional level I want my profiles to convey my skills, work ethic, creativity, and motivation.  Ideally I’d like my personal and professional goals to be accomplished on separate profiles; Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are all profiles I want to keep personal, whereas LinkedIn is ideal for helping me launch my professional development.  Realistically I know that rarely is any situation black and white; I expect that future employers might search for my Facebook to gauge who I am and how I might represent myself as a brand representative on my personal social media profiles.

My social media goals are to maintain social media profiles that are representative of my personal self and my professional self without becoming unbalanced in favor of one self or the other.  I want to be able to have a potential employer to look at my personal profiles and see not only who I am as a person, but who I am as an employee.  I think personality can play a lot into whether an individual fits into a certain firm; if a firm is very serious and buttoned up, someone exuberant and creative might not feel comfortable on a daily basis.  To achieve this, I’ll need a plan. What social media platforms will I use?  Facebook, LinkedIn, and my blog quickly come to mind as bi-purpose platforms.  Twitter, perhaps?  I find this particular platform less open to use as a dual role platform; my general feeling is that a Twitter account is either personal – and contains jokes or comments potentially not suited for work and potential employers – or used professionally as a vehicle for advertising, or to reference industry relevant news and articles.  Pinterest, Instagram, Vine? There’s potential there, although again, my sense is that these platforms may be harder to use to represent two separate, yet intertwined, identities.

There are dozens of other social media platforms out there; if I got creative I might be able to find a way to use each of them for both personal and professional aspirations.  I’m very interested in pursuing a career in either marketing or conflict management for organizations.  I know that any career in marketing will deal heavily in social media and digital advertising, given recent evolution of the marketing industry as part of the digital age; it’s probably about time I start exploring more social media platforms – learning about them, trying them out, and identifying their strengths and weaknesses.

My Online Identity

It was pretty interesting reviewing my social media walls, especially as I searched farther and farther in the past; my usage, habits, and shared identity have evolved pretty significantly. Out of all my current social media sites, I’ve used Facebook the longest. I used to post multiple times a day, typically about mundane daily events or articles I had come across.  Scrolling through my wall, I noticed a significant evolution in my Facebook habits about two years ago; I started posting less and less frequently as time went on.  My more recent posts were about bigger life events (although I still post and share articles or funny pictures) and less about how I’m feeling on a given day.  One thing that hasn’t really changed throughout my Facebook posts is that they typically don’t reveal anything overly personal; I don’t post ‘woe is me’ statuses or super negative statuses.  I always avoid sharing a post when a family member dies, or I experience a life roadblock, rather I try to focus on positive life events – things that I think are worth sharing.  I don’t want all of my Facebook friends to know when I’m going through a rough time because I feel like that’s what my close friends and family are for.

Looking at my other social media pages, I would say I have similar habits but there has been less of an evolution in my habits on these other sites.  On Twitter I’ve always had a ‘day in the life’ kind of posting habit; I tweet quick tidbits about what I’m thinking, where I am, or what I’m doing.  I don’t share many articles or websites on Twitter, instead using the platform as more of a soundboard for where I’m at in my day/life.  Looking through my Instagram and blog were probably the most interesting (a majority of my blog posts are pictures) because the posts on each platform revealed some themes.  Many of my Instagram photos are of nature/food/random weird things/my surroundings; I have very few ‘selfies’ because I prefer to document what’s around me. It got me thinking. I think the biggest reason I avoid ‘selfies’ is because I get to see myself every day; I get to see amazing sights or a delicious new food not as often.  Sharing my surroundings also gives my family and friends a more realistic picture of what I’m up to.  My blog had a slightly different theme.  Like Instagram, it contains many pictures of nature because I love to travel, but it also contains quotes and pictures that evoke emotion or make me think twice.  Overall I would say that I’ve used my blog as a hybrid means of self-development and inspiration.

In thinking about each my social media platforms, it seems that most of my postings convey who I am and who I want to be as a person; they convey my values, things I like to do, and my personality.  Comments on certain posts mean a lot to me, whereas comments on other posts are nice but mean less.  For example, if I post about a personal accomplishment or an interesting article, comments from my friends or family help reaffirm my success, my ability to overcome something, or the relevancy of things I find interesting.

In reviewing my social media postings, I think the main reason I post and share on these platforms is to connect with people I normally wouldn’t be able to connect with – family far away, friends back home, etc.  These platforms offer me a way to stay in touch and maintain a relationship similar to one I would have with them in person.  For example, now I might share a webpage with my college roommate on Facebook because we live on opposite sides of the country.  If she and I were still roommates, I would probably tell her about the same webpage while we were both lounging around; the ability to share it online allows to maintain the relationship we had when we were in the same state.

Relationship with Social Media

Social media is the beast we all hate to love and love to hate, myself included; it’s great for keeping in touch with friends and family back home and for staying up to date with people I don’t get to see every day, but I also feel like I spend more time online than I should, and a lot of what I see posted is unnecessary.  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, Pinterest…the list goes on for what seems like a millennia.  These platforms have become soundboards for individuals to share every detail of their life with the online world, and in all honesty I don’t always care what a classmate from high school ate for lunch, what new DIY craft project my coworker wants to try next, or the funny face my friend wants to send me on Snapchat when I’m busy.

I’ll admit, I use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn (although I draw the line at Vine and Snapchat for now).  I mostly use my smartphone when I visit these sites because it’s mobile and always nearby, but I also use my laptop and tablet on occasion.  Recently I’ve realized that I spend a lot less time on social media than I used to, but I still use it more than I actually need to.  I gave it some serious thought: per week, I probably spend between one and five hours on these sites cumulatively (depending on how much homework, work, and fun I’ve got going on at the moment). Twitter and Instagram are usually the sites I check most, and I usually just check in on my phone for a few minutes multiple times throughout the day, but I can get sucked into Pinterest for a long time when I’m on my laptop…there are way too many gorgeous homes, delicious recipes, and clothes I wish were in my closet peppered on the site.

Reflecting on my social media use both past and present, I would say that for the most part I’m a participant because I use social media to stay in touch with my family in New York and my friends, since we’re now spread around the country.  I can update my Facebook or post a picture to Instagram and it lets people know what I’m up to when I don’t have time to call or Skype with them. I’m a bit ashamed to say it, but I use social media to keep in contact the most because it’s so efficient – and I hate talking on the phone.  I would even say to a certain extent, that I’ve become a spectator on Facebook because I go on to check my newsfeed and see what other people are doing, but I don’t post very frequently anymore.

In placing my relationship with social media under a magnifying glass, I gave some thought to my social media ethos.  Overall, I would say my ethos changes from platform to platform.  I use Twitter and Instagram for quick blips and updates about what I’m currently doing, whereas I use Facebook less frequently for bigger life events; I don’t believe Facebook should be used to update your friends every five minutes because there are other platforms designed for brief and frequent updates (á la Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, and a million other platforms that I’m sure are out there).  It seems that the lines between different platforms are becoming blurred because one can link platforms and post on multiple sites simultaneously.  This interactivity seems to have created some confusion about what kinds of posts each platform is designed for; LinkedIn is for networking and job related news postings, whereas Instagram and Twitter are meant to be free flowing and in the moment, and Facebook is meant to connect your real world communities online to keep people updated.

Social media definitely has it’s benefits and it’s drawbacks, and I think it will only become a more prevalent and powerful force as time goes on, especially when users identify the right platform for their desired goal.

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