Social media's super-sticky meta-platform?
On WeChat, social media influencers and living the digital
|Dave Beer||Sep 2|| 1|
The end of Q magazine, which published its final issue last month (mentioned in a previous newsletter), is one instance in a long and ongoing shift of focus away from centralised media and toward decentralised social media - at least that is one way of interpreting it. There are others. But 2020 has undoubtedly seen an acceleration in some of those longer trends. I was reminded of it again with the recent news that the government had included social media influencers in its Covid-19 test and trace advertising campaign.
Influencers with large Instagram followers were paid to mention the testing within their posts. It was part of a campaign that included the usual media outlets - TV, radio, newspapers - but that also sought to include direct forms of social media promotion. It seems that rather than trying to use targeted or micro-targeted advertising for this, the government opted instead to follow the type of approach used by lifestyle brands, seeking to associate themselves with certain public figures and put their products in front of a potential audience through inclusion within social media content.
This suggests that those devising the campaign felt that the usual outlets would not enable them to reach a wide-enough audience or, perhaps, the different types of audiences that they wanted to reach. In so doing, there is an implicit acknowledgement that the reach of the national newspapers is diminishing and that individual social media users are able to more effectively amplify messages through their networks. Of course, it’s clear that reduced newspaper sales and viewing figures mean that individual social media users have voices of far greater magnitude than centralised and broadcast media. This government use of social media is just a reflection of that existing media trend.
Perhaps this will be something to follow more closely in future elections, with political parties and politicians avoiding targeted social media advertising and opting instead for influencer endorsements. Seemingly organic reach in social media is always likely to be more effective at spreading messages across networks and at convincing those who encounter that placed content.
I’ve written a piece about WeChat for Information, Communication & Society. It’s a discussion of the recent book Super-Sticky WeChat and Chinese Society by Yujie Chen, Zhifei Mao and Jack Linchuan Qiu. My piece looks at what it means for a social media platform to be sticky and how we might understand the different forces that draw users into them. Here is the opening paragraph:
If the aim is to keep users connected as frequently and for as long as possible, then WeChat could perhaps be understood to be the archetypal social media platform. This is a platform that the user need never really leave. WeChat has all of the properties that a typical social media company might strive for. Its reach stretches out across social networks finding its way into the private and public spaces occupied by its vast networked population. In this regard, one particularly notable achievement is the integration of a social payment system that affords both internet and concrete space transactions. WeChat users experience a heightened version of what William J. Mitchell (2005) once described as an ‘information overlay’. Indeed, the term overlay might feel like an understatement, WeChat is much more integrated and inherent than that might suggest. The question this poses is how this one social media platform has achieved such a density of coverage? What is it about WeChat that makes it so, as the terminology goes, sticky?
The full article is here (its behind a paywall, if you can't access it feel free to reply to this email and I can send you a PDF).
Three new books on digital living…
I’ve got hold of three new books that generally deal with what it is like to live in digital media. I’m hoping to write more about them, if I get chance. There are quite a few parallels across the three books, as the titles and subtitles suggest. All three take on some of the broad developments and work against the conventional understandings of them.
Digital Life by Tim Markham - this asks if digital media really do undermine notions of politics and ethics.
Slow Computing by Rob Kitchin and Alistair Fraser - this book looks at the acceleration of life through digital media and the politics and possibilities of slowing down.
The Digital Prism by Mikkel Flyverbom - this book explores the politics of visibility, exposure and transparency brought about by digital media
There is a fairly new podcast simply called The Sociology Show. It has interviews with sociologists about their work - and could be a useful resource for students too. It’s also available through the usual podcast outlets.
Over on the Sociological Review website they are now organising content around monthly themes. July’s theme was ‘Music and Sound’, all of the pieces and playlists are gathered together here.