Update June 2014 :
This is the third part of a three part series of articles detailing a case study that I undertook in 2008 as part of a research project into social media and online communication and was originally published on my own personal blog Ffynnonweb which continues to undertake a journey across the changing online landscape, observing and chronicling developments in social technology and noting how they impact upon online communities – with a particular focus on opportunities in education known as ‘technology enhanced learning’ (TEL).
A full list of all the posts in the original social media research project can now be found on this page Social Media Research: JA
Please also read:
to gain the full picture…
We have now reached the current destination of our online journey; although the journey itself is by no means completed and in many ways is only just beginning in terms of harnessing social media as a beneficial force in our daily lives – encompassing both business and leisure activities.
It is however, a good time to pause for a moment and reflect on what has been discovered on the journey thus far.
If a venture is going to succeed, it requires the right balance of motivators and demotivators or hygiene factors Two Factor Theory (Herzberg). Motivators are intrinsic factors that encourage motivation and success. Hygiene factors are extrinsic and although they do not motivate in themselves, their absence causes dissatisfaction or ‘demotivates’.
In the Ning online social network used for the project, the demotivators proved to be the usability issues faced by most of the initial members.
It was because they had not been sufficiently prepared for the changes that they would face moving from one platform to another, as described by Lewin in his Unfreeze:Change:Refreeze model or told that they were valued research subjects to allow the Hawthorne Effect to become a motivator, that most of the members became dissatisfied, dispirited and demotivated. From these members’ point of view, they clearly did not feel comfortable with the technology – the major complaint being that the network was difficult to use because everything was hidden away and could not be readily or easily located – and there was nothing else to motivate them to stay (the nature of the research having been poorly understood, if at all) so they simply quietly drifted away.
Another factor that may explain the relative lack of discussions and postings in the forums and groups on the network, is I feel, quite specific to the particular group chosen as initial participants, although similar results may have been noticed in other studies, (more research on my part is needed in this area to confirm or deny this hypothesis).
Many members of this group are predominantly lurkers in the main body of a forum or network, but are highly active participants in the ‘pm culture’ – they conduct most of their conversations on a one to one basis with friends, using the private, personal messaging system of forums and networks. This began on the large public forums, continued through the private forums and has now settled into Myspace and Facebook. Due to the very nature of it being ‘private’ and ‘behind the scenes’ – unless one is a member of this sub-culture, one isn’t really aware of its existence or certainly not to the extent of its all-pervasiveness.
There are two specific reasons why members of the initial ‘Chiggy’ group that came to the network prefer Myspace to Ning. The first reason is that they were all enthusiastic fans of one Big Brother Housemate and wanted to receive personal messages and bulletins from her. The only way to do this was to join Myspace and add her to their ‘Friends’ list. They were thus highly motivated to make the effort to learn how to use this platform. The simplicity of the messaging system on Myspace was a welcome bonus and is definitely part of its attractiveness.
This particualr housemate did not use Facebook at this time so this was not a motivator for her fans, but the other Housemate used Facebook and not Myspace, so this was a motivator for his fans to join and many of the others followed them over there out of curiosity. They found it more complicated than Myspace, but once mastered, they were able to use the private messaging system there also. Ning hadn’t quite got there yet with its own message system, which was rather a shame, because members might have made more use of this feature if it had been more user-friendly and thus may have had more incentive to remain onsite.
Perhaps the main disadvantage of the particular network is that although it was technically a community of interest, it is highly probable that the interests that were catered for were too vague, diverse and not sufficiently purposeful, therefore it struggled to attract and retain members. There were a large number of special interest groups or sub-sections available within the network itself, but persons with such interests (TV, Gaming, Movies, Music and so on) will have their own specific online communities and would thus have no reason to come to this network to discuss them.
In fact, they had no reason to be aware of the network’s existence at all. A valid criticism would be that the network didn’t really know what the target market was and was therefore not advertising its ‘wares’ in the right places.
At inception, the network was reasonably purposeful and targeted at a subset of Big Brother fans, but when this group collectively decided that they did not really want to transplant themselves lock, stock and barrel to a new home in a social network and preferred to remain where they were, the Network Creator was faced with two options – allow the network to wither on the vine and quietly die – or attempt to breathe new life into it by attracting new member groups.
However, as anyone who has ever tried to diversify their product into new markets will testify, this was always likely to be a slow, lengthy process with no real guarantee of success. Nevertheless, the challenge it posed was interesting and instructive, at the very least.
In addition, this research project opened up several possible areas of further study that might be explored. One was to undertake a follow-up study of the network created for the original project at a later date to find out if any of the other Web 2.0 communication channels have yielded results in terms of increased membership and participation.
Two other potentially rewarding subjects for research that have been touched upon briefly in previous posts are those of Web 2.0 in Enterprise and Education.
If a business is perceived to be in touch and listening at a ‘grass roots’ level, this helps to enhance their reputation. Many businesses are now discovering that encouraging employees and customers to communicate and interact with each other using the new social media of blogging and social networks has proved beneficial to them in terms of customer and employee satisfaction and subsequent improved productivity and commercial success. This is a very new concept in Enterprise and a long-term study would be able to discover if this communication continues and deepens or turns out to be something of a ‘fad’.
Education has long realised the benefits of online and distance learning of course but the use of newer social media by both educators and students promises to enrich and enhance these experiences at all levels from Primary Schooling right up to Adult Learners returning to study in later life. This field therefore offers much scope for future research.
Finally however, a cautionary note should be sounded because, as has been discovered by observation and participation in the case study, to obtain the maximum benefits from much of the new Web 2.0 user generated media requires a higher level of confidence and competence than appears to be presently the case in the majority of ordinary web surfers. It is only when people have a strong external motivation to make changes that they will persevere and adapt to the new technologies.
If those enthusiasts who consider themselves to be in the technological vanguard want to ensure that the revolution in social media is of benefit to everyone and not just the young or technically minded, they must be sensitive to the fact that older, less well-educated users will need a lot more help and patient guidance in how to digg, twitter and be del.icio.us…
Update June 2014: A full list of all the posts in the social media research project can now be found on this page Social Media Research: JA