UCL Social Networking Sites & Social Science Research Project
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    The in-group influence

    By Shriram Venkatraman, on 13 March 2013

    Photo by epSos.de (Creative Commons)

    Photo by epSos.de (Creative Commons)

    Several cross-cultural strategy consultants stress that, in some countries, people are influenced by their “in-group/inner circle”, which mainly comprises of friends and relatives. They advise new companies to go through this in-group circle when attempting to influence their target sector. This can also be understood as “friends” influencing the target sector more than any other group. Facebook’s strategy on giving users recommendations of things/products or websites by “friends” has seen an amplified effect/impact with their revenue generation. Further, with brands and applications posting on behalf of a user who maybe an influential in-group personality for some, the strategy seems to be a marketable option generalising the impact of friends in all countries and specifically in those where an in-group effect is maximum. An aspect to look out for might be to check if these in-group influencing economies are digitally driven and use social networking sites. Furthermore, it looks like a lot more needs to be written and researched on how recommendations of “friends” (as in-groups) work for online companies and their associated products.

    New-Age Spiritual Gurus and Social Media

    By Shriram Venkatraman, on 13 February 2013

    It is not rare to see the social media presence of new-age spiritual Gurus in India. They have a steady following on several social networking sites. From Facebook fan pages and groups to Twitter to Youtube channels, you name it and they have it!

    Transcendent and immanent omnipresence, a spiritual nature of the soul in Indian philosophy, now finds itself rightly expressed through social media. With such high intense publicity, it seems like several such Gurus are driven by an incessant need to achieve the dream of several beauty pageant participants – namely ‘world peace’.

    Though there is nothing wrong in the branding that they wish to achieve in order to either bring in more followers or maintain their supportes – in other words an e-spiritual capital (or call it the i-spiritual capital, or prefix any other vowel that denotes the digital medium) that they build through their social media presence – it doesn’t take long to figure out the conversion of this e/i-Spiritual capital to an economic capital on the digital arena.  Most of their presence on social media are followed by links to their websites which more or less advertises the Guru and does an awesome spiritual marketing, pitching in their e-shops and souvenir items that was until recently only traded in US dollars.

    Rituals on the Facebook pages range from chanting (typing) the Guru’s name every morning, noon and night to expressing how an ideal life should be led on this earth. The pages cater to mostly the devotees and followers who are not residents in India. The digital medium is thus used to build memories of the Guru across space and time. Some of the best personal branding social media presence run by volunteers is that of these new-age spiritual Gurus. No wonder that they now advise CEOs and corporate entities on how to run businesses!

    Entrepreneurs and Social Media

    By Shriram Venkatraman, on 14 January 2013

    Photo by Camille Rose (Creative Commons)

    Online Social networking use by businesses is already quite well established. With newer avenues, business expansion and marketing ideas to a ready audience of other net-workers happens effortlessly, even for cash strapped small scale businesses. Entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs are finding avenues to market and spread the word about their ventures, and create brand value at almost no cost by using social network or media websites. The social network, fan and follower base that these entrepreneurs end up building for their local businesses through globalised internet tools is inspiring.

    For example, a local kiosk chain in India, which serves wraps for people to eat was at some point of time known more from its Facebook page than through other means. In fact, the owner of this chain uses Facebook and other social networking sites as his main marketing and branding tool. A strategy adopted by such new food chain entrepreneurs with limited budget in India is to get a few well known newspapers or magazines carry an article about them in the Lifestyle section. They make sure to mention their brand’s Facebook or Twitter page in such articles and end up getting a considerable number of fans or followers online. How much of this converts to business is an aspect to consider, but, the mission of creating a brand value at almost no cost is accomplished.

    The use of social network as a knowledge network by entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs is yet another area of interest. With existence of several interest groups and knowledge sharing groups or networks, it is well known that these social networks have gone on to help several of its members by bringing together strangers separated by physical distances onto a common platform. Entrepreneurs and Social Entrepreneurs have found this platform an extremely viable medium through which knowledge of business processes, technicalities, laws, organisation culture and so on can be shared extensively in a cost effective manner.

    ‘Big data’ or ‘Data with a soul’?

    By Xin Yuan Wang, on 8 November 2012

    Image: Thegreenfly (Creative Commons)

    What is big data? In the digital era, the data produced by people on an everyday basis is myriad. There is always more data coming into being, and it is growing at an unimaginable rate. People believe that big data will lead to big impact, claiming that big data opens the door to a new approach to understanding people and helps to making decisions. At the 2012 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, big data was a theme topic and the report Big Data, Big Impact by the forum claimed that big data should be considered as a new class of economic asset, like currency or gold. People who are masters at harnessing the big data of the Web (online searches, posts and messages) with Internet advertising stand to make a big fortune.

    I love data, so big data sounds brilliant! However I am not a ‘big fan’ of big data. Partly because, for me, big data sounds more like a marketing term rather than analytical tool; partly because, being trained as an anthropologist, I am very cautious about going too far out on a limb to make such assumptions. For me, it will be a great pity to see people who fancy formulating big data with brilliant statistics, however ignoring the little stories happen in daily life which have been taken for granted

    For anthropology, to some extent story is the date with a soul, or contextualized data to be exact. There is always a danger that data without a context would be confusing and very misleading. For example, in my previous study on the appropriation of Facebook among Taiwanese students in the UK, one thing I discovered is that the Taiwanese use the function ‘like’ on Facebook much more frequently compared to UK Facebook users. For a Taiwanese who have 150-200 friends on Facebook, 20-50 ‘likes’ for each status or posting is very commonplace, and the average amount of ‘like’s’ which people give to others is 15-35 daily. Such considerable amount of ‘likes’, per se, could possibly lead me to making some superficial conclusions, for example, that Taiwanese are more predisposed to admire others online, so on and so forth. However, it was only after long-term participant-observation and several in-depth discussions with each of my informants, that I start to realize that both the Chinese normativity of proper social reaction (save face, reciprocity, renqing) and moral responsibility taken by individuals in the negotiation of real life communication practices shape the pattern of Taiwanese online performance.

     “For most of the time I ‘like’ people because I have nothing to say about their updates, but I want them to know that I care about them, I follow their lives.”

    “Liking is polite, just like saying hello when you meet your friends. Nothing to do with the content which you like.”

    “…I kind of think that, the more I like a certain person, the less I want to be really involved into his/her real life. ‘Like’ is easy and safe. You know you still need to give a face to people.”

    Also, according to the principle of Chinese “Bao” (reciprocity), people who have been ‘liked’, will try to find all the means to pay off debts of the “Renqing” (favor) to others.

    “I would expect ‘likes’ from others on Facebook, you know, which makes me more engaged with them and I will like their posts as often as I can. For those who like or leave comments on my profile, I will reply to them with careful preparation to show my sincerity.” as the other key informant said.

    It’s so interesting to explore the ways in which “Being Chinese” and Facebook appropriation have been mutually constituted. Facebook is to some extent re-invented by the Taiwanese. If I just count how many ‘likes’ and analyze it without looking into the online content and offline context, I will miss the point no matter how big and sophisticated the data is.

    So, the question is whether we are looking at ‘big data’ or ‘data with a soul’? Of course, these two are not necessarily mutually exclusive to each other, even though there are some things you can only do with Big Data or ethnographic data. The point is how can we take advantage of the best parts of the both and contribute to the understanding of our human society as a whole, which is also a big question mark for all the researchers in the digital age.