Tag Archives: social media

Why do brands lose their chill? How bots, algorithms, and humans can work together on social media

Note from the Editor, Tricia Wang: The fourth contributor to the Co-designing with machines edition is Molly Templeton (@mollymeme), digital and social media expert, Director of Social Media at Everybody at Once, and one of the internet’s first breakaway YouTube stars. Her piece urges brands’ social media strategy to look beyond the numbers when working in the digital entertainment and marketing industry. Molly gives specific examples where algorithms don’t know how to parse tweets by humans that are coded with multiple layers of emotional and cultural meaning. She offers the industry a new way to balance the emotional labor in audience management with data analysis. Her articles draws on her work at Everybody at Once, a consultancy that specializes in audience development and social strategy for media, entertainment, and sports.

@Tacobell spent an hour sending this same gif out to dozens of people. The account is probably run by humans (most social media presences today are). And they were following best practice by “replicating community behavior,” that is, talking the way normal people talk to each other (a human taco bell fan would definitely send a gif). But when @tacobell only sends the same gifs out over and over again, it’s uncanny. It’s pulling the right answers from the playbook, but at the wrong frequency.  

Why do brands lose their chill?

I think that brands lose their chill when they don’t let their social media managers exercise empathy. The best brands on social media balance the benefit of interaction with the risk of human error – managers are constantly concerned with pissing off the organization, or the audience, and ultimately trying to please both sets of real people. Hitting campaign goals and maximizing efficiency are important, but social media managers need to bring humanity to their work. They have to understand the audience’s moods and where they’re coming from, and they have to exercise empathy at every level: customer service, information and content sharing, community management, call-to-actions, participation campaigns, crisis and abuse management. That is a lot of emotional labor.   

With the recent chatter about chat bots on Facebook’s messenger platform, a lot of people are thinking about how bots can take over communications roles from humans. I’ve been thinking a lot about the opposite: how can machines help people manage the emotional labor of working with audiences? Can bots ever help with the difficult, and very human task of managing with empathy?  

Social media is a business of empathy  

Emotional connections drive social media. When people gather around the things they feel passionate about, they create energy. It’s because of limbic resonance — the deep, neurological response humans have to other people’s emotions. As my colleague Kenyatta Cheese says, it’s that energy that makes participating as a fan on social media feel as electric as it does when you’re part of a physical crowd.  Read More… Why do brands lose their chill? How bots, algorithms, and humans can work together on social media

Datalogical Systems and Us

Helen ThornhamIn this post for ‘The Person in the (Big) Data‘ edition of EM, Helen Thornham
talks about how her research into data and the everyday has made her think critically about the power relations that surround “datalogical systems”, particularly in how we as researchers are implicated in the systems we aim to critique.   

Data, big data, open data and datalogical systems (Clough et al. 2015) are already, as David Beer has noted, ‘an established presence in our everyday cultural lives’ (2015:2) and this means that the material and embodied configurations of data are already normative and quotidian and novel and innovative. Much of my research over the last 4 years, supported by a range of ESRC [i], EPSRC [ii] and British Academy grants, has engaged with normative and everyday configurations of data – whether that is in terms of routine and mundane mediations, lived subjective experiences framed by datalogical systems and their obscure decision making processes, the relationship between the promises of data for infrastructural change and the realisation of this, or human interrogations of machines. While the scope and breadth of my research into data and datalogical systems is broad and diverse, what connects all of my research is a continued concern with how data and datalogical systems are not just reconceptualising epistemology and ontology more widely (see also Burrows and Savage 2014), but how they implicate us as researchers and  reveal to us that our long-term methods of research are equally and always already subject to, and framed by, the very issues we purport, in the digital era, to be critiquing.

To rehash a familiar argument: if we conceive of technology in relation to social media, big data and data flow, the subsequent methods that epistemologically frame this are defined by that initial conception: web analytics, scraping and mining tools, mapping – tools that seek to make visible the power relations of the digital infrastructures but that actually generate those power relations in the act of making them visible (boyd and Crawford 2012). For the ESRC project where we have investigated risks and opportunities of social media for the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD), web analytic methods show us very clearly mundane and dull, repetitive mass media management of content. News headlines are retweeted effectively and broadly with limited discussion that is capturable by the scraping tools we use.Read More… Datalogical Systems and Us

An interview with Anthropologist Danny Miller about his latest research on social media & hospices

daniel-millerDr. Daniel Miller (@dannyanth) is Professor of Material Culture at the Department of Anthropology University College London and a Fellow of the British Academy. He has specialised in the study of material culture and consumption.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Daniel Miller (@dannyanth) is an anthropologist who has contributed foundational theoretical and empirical work to the study of material culture. Even though Danny’s work is in academia, his research on consumption continues to influence the commercial world. As such, EPIC invited Danny to be one of the keynote speakers in London.

After reading Danny’s work for over a decade, I was beyond excited that I got to meet him at EPIC. In this interview, Danny tells us about his applied research on hospices and his current massive, multi-year, global social media research project that recently led up to what some called the “facebook kerfuffle.”

For more posts from this EPIC edition curated by contributing editor Tricia Wang (who gave the opening keynoted talk at EPIC this year), follow this link.

theory-of-shopping the-comfort-of-things2 417dC-J121L cache_46_ea_46eae409706da6c82c8046c5f650c494Did you ever imagine that your work would become required course reading and end up on almost every anthropologist’s and sociologist’s shelf?
It’s something of a paradox that anthropologists who specialise in social research are still often represented in the highly individualistic mode of popular culture which is devoted to the individual as a `name’. I come out of a more European tradition which is why there is very little out there about myself.  The work that I do and is found on people’s shelves is not really about me as an individual. I derive most of my ideas from a specific literature, mainly in anthropology, such as the work of Pierre Bourdieu, but also from many other academic disciplines, such as insights from the sociologist Simmel or the philosopher Hegel. In turn my own work will be reflected mainly as citations in other people’s academic writings and interests. So really I am part of a process, trying to employ an extraordinary legacy of ideas to help us understand our contemporary world.

Read Danny Miller's piece: Photography in the Age of Snapchat

Read Danny Miller’s piece: Photography in the Age of Snapchat

I guess one reason for the popularity is that word `contemporary’. While anthropologists tended to look to things with long traditions, I am currently writing about `snapchat’ and I think my work coveys my excitement and enthusiasm for the world we actually live in. By the same token I think people have responded to my desire to leave behind the more obscure jargons of academic and try to create a writing style that re-integrates the humanity and poignancy of people’s lives alongside our more abstract and academic concerns. I hope people enjoy this intense engagement, which is just fine, because I certainly do, and in some ways I feel I have only just started my work.

Hopefully this also reflects a wider realisation, that approaches such as `big data’ and perspectives modeled on science, look terribly important and promising. But again and again people come to the realisation that to understand the world there are no short cuts, and the best way is the patient qualitative and engaged research that is the delight of anthropology.

Why did you agree to speak at EPIC?

To be honest I knew very little about EPIC, and the main reason for my involvement was that my Department at University College London was partly hosting this year’s EPIC and so it was natural for me to be involved. Having said that I have been a long term supporter of acknowledging and fostering the relationship between anthropology and applied work, including commercial work. Most students in anthropology will end up somewhere in that sector and I think it is appalling the way many academic anthropologists try and ignore the importance of this relationship and pretend all their students are going to end up as pure academics.  As I argued in my talk I think anthropologists have just as much to learn from the applied sector as the other way around.Read More… An interview with Anthropologist Danny Miller about his latest research on social media & hospices

On Teaching Social Media to Undergraduates [Syllabus As Essay]

Alice3_smEditor’s Note: We are very happy to feature Ethnography Matter’s first Syllabus as Essay post for 2013 from Alice Marwick, a researcher who conducted pioneering ethnographic fieldwork on the world of social media use. Simply titled, “Social Media,” the syllabus that she created for undergraduate students at Fordham University is breathtaking and groundbreaking. Not only did Alice construct an interdisciplinary reading list to prepare her students to critically analyze social media, she also aimed to give her students practical social media skills for entry-level jobs and internships. Who does that? Only a professor who has a deep understanding of the contemporary internet!

While we weren’t lucky enough to be Alice’s student, she gives us an abbreviated tour of her class below. Alice explains her motivations for including several key readings in her syllabus. We get a peak into some of the lesson assignments for her students. We also get to learn how she integrated tumblr into her lesson plans.

Alice is currently an Assistant Professor at Fordham University in the Department of Communication and Media Studies and an academic affiliate at the Center for Law and Information Policy at Fordham Law School. She is turning her dissertation, Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity & Self-Branding in Web 2.0, into a book. 

Are you teaching a class on ethnography that engages with issues of technology? Then consider being our next guest poster for the Syllabus as Essay series! 


[Social Media Week by Fora do Eixo on Flickr]

I started my first semester as an assistant professor at Fordham with free range to take over a recently-added undergraduate class called “Social Media.” I’ve seen social media classes taught at the undergraduate level that focus entirely on learning to use the sites du jour. Not only does this approach not age well, it doesn’t give students skills to analyze social media critically, which is my primary ethos of teaching media studies.  Instead, I decided to spend the first half of the class grounding the students in a mish-mash of theory drawn from computer-mediated communication (CMC), science and technology studies (STS), and digital ethnography, and the second half organized topically, around key areas of interest like journalism, memes, and privacy. I wanted to do two things with the class: First, give the students some practical skills they could bring to bear in an internship or entry-level job, and second, focus on the sociotechnical, the interplay between technological affordances and social norms, to provide a skill set that would enable students to approach new sites and apps with a critical eye.

For a textbook, I chose Nancy Baym’s Personal Connections in the Digital Age. Like me, Baym is trained in communication, but uses ethnography as her primary method. The book gives a thorough schooling in CMC theory, some of which is out of fashion but still useful, and more modish key concepts in STS, while maintaining a critical, anthropological viewpoint.

Read More… On Teaching Social Media to Undergraduates [Syllabus As Essay]

The tools we use: Gahhhh, where is the killer qualitative analysis app?

For the August issue of Ethnography Matters, Jenna, Heather, and Rachelle have written great posts about their fieldnote tools in the Tools we Use series. Now I have all these new apps I want to try for data analysis!

So this is when I admit here that I have no perfect process. I really don’t. Sometimes this upsets me and sometimes I just say whatever.  I’ve only figured out parts of the process. For example, last month, I wrote in depth about my use of Instagram to live fieldnote. But that’s just one part of the long path of fieldwork analysis. Now that I’ve finished data gathering,  I am no longer in the excitement of fieldwork. I don’t have a team of people to work with as I usually do on projects. For my China research,  it’s just me. And all I can think is, how am I going to analyze all this data without going crazy?

I’ve tried all the coding software possible for qualitative research, but there is no app that fulfills my needs. I have developed an aversion to anything that claims to be a “qualitative analysis tool.” These tools are lacking in user friendliness, collaborative features, platform diversity, and service support. If it doesn’t run on a mac and if the software’s website is unusable – that’s already a clue.

As far as fieldwork tools go, hardly anything drives an ethnographer more crazy than trying to find the most appropriate fieldwork tools. Of all the ethnography courses I’ve taken and all the books, dissertation, and papers I’ve read, none of them go into depth on the tools that ethnographers use to support their process. I suspect that one of the reasons why ethnographers don’t write about the tools they use is because they may use an ad hoc process that is messier and less structured than they’d like to admit. Read More… The tools we use: Gahhhh, where is the killer qualitative analysis app?

Ethnographer’s Reading List: Jay Owens’s Summer Reading [guest contributor]

A first time contributor to Ethnography Matters, Jay Owens shares her summer reading list with us in the Ethnographer’s Book List series. I became familiar with Jay through liking and reblogging many of her tumblr posts. I eventually wandered over to Jay’s website that had the byline: tech + culture: patterns, trends, lines of flight.  I soon found out that Jay is a social media research at FACE, a research and innovation agency in London. And like many of us who find our way to projects and friends online, Jay got her job through Twitter (@hautepop). Jay tells me that she wants to write an ethnography of teenage Tumblr. (We hope you start that project soon!) Previously Jay studied social anthropology at the LSE. You can learn more about Jay’s research on her twitter, tumblr, or her website

If you would like to contribute to the “Ethnographer’s Reading List,” send us an email! – Tricia


As a commercial researcher I look somewhat enviously at the rhythms of the academic year, when the summer can be a time away from reading lists or teaching schedules allowing for – hopefully – some wider reading and exploration. Nonetheless, working at the intersection of qual & quant research, social media technology and online behaviour means there’s a lot of areas I need to read up on this summer – below is only a fraction of my to-read list.

Research methods are a crucial area: with little in the way of established methods in my field, rigorous thinking about data, analysis and epistemology is essential for producing robust results. Theoretically, too, working on contemporary Western society means I want to add ideas from media studies, geography and economics to the anthropological grounding I gained at university. Finally ethnography, bringing it all together and asserting the primacy of people’s lived experiences.


Recommendations here would be particularly welcome if you believe there are better books I should attend to in these areas first. But so far, these are the key three:

1. John Law, After Method: Mess in Social Science Research (Routledge, 2004)

This book proved essential during my Masters thesis on the cultural meaning of dust (!), offering a much-needed way to think about something really fundamentally messy and impossible to fix within any theoretical paradigm I examined.  Now, I’m really curious what its core arguments about indeterminacy and othering look like when read through my current lens of social media data. What’s more, Law’s argument that “methods don’t just describe social realities but are also involved in creating them” is a massive and necessary provocation for anyone working in this field. The work we do with for example public Twitter API data – performing analyses essentially inaccessible to the people creating the information – clearly, politically, this raises questions Law should help me to better address.

Donald Norman’s Living With Complexity may make a useful adjunct to pursue the complexity theme through to empirical implementations in user experience design.

2. Sarah Boslow & Paul Andrew Waters, Statistics in a Nutshell: A Desktop Quick Reference (O’Reilly Media, 2008)

Call it the digital humanities or the ‘quantitative turn’ in social sciences research – knowing what to do with quantitative data is becoming essential for cultural and communications research. The social media data I analyse includes hundreds of different distributions, be they frequency of tweeting, number of people followed, or reblogs per photo – and I want to get a better grasp of how to model and analyse them. This book has two particularly attractive features: Chapter 6 on critiquing statistics and understanding common pitfalls, and an orientation towards uses and applications rather than mathematical proofs.

3. Mark Newman, Networks: An Introduction (OUP, 2010)

Continuing in a quantitative vein, I also hope to make time for this comprehensive introduction to network theory and computational methods. Working in commercial research gives me the luxury of not having to run all the analysis myself – we work with a developer team – but nonetheless the more technical knowledge I gain, the more interesting questions I can ask. This book appeals for its breadth, bringing together network studies from biology, computing and physics as well as the social sciences.  In this way I hope it’ll offer more than a typical social sciences guide to social network analysis (e.g. Social Network Analysis: History, Theory and Methodology by Christina Prell, 2011) which seems a bit small-scale to speak to the million-message datasets we use in social media research.


4. Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media

Electronic communication is the very matter I research and yet I’ve never read McLuhan properly. Looking back to a classic from 1964 will hopefully cut through the distractions of much writing on contemporary social media  – all the books from 2011 claiming Google+ as the future, or those from 2007 heralding the era of MySpace – and demand some serious thinking about how the now fits into thousands of years of technology and information. (Failing that it’ll provide a lucrative source of quotations for Powerpoint presentations…)

5. David Harvey, Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution (Verso, 2012)

In attempting to keep thinking about things post-university (I’m 26), as much as I’ve done so it’s been through two channels: Twitter and an urban politics reading group. The city provides a valuably approachable terrain for thinking about how power and systems interoperate – a way of fixing abstractions of capital or modernity into something familiar and tangible. As the recession double-dips and the financial crisis lurches on, Harvey’s book will – I hope – offer a way of thinking from a Marxist perspective that will feel practical, reasonable and actionable.

6. David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years (Melville House, 2011)

Little needs to be said here other than a shame-faced confession that I’ve still not read it.


7. Suzanne Hall, City, Street and Citizen: The Measure of the Ordinary (Routledge, 2012)

A shame this has been published at university-library-only prices (£80!) – as an ethnography of south London’s Walworth Road, City, Street and Citizen could surely be of interest to many. Multiculturalism has become hugely devalued in British political discourse and yet it’s undeniably a lived reality in the capital. I’m fascinated to read Hall’s account of the micro-politics of relationship and difference, performance and exchange among small shopkeepers on this Southwark street – I think it’ll be a real case of making an area I know quite well both familiar and strange, as the best ethnographies should.

Suggesting comparison is Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong by Gordon Matthews (University of Chicago Press, 2011)  – an account of the most globalised building on earth.