Critical Discussion: The Who, What, Why and How of Social Technology

Understanding who you are and how you represent yourself on social media is an important concept. Similarly, user research is important to understand the behaviours, needs, and motivations of not only yourself, but of others in order to provide the best product or service you can offer. These topics, along with my learning outcomes for this assignment, will be examined in this critical discussion.

My Social Technologies & Online Identities

BannerMy online identities vary from platform to platform and consist of:

  • The Socialite
  • The Student
  • The Professional and
  • The Lurker.

These identities represent who I am and how I wish to be portrayed on each of my social networks. Allow me to further explain:

On Instagram and Snapchat I am the Socialite. Instagram is my obsession. I can’t leave my bed in the morning, or go to sleep at night without trawling through my entire photo feed and liking everything I see. This is portrayed in the ‘Day in the Life’ section of my Persona. Snapchat I use less regularly, however both networks allow me to stay in the know with my friends and family who use it, some of whom don’t have any other forms of social media. I am very active on Instagram and Snapchat, always commenting or responding to photos and videos, and often posting content myself. The majority of my content from Instagram gets cross-posted to Facebook, to allow my friends and family who don’t use Instagram to view what I am up to.

On Facebook and WordPress, I am both the Socialite and the Student. For social purposes, I actively use Facebook to post photos, videos, statuses, and links to content I find interesting. I follow my friends and family and I like and comment on their content, to show them that I am interested in keeping up-to-date with their lives. For student purposes, I use Facebook to connect with group members for subjects, and it allows us to share our work, hold meetings, and review content all in the one virtual space. I also use Facebook to play simple games with my mother and grandmother.  I am part of the 93% of shoppers whose buying decisions are influenced by reviews on social media, so I also use Facebook to leave my own reviews about businesses and products. I don’t use WordPress as often, however I post, read, and comment on content semi-regularly for both my social and student purposes.

On Google+, I am the Student. I am active within university subject communities: posting content and sharing ideas. However, I am a lurker among other Google+ communities that I am a part of relating to my university studies. I simply view content, but do not interact in any way.

On Twitter, I am both the Student and the Professional. I use Twitter to interact with my peers and share content, give my thoughts and opinions on their posts, and follow QUT’s Twitter accounts, to guarantee I don’t miss any important information. From a professional perspective, I use Twitter to follow persons and corporations I would be interested in working with in the future. I favourite posts about work experience opportunities, job openings, or any posts of interest to ensure I have the information I need for the future. I am also aware that I do not use Twitter the way many others do. For example, I am not part of the 53% of Twitter users who recommend products in their tweets, however I am aware that product recommendations make up a large part of the ‘Twitterverse’.

On LinkedIn, I am strictly the Professional. As 80% of companies use social media for recruitment, and of these 95% are using LinkedIn, I actively keep my profile updated with all my latest skills and achievements, and look for opportunities to connect with peers, colleagues, and professionals who share similar interests in my areas of study. As is portrayed on my Identity Map, I occasionally share content from some of my colleagues, but I mostly stick to congratulating my connections about their new job opportunities. I also use LinkedIn to follow and connect with professionals and corporations I’m interested in working for in the future.

On YouTube, Pinterest, and reddit, I am the Lurker. I read, view, favourite, and pin videos and pins I find interesting, fascinating, or would like to save for later. I silently appreciate or judge the content, never contributing my own thoughts or content to these sites.  I will occasionally show posts of interests to friends and family, however this is not done via social media. YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world, so I also use it to find content on how to solve issues or problems I am having, whether it be how to properly structure a consulting proposal, or how to change my car’s tyre.

Overall, I am very active on the majority of my social media accounts, posting content on most platforms multiple times a week, making me one of the 96% of Millennials who use social networking sites.  My online identities vary from social network to network – from care-free young adult, to hard working professional. If there’s one thing I know for sure about social media, it’s that I couldn’t live without it.

The Importance of User Research

Robert Shumacher defines user research as:

User
Image by Gilles Lambert is licensed under CC0

“The systematic study of the goals, needs, and capabilities of users so as to specify design, construction, or improvement of tools to benefit how users work and live.”

But how do we define a ‘user’? As Edward Tufte famously said, ‘Only two industries refer to their customers as ‘users’: computer design and drug dealing.’ I’m going to focus on the former of the two. According to Jeff Sauro and James R Lewis, a user in this regard can be a customer, employee, a mobile phone owner, social media user, or anyone who is attempting to accomplish a goal, typically with some type of software, website, or device.

Sauro and Lewis also determine that user research encompasses many methodologies that generate measurable outcomes, including usability testing, surveys, questionnaires, and site visits. However, I believe that user research is best performed through the use of personas. Alain Giboin defines personas as: “… user models that are represented as specific, realistic humans”. Carla Merrill and Diane Feldman state that personas must answers the questions of:

  • Who is this user?
  • What tasks does this user perform now?
  • Why does this user need a product like ours?
    and
  • How does the user’s current software fail him or her?

It is important to conduct user research through personas in order to understand how people use social technologies, so that the user experience of these technologies can be continuously improved to adapt to the ever changing needs and wants of the users. eBay’s user experience research director, Christian Rohrer, explains how user experience has evolved from focusing mainly on utility, to usability, assisting users to accomplish their goals, eventually becoming as issue of desirability, which meant liking the way the product looks and feels.

If the user experience does not meet the needs of the user, or if there are never any improvements, then the user becomes dissatisfied with that social network and leaves it to find a competitor’s product that will better meet their needs. Chloe Albanesius describes how this is  what happened to Myspace in 2008 when it was overtaken by Facebook. As of 2015, Myspace currently has 50.6 million active users, compared to Facebook’s whopping 1.39 billion active users. Dr. Brent Conrad explored how due to Facebook’s ability to allow for minimal effort catch-up, share with many people simultaneously, connect with both friends and family, and overall simply fill the essential need for human connection, it surpassed Myspace as a social technology by meeting the needs of the users.

Personally, my ideal social media platform would encompass the diversity of Facebook, the simplicity of Instagram, and the customisability of Tumblr. Due to user research, I’m certain that a social media platform catering exactly to my needs will eventually be created, or perhaps it already has and I’ve yet to discover it.

Learning Outcomes

SONY DSC
Image by Aleks Dorohovich is licensed under CC0

By designing my persona and identity map, and by reviewing those made by my peers, I was able to analyse and critically think about and understand the way people experience social technologies, including how people construct personal and professional online identities. It was interesting to find that some students use a social network that I use solely for leisurely, personal purpose, for professional purposes (YouTube, as an example). It was also fascinating to discover that some students’ most used social networks were platforms I’d never even heard of, such as Stack Overflow, Path, and SoundCloud (I’d heard of this one, but had no idea it was a form of social media!)

In order for me to properly model my persona and identity map, I had to research the amount of time I spend on social media. The personal learning outcome I gained from this was something of a shock – I’ve spent approximately 30 hours on social media in this month alone! However, I am glad I learned this as it now allows me to ensure that I manage my time more effectively.

By completing this assignment, I’ve learned the skills to analyse mine and others’ use of social technologies, communicate with peers in a collaborative learning environment, and to use PowerPoint in ways I never thought possible. It’s incredible what that program can actually do! Due to gaining a greater understanding of social technologies, I now have the knowledge to conduct user research, create personas and identity maps, and understand the meaning behind them. These are all important aspects that I will be sure to use in my future endeavors.

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