So What Do We Know about Social Media? La Salle Communication professors try to provide some answers

Authors: La Salle Communication professors

Have you Yik Yakked yet? Is Facebook (mostly) dead? If a company tweets and nobody retweets did it have an impact? 

Without question, social media has transformed the communication landscape. But, much as the utopian promises made with other new media forms, the reality of social media doesn’t quite live up to the hype.

Yes, we have now seen more cat memes than we ever thought possible. In fact, we even know what a meme is. But does social media allow us to have better relationships, or provide a cheap and effective means of public relations, or improve the cultural landscape? Maybe. Sort of.

“Social media definitely allows for more varied — though not necessarily richer — social and cultural interaction,” according to Professor Mark Lashley.

So what do we know about social media and interpersonal relationships, public relations, and the cultural environment? Professor Marianne Dainton has conducted numerous studies on the role of Facebook in maintaining relationships, working with alums Lauren Berkoski (’11), Margaret Stewart (BA ’03 MA ’07), and Alex Stokes (MA ’12).

Her conclusion? “Facebook is a great way to maintain ‘loose ties.’ That is, we can keep in contact with people that in previous generations would be Christmas-card friends . . . you know, those people that you used to be friends with but your only channel of communication now is once a year with a superficial holiday greeting,” Dainton says.

When it comes to romantic relationships, Facebook is a double-edge sword. “In college student relationships, we have found that Facebook actually increases uncertainty and jealousy,” Dainton indicated.

If it hasn’t improved our personal relationships, surely social media has made organizational communication more effective, right?

Not so fast.  According to Professor Mike Smith, “While social media allows for new ways of connecting with publics inside and outside of an organization, it’s still only another tool in the ever-growing toolbox corporate communicators have to work with.” 

Yes, there’s the promise of greater collaboration and engagement with social media, but only if the traditional fundamentals of good organizational relationships are in place:  trust, honesty, respect, and so forth. 

As some companies have learned, social media sometimes allows you to make a lot of enemies more quickly than ever before,” Smith notes, citing the example of how Nestle’s snarky response to an online activist that turned into a massive online protest against the candy maker. 

So if it hasn’t made our relationships better with our romantic partners or our organizational constituents, what role has social media played in society?

According to Lashley, “social media provide a more immediate discourse between friends and family, between marketers, journalists, celebrities and their publics. But we should always be careful not to use social media as an excuse for replacing effective communication with fast communication. I think this is something that all of the communication fields are quickly learning.

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