2011-10-25 08:36

Early adopters in social media research

The University of Borås is getting into research on social media. The School of Library and Information Sciences is getting four new PhD students in the subject. “We work with different perspectives on information and knowledge organisation,” says Jan Nolin, professor of library and information sciences, who is specialised in social media.

PhD students focusing on social media. From left to right David Gunnarsson, Emma Forsgren and Amira Sofie Sandin. Maria Lindh is absent from the picture.

The School of Library and Information Sciences started focusing on social media in 2009. From the outset there were a couple of courses, and now there is research in the field.

“We are early adopters, compared to Sweden in general as well as in an international perspective.We are able to pose more comprehensive questions thanks to our broad competence,” says Jan Nolin. “We also promote cooperation between different schools on the subject.”

The four PhD students approach the subject from different angles. One looks at how participation through social media works for children engaged in cultural activities while another looks at how social media channel relate to work assignments in modern organisations. Yet another studies what policies govern so-called cloud services (when information is stored in an external ‘cloud’ instead of on servers), and how those policies are formed. The final PhD student is tasked with revealing what really is available on the web and how home pages, people and current issues are linked to each other.

“Despite the fact that we have different focal points in our research, a lot is common to all of us,” says Emma Forsgren.

“Yes, we will probably be of use to one another in our respective areas,” says Amira Sofie Sandin.

The talk we have about various aspects of social media gets lively. What is clear to the PhD students is that the new technology and social media affect most people, both privately and professionally. The discussion concerns Facebook, generosity, ethics, participation and a lot more. No one is unaffected by the technology.

“The private and professional spheres flow together to a greater degree now,” says David Gunnarsson. You could, for example, throw a question out there or set up a Twitter flow on work related issues, and develop professionally from that.”

Hopeful with high expectations

Don’t think that PhD students on social media are dedicated users though. The four consider themselves inbetweeners on a scale from habitual to more sporadic social media users.

They stand hopeful and with high expectations, about to embark on their research journey. Of course they want their research to be beneficial to others down the road.

“I believe that my research will be important when it comes to understanding participation processes with children, and I think it will provide insights on children’s views on how social media could be used. It will also be useful in a library context, of course. As an adult you might need to steer clear of a top-down perspective when you create arenas for children’s participation. A study I did (Children’s libraries and reading stimulation 2001) shows that there is a certain risk that the kids become receivers rather than co-producers, if you don’t look to their needs and interests.”

“It is common that workplaces, for example, teach how social media tools work, but not how to work with them,” says David Gunnarsson. “Those who use the tools as a marketing channel need to rethink their approach I think. They need to create two-way communication since those who use social media expect to be able to contribute too.”

“Yes, it isn’t easy to put the new technology into action just like that. You need more in-depth knowledge and new perspectives, so that new conditions come into being at the workplace,” says Emma Forsgren. “It is important to clarify how our roles in the work place are affected, how the organisation values performance, and how information is shared when the tools have been introduced.”

“Another aspect is how the the view of the information is affected by the technical possibilities,”says Maria Lindh. “Social media have increased the amount of information.

There is also an interdependence between social media, cloud services and mobile platforms. It is interesting to find out how technology affects and is affected.”

What is are you missing in social media right now?

“The first thing that comes to mind is an ‘unlike button,’” says David Gunnarson.

“It would be interesting to see if there could be some application that actually works, which could promote direct democracy and civil rights at a local and national level. The question is just if and how it would be used,” says Amira Sofie Sandin.

Facts about the PhD students in social media:

Amira Sofie Sandin, 30 years old, from Skåne, but living in Borås. Subject for thesis: Participation processes through social media, for and with children engaged in culture, such as children’s libraries. In her spare time: travelling, nature, science fiction and board games. Likes about social media: That people create meaning and content together.

Maria Lindh, 47 years old, from Borås. Subject for thesis: Cloud services and how they affect the organisation and information professions. In her free time: spending time with family and friends. Likes about social media: the interactivity. It creates dynamism and a series of other possibilities, which could be both good and bad.

David Gunnarsson, 30 years old, from Borås, but now living in Malmö. Subject for thesis: Web metrics, ie quantitative studies about the web. Primarily about analyses, mappings and visualisations about social media content, for example how pages and people are linked, what is being discussed and what people think of different things, plus how that changes over time. In his spare time: Football, exercise and science fiction. Likes about social media: The interesting discussions that arise from a status update or picture.

Emma Forsgren, 30 years old, from Floda, lives in Göteborg. Subject for thesis: How social media is used for internal cooperation in organisations, and how coworkers share information and knowledge with each other. In her spare time: antiquities, interior decorating, art and creativity. Likes about social media: How you are invited to be part of something bigger. Friendships and contacts are easily upkept.

By (including picture): Lena Fredriksson