Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Support Mass Comm Students on April 16 by Pause-ing your Phone

When students in my Intro to Mass Communication course showed an interest in “doing” something about their generation’s dependence on technology, I thought we better seize the day.

As part of the class, they read Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, and this semester they were particularly riled up! Each semester, the class connects with the 30-year-old text about how television and its silliness would have a lasting impact. 

Photo of  Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death - Sarah Maben

They read it now with a social media lens…how every mention of television could be substituted with today’s language of social media. Reactions range from disgust with themselves and their generation for how “silly” they are becoming because of social media/device dependence to how empowering social media and technology can be with regards to access and information.

After a mini-brainstorming session, the 40 students decided they wanted to show our campus how much they could gain from taking a break from their phones/technology/social media. Our first plan of attack was to use the UNICEF tap project as a motivator. You bank servings of clean water for those in need for every minute you refrain from touching your phone. After a beta-test, we figured out the water campaign was finished, and it would be only a hypothetical exercise.

It was a small set-back, but the students rebounded with a campaign to help students study without their phones distracting them. The Pause app was the best product they found to immobilize your phone with a timer, so you can devote time to other tasks. They constructed #TSUPause, sample tweets, Vines and memes and picked Wednesday, April 16 as their Study Day. The app is free for iPhone and Android.

A Vine the students created.

We started blitzing social media Monday and student Madalynn Mitchell was excited to see the campaign take off, “Seeing someone on Twitter post this, makes my heart so happy.

Won’t you participate, too? You don’t have to study, but you could read for pleasure, run, spend time with friends, or just enjoy the sunshine. Use #TSUPause to contribute your minutes/hours paused so the students can tally and evaluate their campaign’s success.
The students and I are grateful for our friends at Tarleton’s
#FinalsFrenzy Committee, Department of Communication StudiesStudent Success and Multicultural Initiatives and Texas Social Media Research Institute for their support and RTs!

For more info, follow @TSUPause or message @SarahMaben.

Sarah Maben is a TSMRI board member and assistant professor in Tarleton State University’s Department of Communication Studies.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Guest post on our blog

We welcome a variety of viewpoints on different aspects of social media. 

If you are interested in writing a blog post for us, e-mail us your pitch at texassocialmediaresearch + @gmail.com. 

You may want to search the blog for your topic first, to make sure it hasn't been covered already.  Past posts have ranged from new apps, social media news, tips for different platforms, and the latest social media-related research.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Apply for a social media research fellowship with TSMRI

Are you interested in social media research? The Texas Social Media Research Institute (TSMRI) is accepting applications for its research fellowship program. Work alongside social media colleagues as you shape your research agenda with cutting-edge projects.

About us
The Texas Social Media Research Institute is a multidisciplinary collaboration based at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas. The institute provides research and training focused on communication technology and social media for K-12 education, higher education, businesses, and non-profit organizations.

About the fellowship
Our fellowship program aims to foster research on social media and provide researchers and practitioners resources for discovery, both applied and scholarly. Fellows will work with TSMRI to connect social media to their research agendas. Fellows receive complimentary registration to TSMRI workshops and our annual Social Media Conference. Fellows will also be awarded a TSMRI membership during the time of their fellowship. Fellowships are for one year (June 1 to May 31) and applicants may re-apply for one additional year.

TSMRI fellows are expected to:
-Present at TSMRI conference (in November in person or virtually)
-Produce one social media oriented research project during the year, which can be presented at conference and submitted for publication
-Convert research project into a format for public consumption, like a blog post for TSMRI -Acknowledge TSMRI in research proceedings accomplished during fellowship
-Follow TSMRI in social media
-Report quarterly to TSMRI mentor and/or board on research progress
-Be a contributing part of a collegial research environment and open to collaborative projects

Deadline for application is April 15, 2014.

Announcement of fellows expected on May 5, 2014.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

I Just Look it Up: Undergraduate Student Perception of Social Media Use in their Academic Success

Have you seen the most recent issue of our peer-reviewed academic periodical, The Journal of Social Media in Society?  If not, you may have missed this article:

Jill L. Creighton, Jason W. Foster, Libby Klingsmith, Darren K. Withey


College students are increasingly using social media.  This case study explores how traditionally aged college students perceive social media use contributes to their academic success.  We used survey data collected at a college student union to understand the social media students use in their academic pursuits and to inform a focus group discussion.  Findings indicate that students do not differentiate between technology and social media, and that they rely heavily on social media to facilitate their academic success.  This case study indicates that while using social media extensively may create minor issues for students, proper use can support academic endeavors.


college; university; social media; academic success; technology; student learning; traditionally-aged students

This article is especially relevant at the moment, as the Association of College and Research Libraries has recently revised their Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education.  Information literacy can be loosely defined as the ability to locate and evaluate information for relevant needs using a variety of platforms. You can download a PDF of the article here.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Facebook's new "Paper" app: a game changer?

In the firm’s first Creative Labs project, Facebook releases Paper – stories from Facebook. This is a new initiative to reinvent the Facebook timeline and also serves as a way to aggregate content outside the Facebook ecosystem (Hamburger, 2014). The free iPhone app reached the top of the Apple iOS store within hours of release. Facebook has yet to add an Android version and a native iPad version (Harding, 2014).

The Texas Social Media Research Institute Page
as shown in the iOS Facebook Paper app.
The iPhone app can be customized to include outside sources from categories such as Technology, Headlines, and Pop culture among others. These customizations present stories relevant to various users. This mixture between news feed and curated publisher content seems to be a way to diversify the news feed. Here is an example of how to pull in publisher content when customizing Facebook Paper:
From the news feed, one tap will bring a story to full screen. Just as quickly, a swipe will take the story out of view. The simplistic nature of the app makes the user generated content pop.
Here are some examples of how the app shows various media:

The interface is all about swiping left, right, up and down to move between stories.

View the official video by Facebook about the new iOS iPhone app:
Introducing Paper from Facebook on Vimeo.

The interesting thing about Facebook Paper is how it does not promote itself as being a Facebook app. The predominant things that a user would want from the stock Facebook app such as friend requests, messages, and notifications do appear in this new app (Dellinger, 2014). This app seems to set the stage for how Facebook views itself moving forward.

If you have used Facebook Paper, let us know if you prefer it over the stock Facebook app. Which app will you be using more? Sound off in the comments below.

Dellinger, A. (February 3, 2014). Digital Trends. In Facebook Paper is half social network, half Flipboard, and fully  awesome. Retrieved February 6, 2014, from http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/facebook-paper-review/.
Hamburger, E. ( February 3, 2014 12:12 pm). The Verge. In This just in: Paper is the best Facebook app ever. Retrieved February 6, 2014, from http://www.theverge.com/2014/2/3/5373488/facebook-paper-app-review.
Harding, X. (February 5, 2014 9:48 AM EST). International Digital Times. In Facebook Paper Android Release: When Can Google Users Download Zuckerberg's Latest App?. Retrieved February 6, 2014, from http://www.idigitaltimes.com/articles/21787/20140205/facebook-paper-android-release-download-app-mobile.htm.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Social Media Selection Behavior of Information Seekers

Why do social media users select one channel over another?
With each advent of a new social media channel, users may move from established channels toward adoption of the new channel.  Frustration occurs when authority figures  adopt a channel  to improve communication or develop additional access points for information, only to watch younger users’ preferences change.

I will conduct a year-long study to identify social media users’ attributes related to selecting a preferred social media channel. Uses & Gratifications Theory, first introduced by Katz, Blumler and Gurevitch in 1974, will serve as the framework for this study. The theory integrates well with because it assumes that “the media audience plays an active role in the selection of sources to attend to rather than being the passive target of audiences” (Case, 2003, p. 178). Also, research carried out by Papacharissi and Rubin in 2000 will contribute to this study. The authors examined Internet uses, and identified five motives for using it. Research results “suggested distinctions between instrumental and ritualized Internet use”, and as an alternative to face-to-face interaction. (2000, p.1)

For the purposes of this research, the term “authority figure” can refer to teachers – both K-12 and higher education; parents or guardians; or even collectively refer to government entities. It will also be assumed that the term “users” refers to individuals – youth, residents of a municipality, etc. – over whom authority figures have such some form of authority. “Channel” refers to the social media application or method that users may select; Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram are commonly used social media channels or applications.

Questions and hypotheses that will be addressed through the course of this research are:
•    Why do users decide to transition from a preferred channel to a new social media channel?
•    What attributes of a social media channel do users cite as making it more desirable than other channels?
•    How do users identify which social media channel fulfills their various information needs?
For the purposes of this research, examples of user information needs may include utility, pass time, convenience, or entertainment.

Twitter is one of the social media channels that I'll be studying.
Initial quantitative data will be collected via a traditional exploratory survey distributed to a population sample of at least 500 North Texas residents. Questions will be developed to include variables associated with Uses & Gratifications theory. Survey data should provide indicators of why users transition from one channel to another for their various uses. Qualitative interview questions will then be generated to determine the attributes of the preferred channel and how users identify which channel fulfills their needs.

Another data collection method I propose is to utilize social media channels Twitter and Youtube to collect data. Twitter will be used not only to collect quantitative data – answers to the same questions posed in the exploratory survey – but also to solicit interviewees for the qualitative portion of the study. Similarly, video replies to a Youtube video I intend to post be used to collect qualitative responses. This element of using social media to collect data regarding a social media study should provide more direct answers directly in the context of the user.

Why is this important? Knowledge of why information seekers transition from one channel to the next may help authority figures to be more flexible in order to adapt to change from users. Authority figures may also use this knowledge to modify their current social media use to maintain lines of communication with users.

Relationships such as students and teachers in the classroom, or between government and the governed, will benefit from this type of research. Authority figures will be better prepared to craft messages and present information in ways more likely to be found and accepted by users. Likewise, users may find a benefit to this research. By recognizing the factors that drive them from one channel to the next, users may realize authority figures are making efforts in other channels, and will seek out those messages in order to create complete knowledge

Case, D. (2003). Looking for Information: A Survey of Research on Information Seeking, Needs, and Behavior. Collection Management, 28 (4), 95-96.
Papacharissi, Z., & Rubin, A. (2000). Predictors of Internet use. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 44 (2), 175-196. doi:10.1207/s15506878jobem4402_2.

Matt MacVeigh is a TSMRI 2013-2014 Fellow and doctoral student in the Interdisciplinary Information Science program at University of North Texas. He also serves as Marketing & Communications Specialist at the UNT System Business Service Center in Denton, Texas. Follow Matt on Facebook  or Twitter.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Agritourism and social media

Morris, Minnesota (my hometown) is a small community, surrounded by farmland,
in West-Central Minnesota.   In March 2012 the weekly town newspaper announced that the county’s Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture wanted to use a portion of local business tax dollars to promote “agritourism”.   This initiative, and ones like it throughout the US, are driving communities to investigate new ways to communicate effective messages for both local and distant 21st century audiences.   Strategic social media use can provide some answers.

What is agritourism?
Rural tourism invites people to enjoy visiting and vacationing in less-populated areas such as small towns, villages, farms and nature-areas (Lane, 1994).  Rural tourism is often also promoted as a way to economically diversify a formerly-agricultural area (e.g., Kneafsey, 2001).  In several small, farming communities, agritourism has been a new/ old way to revitalize, to build enthusiasm for rural life, and to encourage young people and entrepreneurs to return to the area.

Farm visit. Image used with permission.
Various regional USDA Cooperative Extension Offices have been active in teaching about agritourism (check out this PDF on entertainment farming and this list of resources from the University of Minnesota ). 

For the purposes of my research (some of which was presented at the recent TSMRI annual conference) I apply a very-broad definition of agritourism, including (any or all of the following):
  • ·         farm/ ranch stays;
  • ·         tours & touring
         (e.g., wildflower or fall foliage);
  • ·         You-Pick local foods;
  • ·         farmers markets;
  • ·         vineyards & wineries;
  • ·         maple syrup-making;
  • ·         (school and town) fairs and agricultural/ harvest festivals;
  • ·         farm animal visits;
  • ·         local dining events and dinners;
  • ·         wildlife viewing, hunting and fishing;
  • ·         educational programs and experiences related to nature;
  • ·         agricultural heritage and local history events, pageants and tours; and
  • ·         regional arts and crafts programs and activities

(Gustafson, 2007, referring to SW Michigan Tourist Council, 1997).

This wide assortment of activities considers many types of content for messages that might be constructed by tourism promoters and/or communication specialists.

Social media uses in the tourism industry

In my analysis of regional agritourism organizations in real-life contexts (see forthcoming publication, Burke 2014), I found social media that work well have most of the following features in common: 

Pick your own.
Image used with permission.
1) “mindful adoption” (Culnan & Zubillaga, 2010).  This means the “ right’ innovation at the ‘right’ time and in the ‘right’ way” should be what gets adopted.  Despite the cry that “everyone else” is on Twitter, for instance, my research and the findings of others say that Twitter may not be the right communication tool for your organization or business to use to communicate with a targeted audience you know well.  Understanding on-going decisions about integrated management of image and brand identity may mean that the people you most want to reach are instead on different social media—such as Pinterest, or TripAdvisor. 

2)  “varied messages/ multiple elements”.  Within tourism promotions on the selected social media platform(s), more successful campaigns use multiple media types—text, designed graphics, photos and videos--submitted by the source, as well as comments and content generated by visitors.

3)  “strategic participation patterns”.  In forums like Facebook, Flickr and Groupon, posting activity should be sufficient to keep the organization’s name and identity “popular”.  Although the event schedule for tourism activities may greatly influence the amount of messages at a particular time, your organization or group should recognize that all messages function to maintain “connections” which need to be nurtured on a regular schedule.

4) “community building”.  This means, once you find and connect with “your people” offer them a sense that they have a stake in belonging to your fan group.  Provide “friends” and allies frequent content input options and incentives for continued activity or participation in the forum(s).  Understanding that others will generate interest in your social media sites by linking to their networks will mean that you will be able to reap the greatest benefits of the communicative activities of the happy tourists that have come to activities in your region, and they will be your promotion’s strongest advocates.

In agritourism, successful new social media users generate long(er)-term awareness of the activities and events in their communities. The relationship-building and maintaining messages they share aggregate to create a general impression about their region or community, for both internal and external audiences.  The more diverse and varied the messages and activities appear, the more exciting the region becomes for locals and visitors alike. 
Farm animals. Image used with permission.
The Internet is increasingly used as an information-source in vacation and travel-planning, and it would be wise for agritourism to strategically implement 21st-century media plans. Regional tourism promoters in rural areas are eager to be part of this new communication “revolution”, and it appears there are exciting opportunities for people who are educated in effective use of social media to make a difference in rural revitalization. 

Culnan, M. J., McHugh, P. J., & Zubillaga, J. I. (2010). How large US companies can use Twitter and other social media to gain business value. MIS Quarterly Executive, 9(4), 243-259.
Gustafson, K. 2007 (5 February). Building Bridges: Connecting Agriculture & Tourism (.pdf).  Available from
retrieved 2013, September 26.
Kneafsey, M. (2001).  Rural cultural economy: Tourism and social relations. Annals of Tourism Research, 28(3), 762-783.
Lane, B. (1994). What is rural tourism? Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 2 (162), 7-21.

Barbara Burke is an Associate Professor of Communication, Media & Rhetoric at the University of Minnesota, Morris. She is also a Fellow of the TSMRI for 2013, and a Fulbright Scholar and Media Specialist.  In Spring, Barbara will be teaching courses in Social Media & Agritourism and Media Technologies & Society in Valmiera, Latvia at

Vidzemes Augstskola.