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Social Media  

Kendra Calhoun

Foundational linguistic anthropological theories of community, identity, and multimodality, among other topics, offer invaluable insights into communicative practices on social media. Phenomena on social media also require researchers to continually adapt and update these theories—which were first conceptualized before social media became integral to everyday life—to account for the unique communicative possibilities afforded by constantly evolving digital technology. Like anthropological studies in in-person contexts, anthropological studies of language and culture online vary in scope, theoretical framing, and methodological approach depending on their central topics of inquiry. Social media can be studied within a primarily in-person ethnographic project as one of many sites of communication for members of a community in addition to (or overlapping with) contexts such as work, school, and the home. Social media can also be studied as primary sites of analysis through digital ethnographic approaches, typically focused on the communication patterns within a network or community of social media users on a single platform. Linguistic anthropological perspectives on social media are necessarily interdisciplinary, informed by scholarship in related fields including sociolinguistics, cultural anthropology, communication studies, and media studies. To this interdisciplinary understanding linguistic anthropology contributes a unique perspective attuned to the details of linguistic structure and the ways language and culture are mutually constitutive.


Social Media Relationships  

Umoloyouvwe Ejiro Onomake

Ethnography has been used to research various people and topics online, primarily using netnography and digital ethnography. Researchers and businesses employ digital ethnographic methods to access an assortment of social media platforms in order to learn about social media users. Researchers seek to understand relationships between social media users and organizations from both academic and practitioner perspectives. These organizations run the gamut from for-profit businesses, to nonprofits, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and government agencies. The specific focus here is on social media research as it relates to businesses. Organizations make use of social media in a variety of ways, but chiefly to market to clients and to gather information on followers; the latter of which, in turn, helps them understand their target markets. While this social media data is both quantitative and qualitative in nature, the emphasis here centers on qualitative data, particularly the ways businesses interact with social media users. While some firms mainly use older forms of one-way marketing that solely focus on disseminating information, other firms increasingly seek ways to interact with customers and co-create products with clients. Additionally, social media users are creating their own communities, formed due to a shared interest in a brand. Companies strive to learn more about their customers through these groups. Influencers also play a role in the relationship between organizations and social media users by linking their own followerships to products and brands. In turn, influencers develop their own relationships with organizations through sponsorships, thus becoming brands themselves. Influencers risk losing their followerships when followers perceive them as no longer accessible or authentic. This change in perception can occur for a variety of reasons, including when followers believe that an influencer has prioritized brand alignment over building connections with followers. Due to multiple relationships with different brands and their followers, influencers must negotiate the ambiguity and evolving nature of their role. As social media and digital spaces develop, so must the tools used by anthropologists. Anthropologists should remain open to incorporating hallmarks of ethnographic research such as fieldnotes, participant observation, and focus groups in new ways and alongside tools from other disciplines, including market and UX (user experience) research. The divide between practitioners and academics is blurring. Anthropologists can solve client issues while contributing their voices to larger anthropological and societal discussions.