Social Media and Communication Theories

I wrote this blog post last semester as a humble student of Lou Heldman.  For this assignment we had to tie SM and communication theories. Theory has never been my forte, but I found it interesting that these theories could be applied to such new and untested waters.

This analysis looks at the patterns and rules of conversation under H. Paul Grice’s Conversational Maxims. This theory breaks down every aspect of conversation and states that if you want to create a successful conversation, than maxims, or rules must be followed. I will highlight the most important maxims here and cover other communication theories as well.

One maxim is quality. Contributors must always be truthful in their interactions and also avoid misleading their peers. This is a huge factor when it comes to the Internet because of its given ability to hide behind an invisible shield. The worst thing a person can do is to be unauthentic. Everyone knows somebody who has put themselves in an awkward situation because they presented themselves as something they were not. One of the greatest gifts of the SM world is the chance to let your freak flag fly and still make friends in the process.

Another maxim is relevancy. In order to have a successful interaction, participants need to stay on the topic at hand; this does not mean that a conversation cannot change topics, but it needs to be a natural progression. No offense to the over-forty population out there, but they are in direct violation of this rule. How many times have you had a conversation with one of your friends over a funny status update when your mother has to join in and ask you if you are coming over for dinner?  Relevancy is key; if you don’t have anything additional to add to the present subject, privately send them a message.

The great debate in Social Media is how do we know what is relevant?  Most people use blogs, Twitter and Facebook for their own personal use, therefore everything one puts on their site is somewhat relevant to their life (Farmville not included). I personally love these applications for their personal use because it helps me stay connected with my friends who are not so accessible. But, there is a thin line between what is considered relevant and what isn’t. I have one violator who frequently posts about her newborn’s inability to produce a bowel movement; completely relevant to her life and family but completely irrelevant to me.

Twitter has also thrown a wrench in this theory; how can anyone be relevant with 140 characters or less? Being a predominately personal site, I believe that statuses are all relevant. Since we choose who we want to follow, we must get some joy or satisfaction out of what they are saying.  The frequency of Tweets or Facebook statuses can be filed under relevancy and also quantity. If I can know a person’s thoughts, actions and their exact location throughout the day, without ever seeing them face-to-face, then they would be a relevancy violator.

The Social Exchange Theory suggests that we choose to communicate through a context of rewards and costs. According to the paper, Microchannels and CMC: Short Paths to Developing, Maintaining and Dissolving Relationships (co-written by my professor Lou Heldman), “Key concepts of social exchange theory include reciprocity, fairness and negotiated rules, with information, approval, respect, power, group gain and personal satisfaction among the rewards in successful transactions.”

The Social Penetration Theory suggests that relationships become more intimate over a period of time when more personal information is revealed; this is he evident in Twitter relationships. Millions of friendships have formed from “tweet-ups” or a friend request. A person may start to follow you, but constant and direct interaction will lead to more intimate friendships that go beyond the computer or cell phone.  Maintaining relationships also relies on intimate exchanges by both parties.

To go along with Social Penetration Theory, the Strong and Weak Ties Theory suggests that you can have varying relationship levels based on time, emotional intensity, intimacy and reciprocal service. The strongest relationships will keep a person connected to the people they are most connected to, their nuclear family, if you will. The weaker connections still serve an important purpose because although you do not know them personally, they help you connect to another part of the world that you may not be aware of.

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