Big Data and Social Media: Lecture Summary

By Jonathan Laetsch, Lennart Knoche, Torven Schalk and Cassidy Driskell

What is Social Media?

Social media is much too diverse, wide ranging, and broad to classify under one solidified definition. Especially in comparison to technologies of the past, which were more concrete and short lived.  Although, some scholars may define social media as, “the colonisation of the space between traditional broadcast and private dyadic communication, providing people with a scale of group size and degrees of privacy that we have termed scalable sociality,” (Miller, Costa, Haynes, McDonald, Nicolescu, Sinanan, Spyer, Venkatraman and Wang, 2016). At the same time, even this perspective acknowledges that this definition should not be considered completely objective or concrete. When Tim Berners founded the World Wide Web, he addressed that the purpose of the internet was to create a social effect on our global society.  

The web is more a social creation than a technical one. I designed it for a social effect — to help people work together — and not as a technical toy. The ultimate goal of the Web is to support and improve our weblike existence in the world. We clump into families, associations, and companies. We develop trust across the miles and distrust around the corner.” – (Tim Berners-Lee, 1999)

This supports the idea that social media is what the internet was always supposed to be, a worldwide, easily accessible, communication hub. Previously, many believed that social media was just a trend and that it would eventually die out, like other technologies of the past. The only way one can refer to social media as a trend, is if you refer to the entire internet as one as well.  Additionally, social media has a very flexible and versatile design, which has contributed to its ability to maintain its popularity. Due to the huge number of social media networks and their diverse offerings, users are given the freedom to share information with as many or as few people as they please, depending on the specialized design of the social media platform. This gives users a choice to constrain or spread their information. Collectively, the freedom that social media gives to its users makes them feel closer to their social circles, both near and far. At this pace, social media will most probably only  become more dominant, widespread, convenient, and efficient as time and technology progress.

Business Values in Social Media

Social media has become an essential part of most companies. It helps companies to do things more effectively and efficiently. With the help of social media they mature, meaning their business processes and practices are improving. In many cases social media was used at first for marketing purposes and interaction with their customers, but it has lead to an organizational transformation, allowing companies to rethink their internal practices and put an emphasis on interaction and collaboration within the company. These business opportunities and thus the business value in social media increases as more and more people get online. The use of social media for external and internal purposes balances itself with increasing maturity of the business. Another important distinction between high-mature and low-mature companies is whether the do not only use social social-media-marketing-for-businessmedia but also social data. 

Social data helps businesses understand how people interact and what they do. This in turn help to make more informed business decisions. This is not only true for decisions concerning the customers, but social analytics can also help to detect for example not-sufficient communication between two
departments in the company and shed light on possible reasons for the missing communication.

Social Media is not about the technology, but about the business transformation to using social media in various ways.

Social Media are Going to Stay

Social media already is an integral part of most peoples lives. It is basically everywhere and makes us available around-the-clock. People however will try to even further integrate it into our lives. Not only as a communication tool but in more general ways following us in every instance of our everyday life 24/7.

One might argue that it will lead us back to the times 150 years ago. People were living in small towns or villages and everyone knew everything about everyone. Already now for example our Facebook profile shows a lot about who we are and what we do. We share pictures of last nights party, visible not only for those present but for the entire Facebook community that is friends with you.

This will probably even increase further in the future. More and more content is share, information is published and the community gets more informed about one. Sometimes the community will even know things we do not want them to but it is close to impossible to completely avoid this. Once an information is on social media its gonna stay there, just as social media are going to stay.


Advantages and Opportunities of Social Media

The upsides of social media are as versatile as they are numerous. The variety of uses is what makes social media so successful in the contemporary world. The value a social network provides and how it is used depends to a great extent on the design of the network. A good example of this is the difference in usage between Facebook and Twitter. A simple difference in design- the friend vs. follow model- makes Facebook a more contact based network, while on Twitter the focus is opener, with everyone being able to follow anyone.

Social networks provide entertainment to their users. On both Facebook and Twitter people share interesting or entertaining stories with their friends/followers. Furthermore, they provide their users with the obvious advantage of networking, being able to stay in touch with their friends across great distances.
Beyond these advantages, social networks also provide a wide range of more serious assets. Social networks serve as an efficient way to spread information quickly, and to a wide audience. In many instances social media played an important role in rallying and organizing large groups of people for political protests. Among the more prominent examples of this is the Arab Spring. Several researchers have dealt with this issue and concluded that social media played an essential role in the political uprisings of Tunisia and Egypt (Howard et al., 2011). People could connect and build large-scale networks and organize political action.
As already mentioned above, social networks also provide advantages to companies seeking to promote products or brands, headhunt and recruit, crowdsurf and raise money. Additionally, it provides abundant space for targeted advertising.

Threats and Weaknesses of Social Media 

The transparency of social networks that is advantageous on one side, can be detriment on the other hand. On social networks people expose their information to the public, which can backfire when certain information gets into the wrong hands. There are many known cases of employers rejecting job applicants or even firing employees over contenOnline Security Protection Internet Safety People Meeting Concept that was posted on social networks. It can even be dangerous when criminalized gangs scan social networks for information such as the days homeowners are on holiday. When the homeowners come back from their vacation they will find their place broken into and robbed. 

Furthermore, social networks open up opportunities for people to promote racist, hateful or discriminating attitudes and organize themselves in groups of likeminded people.
Criminal or even terroristic organizations like ISIS use the internet to and social networks to recruit people for their cause. In this way social media can be abused for manipulative purposes.

Closely related to this, the complexity of social networks makes it increasingly difficult to verify the source of information. The reliability of information published on social networks may in many cases be questionable at best.

The Obama Campaign & the Role of Social Media

During his Presidential Campaign in 2008 Barack Obama rose to prominence as a politician who could not only deliver broad, sweeping speeches with universal themes, but one who leveraged the opportunities of the digital age to maximum political advantage in an unparalleled fashion.

As a result, many attribute the success of his 2008 campaign and his subsequent election to the clever utilization and extensive usage of social media platforms.

During his campaign, Social Media not only allowed (and still allows) President Obama to speak directly to ‘the people,’ but he can also target particular messages to audiences that ordinarily would not be paying attention.

Moreover, Obama and his campaign team used Twitter, Facebook  and Youtube to gather support, (raise money, organize locally, fight smear campaigns) spread his message in a clear fashion (Hope, Change, Action) and, most importantly, connected with the digitally savvy electorate. In a time of digitalization, where voters are using social media more than ever,  (Pew Research Center has found that more than half of Web-using adults regularly get their political news through Facebook) this is a logical, yet revolutionary, development.

A result of this, Obama’s campaign reached 5 million supporters on 15 different social Networks over the course of campaign season; by November 2008, Obama had approximately 2.5 million Facebook supporters, 115,000 Twitter followers, and 50 million viewers of his YouTube channel. The Use of social didn’t just sit with the standard channels, but also included Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest, and the campaign wasn’t afraid to leverage internet culture, with memes and gifs. The strategy worked because the Democrats and Obama recognised social isn’t just another attack channel, but an opportunity to present their character and to personalise the message.

The Obama campaign made history: It showed the power of social media to do nothing short of changing the world.

David Cameron Campaign & Traditional Media

In stark contrast to Obama’s social media active campaign strategy, David Cameron focused his re-election campaign in 2015 on more traditional media outlets. While Cameron did focus his social media activity on 1) a routine update of his campaign day, 2) what he has achieved to date, or will do, and 3) describing what a disastercameron-552058 the other political party will be. Nonetheless when it came to offering an insight into the person behind the politics he opted for more traditional media: a TV piece on the BBC or a newspaper interview.

His social media presence was solely used to market and promote his campaign. This demonstrated a lack any imagination (as many of Cameron’s social media posts were taken from the account of the Conservative Party) but it also portrayed him as a politician and not as a man of the  people (struggling to establish any connection towards the electorate people in the process).

David Cameron struggled to mobilize the youth, failed to get his message out in a clear fashion and shifted UK Politics into a marginalized abiss rather than a mainstream discourse all because he missed the core aspect of what social media means for its users.

Berners-Lee, T., & Fischetti, M. (2000). Weaving the Web: The original design and ultimate destiny of the World Wide Web by its inventor. New York: HarperBusiness.
Miller, D., Costa, E., Haynes, N., McDonald, T., Nicolescu, R., Sinanan, J., . . . Wang, X. (2016). Academic studies of social media. In How the World Changed Social Media (pp. 9-24). London: UCL Press.
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One thought on “Big Data and Social Media: Lecture Summary

  1. Following up on your discussion about the role of social media in political processes and more specifically, Obama’s campaign, the topic of micro-targeting comes up. This is a form of political marketing: in the same way that companies use collected data to create a brand that appeals to selected groups of people, politicians take advantage of this to develop and identity, come up with an appealing strategy, and establish a relationship with the voters. They use data from surveys and combine it with information extracted from platforms like Facebook and Twitter, to come up with tailored messages for their target groups.

    This article shows how this “paradigm” has changed US politics, and how it influenced the November election:

    Additionally, the following articles from Forbes and the MIT Technology Review give a really good insight on the specifics of micro-targeting and how exactly it works:


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