Who are the social capitalists?


Regular readers of this blog and interactive cultures will have picked up that I have a preoccupation with social capital. So you won’t be surprised to learn that when I met up with the new intake on the MA Social Media for the first time this year, social capital was the key thing I wanted to discuss with them.

The students had already begun to engage with the topic at A New Currency: Multiplatform storytelling and social capital, and the session gave me a chance to build out from that point to discuss the many definitions of social capital that we can find in academic literature.

We closed with a question which the students have gone off to consider:

Who are the social media capitalists?

If we have such a thing as social capital, is there such a thing as social capitalism? Who would we consider as “social media capitalists”? How useful is social capital to understanding what happens online? Does it change the way we look at online activity?

Who does the most social media? Some data. Maybe.

I keep hearing how great Birmingham is at blogging and social media. That’s a subjective thing and anyone can say it but I also keep hearing people saying or suggesting we do it the best, we do it the most, and that we’re at the centre of it. That’s a bit more problematic and I keep saying we need data.

Jason Navon tweeted me about this:

@jonhickman re claim the we do more social media in Brum – evidence in this report doesn’t support it: http://bit.ly/1U4e4L #bigdebate

I’ve only skimmed the report so far (embedded below from scribd), but I’m sure some keen eyes will have concerns over the overall design of their survey and will want to ask what measures are being used to determine if a blog “is highly regarded by other, relevant influential sites”. Scholars of network theory might like to ask if the personal networks of the London-based authors lead to a skew of influence to London. We might be concerned too about unevidenced assertions such as:

Consumers who originally used forums and chatrooms as discussion shops in the early days of online communities have graduated seamlessly to writing or consuming blogs on issues close to their hearts (p.6)

I’m pretty sure I’ve read literature and seen conference papers that suggest the forum is alive and well, so this doesn’t make sense. If there’s some evidence I’d love to see it. We might also wonder what the value is of a stat such as “London has the highest share of Twitter users in
the UK with 11%”. What does that mean relative to city size?

Inevitably my main concerns about the whole thing will be about not the data, but the discourse. This is written from a marketing and communications position, and is measuring things relevant to that audience. That is fine, but it is presented as empircal and conclusive data about social media. In fact it’s an interesting attempt to explain the blogging ecosystem for predominantly London based PR and marketing organisations. It’s done that job pretty well, so it should be pleased with itself. It shouldn’t pretend to be something else.

I still need to get my data.

Social Media Insight 2009 Low-res

(obtained from http://socialmedialibrary.co.uk/index.php?option=com_report_left&Itemid=57 – there is no copyright notice on the document so Im assuming it’s OK to embed)