Saturday, February 11, 2012

Q1: Participatory media culture and the role of the audience

I work in the Marketing and Communications (MarCom) department at a university. A more participatory media culture affects MarCom's work in a number of ways. Because of informal, participatory communication channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, the university can no longer tightly control what is published about it. MarCom has had to expand its role from publisher to listener.

Official publications such as magazines mailed out to alumni and “what’s going on at the university” columns in local newspapers are now a smaller part of the media landscape than they used to be. While these traditional channels might still attract the eyes of one important audience (alumni and other community supporters), the key audience of students and prospective students is more likely to be looking at student-run pages on Facebook. It’s become more difficult for the university to maintain an authoritative “voice” and to control the flow of information and commentary published about the university.

The university’s media officer still prepares press releases and liaises with traditional media. However, her role now includes much more “ear to the ground” work than it used to, because of the proliferation of informal communication channels in which the university is mentioned.

A new example of an informal channel cropped up yesterday. A student – or group of students – has started a “memes” page about the institution on Facebook. Students create LOLcat-style memes on, and then post them to Facebook. The memes page has generated quite a following, and MarCom has realized that it’s worth watching the page, as it reflects not only undergraduate culture at the university but also student concerns and frustrations about the institution. Along with such predictable memes as “10 minute class break = 20 minute pub break!” there is some very clever and pointed satire about issues at the university such as the lack of certain program offerings, parking woes, and the cost of food services on campus.

A Facebook page such as this cannot be controlled by the university, but can carry as much weight with key audiences – or more – than anything the university itself publishes. The audience is creating content that is more relevant to itself than what the institution creates. As O’Reilly (2005) points out, “The world of Web 2.0 is also the world of what Dan Gilmor calls ‘we, the media,’ a world in which “the former audience”, not a few people in a back room, decides what’s important” (p. 3).

The "few people in a back room" that Gilmor refers to sounds like what MarCom's role used to be. Now, MarCom's role includes being in the audience, listening to what is being said about the institution in Web 2.0 channels, as well as spearheading its own Web 2.0 efforts in order to maintain an official voice in as many communication channels as possible.

O'Reilly, T. (2005). What is web 2.0. Retrieved February 10, 2012, from

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