Topic: Web 2.0 and Social Networks have altered the way in which people, particularly adolescents, communicate with each other, as well as the way in which they interact with brands as consumers.
The emergence of Web 2.0 and social networking has seen a change in the way humans, particularly adolescents, communicate (Riesmeyer, Hauswald, & Mergen, 2019). Whether it be with each other, to a mass audience, or to a commercial brand, adolescents are have become more media literate than ever before (Celebi, Selcuk & Peker, 2018) and the dependence on Web 2.0 and social networking that has evolved is changing adolescent relationships in a variety of ways. Throughout this paper, I will discuss the ways in which adolescents are maintaining their interpersonal relationships with the help of social networking, and whether or not this is having a positive or negative impact on their social life and skills. I will also discuss the rise of the social media “influencer” and how adolescent communication is affected by this. Finally, I will discuss the ways in which social networking has allowed young adults to communicate directly with large scale commercial brands in a way that has never been seen before, and how this is affecting the brand and the consumer.
Celebi et al., (2018) argue that social media and social networking is being used as a tool by adolescents to both strengthen existing relationships or establish new relationships. Celeb et al., (2018) discuss that social media can serve as an application to assist in strengthening real life interpersonal relationships, as well as establish new relationships by “transforming physical distance into virtual closeness” (Celebi et al., 20180). “Online” relationships are a phenomenon that has come to light with the introduction of Web 2.0 and Social Networks/Social Media. Celebi, et al., (2018) suggested that “wireless communication technology removes time and space limits, allowing people to communicate both voiced and visual whenever and wherever they wish”. Large portions of adolescents are turning to social media to interact with peers, with Nesi, Choukas-Bradley & Prinstein (2018) citing that over almost 90% of teens utilise Social Networking in at least one application, and more than 90% of young adults are spending time online, using Web 2.0 daily. With teens and young adults spending such large portions of their day utilising Social Networking applications – an average of 9 hours a day (Nesi et al, 2018) – it is becoming apparent that the ways in which they maintain and receive their personal relationships is being altered by the internet and social networking (Baym, Zhang, Kunkel, & Ledbetter, 2007).
Studies have shown that the elements of communication within an inter-personal relationship can affect the strength and closeness of said relationship (Baym et al., 2007). Cues such as asynchronicity, interpersonal cues (Nesi et al., 2018), as well as seeking favours or advice can create an index to calculate the intensity of a relationship which can be referred to as ‘relational strength’ (Baym et al., 2007). Various communication methods reflect different indications of relational strength depending on the form of the communication. For example, face-to-face communication and phone conversations reflected highly on the relational strength index (Baym et al., 2007), while SMS messaging and e-mails scored lower as they lack the interpersonal cues that are available to participants of a vocal conversation (Nesi et al., 2018). Nesi et al., (2018) suggest that some computer-mediated forms of social communication lack the substance required to nurture an interpersonal relationship, which may be referred to as the “cues filtered-out” theory. The “cues filtered-out” theory suggests that when the interpersonal cues that are seen in face-to-face communication are key in developing strong relationships are lost, it can impact relational tasks such as conflict management, decision making and intimacy.
As well as utilising social media applications to develop and maintain interpersonal relationships, adolescents are also utilising social networking to influence those around them, as well as be influenced by others (Freberg, Graham, McGaughey & Freberg, 2011). As social media applications have developed to allow users to communicate individually to each other via features such as instant and direct messaging, social networking has also developed in a way that allows individuals to communicate to the masses via their social networking outlets (Buck, 2012). One specific social networking application that sees many of its users conveying messages to large audiences is Instagram. Instagram is a “relatively new social media site and mobile photography applications that allows users to create and modify images that can be shared instantly through its own social network” (Rees, 2018). The way in which Instagram is designed, which see’s users sharing content with “followers” (other users of the social networking platform who choose to be notified when the particular user shares content) means that individual users can communicate to mass audiences instantly (Rees, 2018). This form of content sharing has evolved into a commercial communication which we now know as the “influencer” (Freberg et al., 2011). According to Freberg et al., (2011), a social media “influencer” is a “type of independent third-party endorser who shapes attitudes through…. the use of social media”. Users of social media platforms such as Instagram or YouTube who engage a large number of followers have become “influencers” who utilise their mass following to endorse products, promote particular lifestyles and generally market themselves in a way that can achieve an income (Freberg et al., 2011). An example may be a health and fitness “influencer” who utilises their platform to promote exercise equipment to their followers, and in return receives an income from the business supplying the exercise equipment.
Instagram and YouTube “influencers” not only engage a large following, but some influencers (particularly those who target an adolescent audience) can amass an extremely loyal fandom (and even be seen as a type of celebrity), as they create a personal connection with their followers by sharing details of their personal lives and documenting their daily activities to their followers (Handayani, Evelina, Sylvina & Lestari, 2019). This loyalty of followers sees adolescents communicating directly with “influencers” through likes, comments and direct messages (Handayani et al., 2019). This form of online communication is changing the face of adolescent relationships as they find themselves able to communicate with influencers/celebrities via their various social media platforms.
A third way in which social networking has changed the face of communication for individuals is in the newfound wat that consumers can now communicate directly with the companies that provide their goods and services, and vice versa (Syrdal, 2016). Studies among company executives have found that online engagement from consumers is a key marketing tool (Syrdal, 2016). The ability for a brand to build a following and create consumer engagement is instrumental in gaining financial profit (Jacobson, 2017). Consumers today are able to follow social media accounts of their favourite brands in order to see the latest offers, products and information such as store locations and opening hours as well as being able to like, comment and direct message in order to indicate to the brand their level of satisfaction in the goods/service that is being provided, or to communicate their wishes or direction that they would like to see the brand move toward (Frenzel, 2017). According to Riesmeyer, Hauswald & Mergen (2019), Instagram is used regularly by more than half of all young people, meaning that brands are able to utilise their social media platforms in order to target their younger audience.
Throughout this paper, I have discussed the ways in which adolescents are maintaining their interpersonal relationships with the help of social networking, as well as some of the implications that social networking is having on adolescents and their communication skills. I have also discussed the rise of the social media “influencer” and how adolescent communication is affected by this. To conclude this paper, I examined the ways in which social networking has allowed young adults to communicate directly with large scale commercial brands in a way that has never been seen before, and how this is affecting the brand and the consumer.
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