Monday, December 12, 2011

End of Semester Reflections

As my first semester of graduate school comes to an end, I am happy to breathe a sigh of relief: I SURVIDED, WHEW! This semester was both challenging and exhilarating. I faced a variety of challenges this semester including; getting re-acquainted with the world of academia, working 35hrs a week and balancing a full load of demanding classes. After spending a year away from school, it was sort of difficult for me to get into the habit of writing essays, doing homework and reading  200+ articles a week (thankfully I learned how to “Harvard texts”: ) But all in all, I learned a great deal- most of which will be beneficial on the road ahead. Despite the hiccups, I am looking forward to what next semester has in store, with a ‘slimmer’ schedule, I will certainly be able to get the most out of my grad school experience.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Good Bye, Blogging

I started this blogging assignment off by stating that I didn't like blogging.

I can admit a change of heart with some boundaries.

I really enjoyed reading those entries of my classmates, but I have to say that I wasn't moved by the medium. Mostly, I think I tended to treat this as a diary or a journal. I just grabbed onto a feeling a flew with it. I'm not sure if that goes against the assignment, but there it is. I can see the merits in the exercise when it's really a main form of communication, but I just have a hard time accepting it as something that I will be doing for the rest of my life, or ever. But I am willing to admit that maybe the problem is with me. I have repeatedly said that, at the heart of communications, lies this word: community. I really can't get away from it. Maybe I'm turning myself into a hermit for this rejection of blogging.

I'm sure this is not my last encounter with blogging, as I'm sure this is not its only purpose.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Meme is over? Coopting Viral Memes for Marketing

Internet memes are fun. Yet there is a shelf-life to memes. They are inside jokes that we share with friends, but they lose their charm after a while. The charm usually begins to fade when everybody tells the same joke. It's not funny anymore, it no longer provides a that same sense of community. This mainstreaming of the joke usually coincides with advertisers jumping on the bandwagon and trying to capitalize on the popularity. After that, its a downhill slide into the oblivion of the pop culture trash heap.

When I first saw this, I thought it was genius. Two clever blokes had created their own rocket to launch mediocre alcoholic beverages into space. It seemed to be the next logical step in our exploration of the final frontier. Brilliant! However, I soon discovered that this was not the case. In fact, this is an "earned" media campaign dreamed up by the good people at Anheuser-Busch.

Before I get into my thoughts on this, let me just clarify the idea of "earned" media. Essentially, this concept refers to advertising that is shared either virally or through the newsmedia, not through traditional paid advertising slots during commercial breaks.

This appears to be a growing trend in low quality alcohol marketing as video of guys "icing" each other with Smirnoff Ice also made national headlines and was described as "the nation's biggest viral drinking game." Though Smirnoff denied involvement in this viral meme (perhaps because it encourages immoderate drinking), questions still exist as to the truth of this claim.

Why is internet meme-ing becoming the marketing campaign of choice? The target audience for these beverages, college age men, are spending increasing portions of their day on social networks and they are more likely to be exposed to advertising on facebook, than on tv.

We heard in a group presentation in class this semester about how advertising firms are using these sorts of techniques on children, but the range of target audiences exists at all ages. Companies are banking on our networks to build awareness for their product and inspire people to buy into them and share the experience.

Don't be surprised to see a kitten standing on its hind legs and drinking from an open bottle of Colt45 the next time you log into, and if so, does that signal the end of memery as we know it? Will tumblr sites go the way of other pop culture icons?

Not to negate the rest of this post, but probably not. (no fear cat lovers, your precious lolcats are most likely safe). However, it does have lasting implications regarding the nature of communications in the 21st century, the power of networks, and how we create and project our own interpretations of our individuality. Will this affect what you post on your social pages in future? Will you consider the source of an item more closely before you share it with your friends? Or is this a big deal outta nothing?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Using Knowledge Share to Enhance Company Brand

The Family Tree reading from this week seeks to explore the idea of transmission communication. This type of communication is linear, persuasive and goes through a unidirectional process, in which the sender sends the message to the receiver through several channels. This can be better described as a more evolving form of knowledge transfer.  David Levine and April Gilbert have explored the idea of knowledge transfer in great detail. In their research they have provided a comprehensive outlook into the theme and dissected its value with relevance to organizations. Gilbert claims that knowledge transfer is a common challenge shared by all organizations. Knowledge has emerged as one of the greatest assets to any organization. Even with the emergence of new technology and media, the role of knowledge has maintained the greatest influence. In fact, mechanisms such as the Internet have only been used to supplement knowledge transfer at its core. Organizations can now use systems such as the Intranet, Lotus Notes and Google Documents to transfer and share important information. Levine notes that most organizations have abandoned the hierarchal system of control and have adopted a strategy that embraces employee involvement and productivity. This increase involvement from employees contributes to boost in company morale and overall creativity within the organization. Companies are now using media convergence not only to build a better corporate profile, but to also increase the knowledge share and productivity of employees.

Soap Operas and Edutainment

After reading Jade Miller's  Ugly Betty goes global: Global networks of localized content in  the telenovela industry, I was inspired to write about the role that soap operas play in edutainment. Below is an excerpt from my essay on edutainment "soapies"  in South Africa:
The essence of edutainment rests in the art of subtly transferring messages of social or commercial importance to audiences that tune out to other communication tactics. By harnessing this platform, organizations like Soul City have discovered that their edutainment productions are successful in promoting social mobilization amongst citizens of South Africa dealing with HIV/AIDS, political corruption, relationships, sexuality, bullying, abuse, corporal punishment and disabilities.The Soul City Institute utilizes edutainment soap operas to help audiences understand best practices for handling a broad range of social issues including HIV/AIDS which continues to plague the lives of South Africans.
Two of Soul City’s most popular series discuss the subject of domestic violence and safe sex. Within the series on domestic violence for example, female actors often portray characters that deal with verbal and physical abuse from their male partners. Throughout South Africa, it is widely accepted that domestic violence is a cultural norm because it provides a way for husbands to discipline their wives. By tackling such a culturally entrenched idea through edutainment, Soul City sought to empower women to speak out against abuse and ultimately obliterate the practice overall. This example of mobilization through edutainment relates to Albert Badura’s social learning theory because it encourages individuals to reject old behaviors and ideas in exchange for new ones. Although the popularity of Soul City’s productions suggests its messages are being received, the direct link of behavior change to edutainment is difficult to measure. In many instances, the social effects of the programs are not immediate and only influence incremental behavior change overtime.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Castells: Social movements in the age of the #

If I can offer one piece of worthwhile advice to anyone who reads this blog, it would be to subscribe to the Public Lecture podcasts from the London School of Economics. If you're interested in anything from contemporary global politics to in-depth discussion of philosophy, the LSE has had the leaders of the field come and lecture about it for their students and - kindly enough - the general public. Not stopping there, they also appreciate those of us outside of the general area and post the lectures for free online, youtube and at itunes.

This, however, is not a treatise on how awesome the LSE is, nor it a discussion about online learning (though that would be an interesting discussion on international communal learning... maybe another day. Instead this is about a recent lecture by an author we have discussed at length this semester: Manuel Castells.

He discussed how the internet offers a new forum for social movements to form and gain traction citing the #occupy movement, the Egyptian revolution and the April 26th movement, and the "indignants" movement in Spain. It is well worth a listen as there is far too many points of interest to discuss here, however, there were a couple of points that stood out to me that I would like to touch on.

Firstly, Castells sets the stage in constructivist terms, points that social movements have existed in various forms for millenia, however, the internet offers a new way for oppressed groups to exert counter-influence over those in power. He suggests that this medium allows for people to gather information from sources other than traditional (and conservative) media.

He also extolled the groups formed on the internet for coming up with original solutions to current problems in a democratic manner. Maybe I didn't listen as closely as I should have done, but I felt that this argument was a little flawed. Early on in his remarks he argues that social movements are different from political movements because they don't try to offer political solutions to problems. Social movements express the need for a social change to take place while political movements advocate for a solution. He does acknowledge that a social movement can turn into a political movement and vice versa, however, he seemed to suggest that they cannot coexist.

I question this for two reasons, firstly, because he seems to contradict himself later in the discussion when he talks about the indignants of Spain developing a new constitution as well as how Iceland's social movements have revolutionized their government following the 2008 collapse. They both take action as well as express dissatisfaction with the status quo. Secondly, it implies that a step-by-step approach to change is not feasible. I suppose this makes sense within the constructivist framework where there is a constant struggle for power, and only major power shifts create significant change, but I don't believe that reflects what happens in the real world. I may be naive, or I may simply not be a constructivist, or I may be misrepresenting Castells' argument. In fairness, all three are possibilities. So judge for yourself, listen to the lecture and let me know if I'm off base.

What other points that Castells makes stand out for you? One, off-hand, remark that he made that I think is worth exploring moving forward is the power of cell- and smartphone technologies as "defensive weapons." Castells suggests that their capability to take photos and videos on command allow for greater freedom of information and challenge portrayals of events from those in power that may not accurately illustrate the actual events. While I question the concept of a "defensive weapon" as a contradiction in terms, I think that he does have a point here. Cell phone footage of major events have significantly altered the frame of major media stories over the last decade from the video of Saddam Hussein's execution, to youtube video of students at UC Davis being casually pepper-sprayed by police during a peaceful protest. A picture speaks a thousand words and makes for an extremely powerful message.

The Global Media Market

This week presentations focused on media in a global context, from X-Factor to the Golden Compass, I think the over-arching theme can be traced to making something truly "International". The X-factor group spoke about using this package (X-factor) and tweeking it to appear more culturally relevant. The show originally began in the U.K. and although it applies "glocalization" to their format I wonder if it really just boils down to the individual countries view of the West. The examples provided in class were the Middle East and China; the Middle Eastern X-Factor failed while the Chinese X-Factor flourished. I wonder if this has more to do with relations with the West and the Middle East. One need only to look at the history of U.S. and Middle Eastern relations to understand the hesitation to adopt Western....anything. The U.K. track record isn't any better.  Although Western relations with China is sometimes turbulent, it has a lot more of a reason to embrace a program like X-Factor.

X-Factor has an interesting model because it plays a popular theme--a rags to riches story. Contestants come from all walks of life, all to compete for fame and fortune. The X-Factor also uses music to draw in the audience, and its quite easy to tweek the style of music used on each program to appeal to each market, but as the case in the Middle East demonstrated--cultural adaptation doesn't always equal commercial success.

The other group presented on creating a movie that was not only appealing domestically, but also internationally. The presentation made me think of the narrow view "international" or "foreign" markets are defined.  The example brought up in class was of the Golden Compass; it tanked domestically but was hailed as a success internationally. The film was characterized as  having "heavy dialogue" and "overly complicated plot"which was described as a barrier to success in an international market. It was later revealed that the success was due to the U.K. market, where the Golden Compass has a cultural connection.While outside of the U.S. the U.K. has a Western perspective. It makes me wonder about the definition of a "international success," is it really just  that every other country outside the U.S. is lumped together and stamped with the title international? This doesn't take into account the cultural ties shared with the U.K. and the ease of cultural transferability. If this is the case I believe it is impossible to create something that is truly "international" because this definition is too broad, and can never truly be understood under the guise of us (U.S.) and them.

Many thoughts and theories can be put into practice when examining global media and it's successes and failures. Is media an assertion of nationalism? or globalization? Cultural relevance? or Cultural odor? Are we creating more global understanding? Or stonewalling and stifling smaller voices?