Social media & online communication: forms & practices

Previously, we listed the themes the Ego-Media team will cover in the essays in our digital publication. This week, we’re highlighting our work on forms and practices. From the outset, we saw forms and practices as interconnected: how we post and communicate online, with what kinds of semiotic resources is an integral part of our social practices, our engagements with social media, our daily lives. The lead author of this essay is Professor Alexandra Georgakopoulou and this post offers a brief outline of some of the issues the essay will explore.

Man & woman in the sea taking a selfie using a selfie stick
Selfies proved fertile ground for Ego-Media Project research.

3 main gaps

When we started in 2014, the Ego-Media Project team identified three main gaps in research approaches to online media.

1. A relative lack of focus on (life) stories as contextualized social practices. How are social interactional aspects of storytelling being shaped by the affordances of different social media, and the ways in which people are encouraged to use them?
2. The scarcity of historicized accounts of digitally-mediated genres both at the level of forms and at the level of representations about them. How do new media forms and practices relate to “old” media forms and practices?
3. A lack of attention to the multiplicity of semiosis, including artefacts, especially in narrative and life-writing genres. What does this mean for the way we think about and ‘tell’ story/stories in the digital age?

The Ego-Media Project aimed to address these gaps/questions with a focus on those communication modalities and genres that rose in popularity over the course of our project. We were also interested in documenting the development of norms and the potential but also limits of users’ linguistic and semiotic creativity online. To this end, we collected and deployed diverse material: from more reflexive content – as in our work with the Mass Observation Archive, to tracking the evolution of features (e.g. Facebook statuses, hashtags) and life-documenting genres (e.g. diaries), social media posts from ordinary users and Influencers (for instance, through research focusing on selfies, vlogs, memes & remixes, and health tracking and story-features designed by apps (e.g. Stories on Snapchat and Instagram).

Instagram stories…

Our analyses uncovered specific links between forms and practices of communication with participation roles, showing the importance of co-construction in the making and sharing of stories online.

Advantages of interdisciplinarity

One of the advantages of the Ego-Media Project’s interdisciplinarity was that we could approach these forms and practices from a variety of angles, using a range of methodologies including

• thematic interview analysis
• corpus-assisted critical discourse analysis
• literary criticism
• digital and blended ethnographic tracking
• small stories analysis

image of a tweet with several hashtags

Overall, this has given us a broad and deep view of the terrain we’ve been surveying, enabling us to better situate the various forms and practices we have been investigating in a range of contexts, both synchronic and diachronic.

Find out more about the scope of our research via our projects page.

Written by:

Dr Lisa Gee is a Post-Doctoral Research Associate on the Ego-Media Project