Users of users. Media companies and the implicit participation of users in social media

2/2012

Mikko Villi

The purpose of the article is to examine the relationship between Internet users and media companies in the context of social media. In pursuing this goal, the concept of the extended culture industry and the division between explicit and implicit user participation are utilized as a theoretical framework. The empirical data is provided by a qualitative, in-depth interview study carried out in a Finnish newspaper. The article contributes to media studies by theoretically and empirically elaborating on the forms and significance of implicit participation for media companies.

The main argument in the article is that for media companies implicit participation – user interaction and the maintenance of social relations – is more important than explicit participation, such as user-generated content. UGC does have importance for media companies, but the role of the content is rather to act as social glue that attracts other users. A clear outcome of the interview study is that social media is largely the users’ own arena where the active role of the newspaper is limited. It is important that the paper and its news stories are present and visible in social media, the paper is “closer” to the users, but the newspaper staff has not integrated much with the user community. However, this does not signify that the newspaper in question would not use the users.

In the article, the author presents a classification of the key forms of user participation in the functions of the newspaper. The user community can 1. operate as a broadcast network, 2. be a source of audience traffic, 3. be an object of news coverage, 4. act as a citizen news review, and 5. send news tips, photographs and videos. The classification emphasizes how the change that social media has brought about for media companies is largely related to the role of the users in distributing professional media content and in passively guiding the editorial decisions.