Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

A Study of the Use of Social Media by Business College Students

Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

A Study of the Use of Social Media by Business College Students

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

This paper reports the results of a study designed to determine the behavior of students enrolled in a Western university during the Spring 2011 term with respect to use and perception of social media (specifically, Facebook and Twitter).

Social media are not new. We wrote about the creation of virtual communities and their impact on the communication of science 17 years ago (Perez-Carballo, 1994). What is new is the fact that these days the potential users of social media are counted in the hundreds of millions. Social media users include people of all ages, walks of life, and levels of technological literacy. When we began to observe virtual communities, the technologies used (such as BBS, Listservs, and Usenet) were restricted to savvy computer users. These days anybody with a mobile device may be tweeting to a virtual community of users.

Given the increasing popularity of social media and their integration into many of the information systems people use, it becomes interesting to study how business students perceive and use them. Social media can be a valuable source of topical news, information, and a tool to build virtual social and professional communities.

Despite a recent Pew survey (Smith, 2011) that reports increasing use of social media among young people, specifically minorities, before we ran the study reported here, we had (somewhat surprising) anecdotal evidence that only a very small percentage of our students used social media. In the past several years very few of our students would admit publicly that they used Facebook or Twitter. This anonymous survey study is an attempt to gather and analyze more formal data about social media usage among a student population in a Western university.

The two instances of social media that we chose to study were Twitter and Facebook. Both are computer supported systems that facilitate the creation and inter-communication of virtual communities.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Twitter (created in 2006) is a micro-blogging service. In July 2009 it had 41 million users (Kwak, Lee, Park, & Moon, 2010); by March 2011 it had 200 million users from all over the world (Shiels, 2011). Twitter allows users to post and exchange 140 character long messages, which are also known as "tweets." A user's tweet is seen by all the "followers" of that user. Individual messages can also be found by searching all tweets. About 46% of active Twitter users are mobile users (Castillo, Mendoza, & Poblete, 2011). The Library of Congress (LOC) keeps a digital archive of all public tweets since 2006. According to the LOC page, Twitter processes more than 50 million tweets per day from people around the world (Tweets at LOC, n.d.).

The enormous amounts of data available on real-time networks like Twitter have been used to create systems that alert people about "topical news" (Phelan, McCarthy, Bennett, & Smyth, 2011). A Twitter user was unknowingly reporting real-time on the U.S. special forces mission to capture or kill Osama bin Laden (McCullagh, 2011).

During crisis situations Twitter is used by millions of people to get up-to-the-minute information. For example, during the crisis caused by hurricane Irene in August of 2011, it was possible to get constant updates from the Office of the Mayor of New York City. Here is an example of one such tweet: "MTA & airports shutting down. Ferries have stopped or will soon. Time is running out. If you're in an evacuation area, leave now." (NYC Mayor's Office, Aug 27 2011).

In times of crisis cell phone service may fail, but access to social media may still be possible. Indeed, in August 2011, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) tweeted: "During/after #Irene, voice data networks may be busy. Send a text or e-mail to friends/family & let them know your status."

It is possible to find all kinds of information using Twitter. …

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