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, Griffith University, Qld, Australia, 2005 Grad. Dip., Charles Sturt University, NSW, Australia, 2006
A thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Colorado in partial fulfillment of the requirement for the degree of Masters of Mass Communication Research School of Journalism and Mass Communication 2010
This thesis entitled: The Latent Sphere of the Network Society Written by Joanne Isobel White Has been approved for the School of Journalism and Mass Communication
_______________________________________________ Nabil Echchaibi, PhD.
_______________________________________________ Stewart Hoover, PhD.
_______________________________________________ David Slayden, PhD.
_______________________________________________ Leysia Palen, PhD.
The final copy of this thesis has been examined by the signatories, and we Find that both the content and the form meet acceptable presentation standards Of scholarly work in the above mentioned discipline. IRB Protocol Number # 0210.3
White, Joanne Isobel (Masters in Mass Communication Research, School of Journalism and Mass Communication) The Latent Sphere of the Network Society Thesis directed by Associate Professor Nabil Echchaibi
The intermingling of the online and offline spheres has seen a marked blurring and today IRL embraces all forms of identity. Women and mothers in particular, have long struggled with identity, and the rise in popularity of social media has provided them with a channel of connection in ways never before encountered. The power of women in social media is unmet by any other group. Companies seeking commercial benefit from this force of spending decision makers are attempting to infiltrate the mom blogger environment. This thesis considers a mom blogger event run by Nestle in September 2009, and the negative reactions of the social media community, both towards the company and the bloggers who attended. Issues of social capital, identity work and the latent sphere of community present within the online realm are explored through a triangulated research methodology which provides an insightful picture of online communities and the organization and politicization of the space.
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE .............................................................4
Community and the internet ................................................................4 The strength of weak ties.....................................................................6 The Network Society and social capital ............................................12 Media and mom bloggers..................................................................14
The media became the message ........................................................20 Social Actors .....................................................................................24 Nestle...........................................................................................24 Mom bloggers .............................................................................27 Technology ........................................................................................31 Twitter .........................................................................................31 Syntax employed by Twitter users .....................................................32 The use of Hashtags on Twitter ........................................................33
User account identifiers ..........................................................................34 Internet connectivity................................................................................34
METHODOLOGY ...............................................................................................35 1. The Twitter stream ............................................................................37 2. The online questionnaire...................................................................41 3. Individual depth interviews and observations of long-form blogs....42
FURTHER RESEARCH ......................................................................................77 Mom bloggers .........................................................................................78 Companies...............................................................................................78 Identity ....................................................................................................79
CODE BOOK WITH COMMENTS FOR CONTENT ANALYSIS ..............................................................91
COMPLETE REPORT FROM ONLINE QUESTIONNAIRE ............................................................................93
QUESTION GUIDE USED IN DEPTH INTERVIEWS ....................................................................107
The world of social media has evolved from single terminal access to forums and chat rooms to dynamic interfaces like Twitter and Facebook which are accessible through computers and mobile technologies. By utilizing these social media tools people are constantly reaching out, broadcasting and seeking connection with others. What follows is a cumulative process whereby one connection reinforces our desire to connect again, resulting in a continual reaching out to others. Subsequently, for many people the barriers between online and offline connections are disappearing. During the last decade the term IRL (In Real Life) has gained popularity with both mainstream media and scholars when defining the separation between who people are online and who they are in the offline sphere. However the intermingling of the online and offline spheres has seen a marked blurring and today IRL embraces all forms of identity. We flow from one realm to the other and experience each within the context of the other to such an extent they have become one. The blurring of these two environments for identity work has had impact on how relationships are built and maintained. Sociologists have determined that the presence of weak ties (a sociographic theory coined by Mark Granovetter) are more plentiful than ever before. There is another core characteristic resulting from this profusion of weak ties. The immediacy of the contact these social media channels allow creates what I call a latent sphere of potential community members to the user. On the one hand the user can rediscover feelings of connection and depth of community they (and many scholars) may have thought was threatened (if not already lost). On the other, the user is simultaneously actively creating new connections, with each connection driven by attitudes, opinions and experiences of the individual that reaches out.
These connections have real personal resonance rather than being created through more traditional social structures and relying on factors such as geography or official membership of a group. Global uptake of internet-based computer-mediated communication (CMC) has risen exponentially over the last five years. Not only has the internet changed the way we consume media, buy goods and services and communicate with each other, it has also created an environment in which users can discover and be a part of a breadth of societal involvement and activism never before encountered. The purpose of this thesis is to explore how weak ties are realized online, and how they form what I call a latent sphere of community in what Manuel Castells has coined the Network Society. In turn this thesis seeks to examine how these weak ties tighten when a thought or issue of common interest enters the sphere. The premise of this latent sphere becomes even more tangible when the offline actions of those involved in this tightening are demonstrated as part of the online connection. This offline action further reinforces the pervasive nature of technology‟s impact on society, and how „in real life‟ is no longer able to be identified separate from online networks. Literature investigating each of the contributing factors to the identification of the latent sphere will be examined. Authors such as Wellman (2001; 2004), Rheingold (2002), and Albert, Flournoy & LeBrasseur (2009) have examined the definition of community and how it exists online. Exploration of social capital and its prominence in the Network Society are provided through the work of Castells (2007) and Acevedo (2007). Discussion of the presence of weak ties, phatic communion and an earlier idea of the latent sphere, through an observation of“latent
ties”are provided by Wittel (2001), Miller (2008), Tracy (2002) and Haythornthwaite (2001). The research includes identification of how identity is represented online as a plurality of self rather than a two-dimensional broadcasting of a single idea is shown through treatment by Cooper & Rowan (2009). Finally, literature discussing mothers and the development of their own identity in the face of traditional media is identified through the work of Mattelart & Reader (1982), while the work of Medved & Kirby (2005) is used to show how women have been divided in modernity as they suffer value judgments over their decisions to work in and outside the home, and in parenting decisions. These literature demonstrate how mothers in particular have been particularly impacted and empowered by the rise in social media. For the purpose of the exploration of the latent sphere, a case study will be used in which the weak ties that are inherent in one online sphere, mom bloggers, were seen to tighten during a discussion on social media (Twitter and blogs), over the actions of a multinational company and the decision of some members of the mom blogger community to attend an all-expenses paid promotional event held by the firm in late 2009. The multinational company, Nestle, organized an all-expenses-paid promotional event for a select group of people who were chosen based on the perceived influence they had through their online public blog presence, held in California from September 30 to October 1, 2009. Some of the attending bloggers decided to use the organizing hashtag, #NestleFamily, on Twitter to talk about their involvement with the event. They also produced long-form blog posts following the event.
The actions of both Nestle and the attending bloggers came under scrutiny and the general Twitter population interested in the #NestleFamily hashtag rose in number, with many bloggers raising points of contention for discussion. At times the debate became heated.
Community and the internet While traditional notions of community rely on readily identifiable frames such as geographic location or a group of people who share a common interest, in today‟s network society, where technology is not only prevalent but also pervasive, a fully rounded description of community has become a term more difficult to quantify. Scholars beginning with pre-internet McLuhan (1965) and moving to Web 1.0 theorists and Web 2.0 authors such as Wellman (1997), Albert, Flournoy & LeBrasseur (2009) have discussed the relevance, actuality and definition of community on the internet. There has been discussion over differences between community online and offline. When the online structure of community differs from some scholars‟ unrealistic utopian notions of offline community, some other scholars fear this means community is disappearing rather than simply restructuring or discovering a new form. These differences have led to research which fails to appreciate the newer forms of community because it is created from within a frame which reflects assumed representation. For example, Pew Internet‟s research on Online Communities intended to “explore the breadth and depth of community online (2001, p. 1),” however the questions and content analysis in the research sought to identify communities based on traditional ideas of shared passions, beliefs, hobbies and even location. It is not surprising then, that some scholars use this type of research to identify a “crisis in community,” (Evans, 2004, p. 2) instead of redefining the measures and values used to identify community
existence. This thesis will investigate the character and community consciousness which is represented online, and relate it to scholars‟ earlier understanding in an attempt to explore a redefinition of the idea of community in the Network Society. Wellman (2001) says, “It is becoming clear that the Internet is not destroying community but is resonating with and extending the types of networked community” (p. 2031). Additionally, he states that “computer networks principally support social networks, not groups. A group is only one special type of a social network; one that is heavily interconnected and clearly bounded. Much social organization no longer fits the group model” (p.2031). It is apparent that research needs to step back in order to focus on the essence of what makes communities, and this invites us to determine the individual components that communities are composed of. Concentration on the active involvement of the individual, rather than identifying a community based on an idea centered on external attributes, is reflected by the comments of Cassell and Tversky (2005) who draw from bodies of work by Rheingold, 1994; Wellman, 2001; Wellman, Boase, & Chen, 2002 in their view: Given the modern world in which we live, where easy and rapid transportation as well as telephone lines and email can sustain relationships, it is more appropriate to think of a community as a network of interpersonal ties that, like the isolate neighborhood communities that existed previously, provide sociability, support, information, a sense of belonging and social identity. (p. 5) It has been said that identity as an individual relies on associations. It is both a collective as well as individual undertaking which is only meaningful in a social environment (Stalder, 2006, p. 84), and that social environment is now being found online just as it is offline.
Numerous scholars have focused research on the actions of individuals‟ political action through their involvement with the internet (for example, Castells, 2007; Rheingold,2002; Albert, Flournoy, & LeBrasseur, 2009, and Evans, 2004), however the political realm reaches far beyond the ballot box. Civic action in areas such as shared “causes,” non-profit organizations and education, for example, have indirect consequences on overarching political standpoints taken by individuals. While a minimum of research currently exists on social action within the realm of social media, it remains a key aspect of the politicization of the web. Strength of Weak Ties Literature has discussed the strength of weak ties, particularly in relation to finding employment. This literature has been based in traditional frames of considering how ties work in society. Most of the literature focuses on offline ties, and that which looks at online ties assumes the operation of ties works in the same way as offline ties (Haythornthwaite 2001). Influences such as socioeconomic status, education, etc have all been used to define differences for purposes of comparison in the tangibility of weak ties, and focus of their effect has rested on work and employment. However, as researchers moved to the online sphere, these conditions become less relevant and thus it is difficult to find research that explores the effect of weak ties online. As society expands and begins to truly integrate the offline with online through the pervasive nature of social media, the lines between offline and online weak ties blur, and there is space to examine how the two interact. Some studies of computer mediated communication (CMC) performed before the proliferation of socially focused media on the web concluded that CMC was less effective or appropriate if exchanges were highly emotional, or if information being disseminated was
complex (for example, Draft & Lengel, 1986; Fulk & Steinfield, 1990; and Kiesler and Sproull, 1992). This literature creates a rich environment for fear-mongering theories which relate a thinning of community in society through their perceived concentration on “meaningless utterances” otherwise known as “phatic communion” or “small talk” (Wittel, 2001; Tracy, 2002). Using Wittel as a starting point, Miller (2008) states that ultimately the rapid adoption of online social networks creates a “phatic culture” (p. 389). The pervasiveness of this phatic culture extends across all of society, which appears to rely on connected presence and expands the number of weak ties every individual has rather than retaining strong ties which are essential for social cohesion. This focus on weak ties combined with phatic communion opportunities through a minimal number of characters represented by technological tools such as Twitter, led to conclusions by Miller that due to the overbearing direction of technology there was a danger that the very fabric of community in society was doomed to lose intimacy and depth. Contrasting the view of Miller, other literature has sought to find connection or similarity between the online and offline sphere of social networks. Bernardo Huberman, Daniel Romero and Fang Wu (2009) described online networks as similar to contacts in a personal phone book. Some are contacted very regularly, but many are not. Further, these authors state that a lack of regular contact does not directly indicate a lack of interest. Huberman, et al conclude that further study is required to explore what the authors call a “hidden social network” which exists in this online sphere. It is this “hidden social network”that this thesis will discover, and identify as being a latent sphere of weak ties. Additionally, Barry Wellman (2004) has stated that “technologies themselves neither make nor break communities. Rather, they create possibilities, opportunities, challenges, and constraints for what people and organizations can – and cannot – do” (p. 25). In fact, says
Wellman, there are indications that those who are highly involved in connection with others through the internet are also just as frequently in-person contacts as those who rarely or never use the internet. In his original work, Granovetter (1973) described the difference between strong and weak ties based on four general categories: time, emotional intensity, mutual confidence and reciprocity. According to Granovetter, strong ties are determined and maintained through relationships that include intimate or confidential information sharing, frequent and high levels of emotional contact that over time are consistent from both parties in the tie. In contrast, he describes a weak tie as one which does not feature frequent contact, high levels of emotional and/or intimate personal content. General examples are close friends and family as representations of strong ties, and work colleagues or distant relatives as examples of weak ties. These characteristics have been relied on by scholars as general categories differentiating one tie from the other (for example, Erickson and Yancy in Granovetter, 1983, p. 206). It is interesting to consider what scholars consider makes a weak tie in the CMC sphere. According to Haythornthwaite (2001), contacts which are strongly tied are likely to have similar “attitudes, background, experiences and access to resources” (p. 4). However it could be argued that access to resources (as distinct from access to the web) is quite a leveled playing field when considering the vast realm of the internet. The author continues with an explanation that “weak tie contacts spend most of their time operating in different social circles and provide access to resources outside the close social circle” (p. 4). Arguably, we could state that without a shared offline ongoing common experience (such as offline friendship), all social actors in the online sphere fall into this category.
Haythornthwaite extended her work to explain the existence of “latent ties.” These are described as “ties for which the connection is technically available, but not yet activated.” (p. 4) The author states that when activated, these latent ties become “very weak ties.” This particular work from Haythornthwaite came from a time prior to the rise in popularity of today‟s online social network environments, and I assert this early indication of “latent ties” was an early identification of what has progressed to become a latent sphere of weak ties which are far stronger than Haythornthwaite thought at the time. It is apparent that while much literature discusses the strength and action of weak ties, particularly in the realm of the workplace and gaining employment (for example, Pickering and King, 1995), in the Network Society, the unquestioned definitions of what constitute weak and strong ties are problematic. To question assumed norms of a term is not unusual. For example, in the Network Society, the definition of a “friend” is difficult to determine, and can become so abstract that it loses meaning altogether. Many social media technologies invite the “friending” and “following” of others, without requiring any qualification of an offline relationship. (One notable exception to this is the popular professional social network, LinkedIn, which requires connections to proclaim their reason for connection with every person in their community network.) Some individuals will refer to someone online as being a friend, however they may have never actually met face to face. It is common to hear people discuss whether a friendship is real or not when it is based upon online social media connections – even though areas that would indicate a strong tie such as intimate conversation, regular contact and high levels of emotion are all present. It could be surprising to some that a concept as apparently obvious as friendship
comes under scrutiny and discussion in the Network Society, however it is pertinent to reexamine these long-held concepts and definitions when researching their definitions in this new sphere. It is relevant to spend some time focusing on how users of online networks feel about other users. While most users of online social networks do not appear to invest time in making these definitions for themselves, as researchers of the field, it is necessary to question how users define their relationships to each other. Also problematic are the approaches taken by scholars to online communities in the network society. It would appear that the traditional view of communities is that they are seen as identified groups that are common to everyone. Scholars recognize that communities exist online, but they fail to identify differences between how these communities form and are identified. It is commonly assumed by scholars that online communities are structured and created in the same way as offline communities, and their research reflects these assumptions, even in the most recent work. Wellman and Gulia (1997) identify that high levels of understanding and support are available in „virtual‟ communities (also see Feld, 1982; and Marsden, 1983) and the Pew Internet Report has researched the number of people who are joining existing online communities (Horrigan, 2010). Each of these studies identifies online communities as being parallel entities to offline communities. They celebrate a newly invigorated attitude of youth in particular, to becoming more socially active, identifying ways teens appear to move online to form relationships with groups. Scholars in these studies have identified a reduction in the joining of organized offline groups, however appreciate that online there is a re-energized willingness for individuals to be members of communities. They refer to the same “joining a group” as a traditional offline person would undertake, in which the user goes online to join existing communities.
However, more recent work has begun to identify differences between the structure and creation of groups and communities in offline and online networks. Albert, Flournoy & LeBrasseur (2009) have reflected on the connections of community networks in the online sphere, and used Facebook as an example of how people in one network are able to exponentially increase their realm of weak ties, purely through the simplicity of social media and the power of online search in that sphere. The authors say these seemingly small nuances of difference have an enormous impact on the empowerment of the individuals within the communities, and also demonstrate the strength of the networks involved. The authors state, “The first decade of the 21st century will be the pivotal period for the New World Information and Communication Order, when ordinary citizens in communities of all sizes will begin to realize that they have the means to shape their future” (p. 229). Additionally, differences are beginning to be identified by scholars in how much more intense impressions and emotions are in the online sphere compared to offline. Hancock and Dunham's 2001 study of 80 participants compared their impression formation following a faceto-face dyadic interaction compared with a text-based, synchronous computer-mediated conversation. Results of the research demonstrated that the participants' impressions of each other following the CMC interchange were less detailed, but more intense than the face-to-face interaction. This research, focused on the individual rather than an assumed perception of their communities leads us to question how intense the impressions are of each other in online sphere communities, and how these are acted out when topics of passionate debate are raised.
The Network Society and social capital Manuel Castells postulated in 2007 that media have become the social space where power is decided. Arguably, this assertion is no different a reality than has always been the case. While acting as the fourth estate, media have also controlled messages to the extent that political structures are decided within the realm of content produced by media. Today, anyone with internet access who wants to make a public statement or create a public engagement can be a content producer, and thus has a place in decisions of power. While democracy may be the aim of progressive Western society, with all voices heard, the decisions of individuals in those societies are not made without influence. In a traditional media model, influence of individuals could be ascribed to messages that were disseminated through a unidirectional Lippmanesque authoritative editorial process. In the social media model, social interactions such as conversation, debate and discussions play a more influential determining factor. Key to this are the relationships and credibility of social actors. In the online social media sphere where anyone can truly question the authenticity and motivation of any other social actor, the democracy of the space invites greater focus on questions of legitimacy which previously had been granted or assumed, simply because they had been filtered by the media enterprise that disseminated the message. Credibility of the social actors in the online sphere relates specifically to the social capital they control. While personally constructed, social capital is a measure of social cohesion (Acevedo, 2007). There is no social capital without a network to reinforce and support it. Social capital in a network is different to human capital, which relies on personal assets, education and qualifications (Degenne and Forse, 1999). These authors state that weak and strong ties are both related to social capital, framed around expectations and reciprocal obligations between
individuals. Similar assertions by Acevedo (2007) state that factors such as participation, trust, solidarity and reciprocity feature in identifying social capital. Informing these factors in the online social media sphere, identity is no longer established and maintained through a single, two-dimensional representation that is crafted and controlled by the broadcaster who uses carefully prepared singular messages designed to resonate with the core of a target audience. The unilateral environment of traditional media is not conducive to a plurality of identity expression. In fact, in a traditional media model, inconsistency of message or appearance is instead seen as being deceptive or confusing, and a risk to the social capital of the broadcaster. However, gaining social capital in the online social media sphere relies on embracing a three-dimensional expression of self. The dynamic of social media calls on individuals to have two-way conversations with other users rather than broadcast single messages. It is within those multi-user conversations that a more fully rounded representation of identity or “self” is shown. There is less opportunity to create a crafted message or persona due to the immediacy of social media conversations, and a user gains social capital within their community through demonstrating a wider scope of interests and engagement than simply through broadcasting unilateral messages. It has even been said by Cooper and Rowan in their book, The Plural Self (2009), that "the notion of a unified self begins to stand out like a relic from a bygone era." An individual's professional face is but one expression of an identity. That person is expected to also have a social face, and a private face. The more controlled the expression of personality in social media, the less authentic the person is seen to be - and the lower the possibility of social capital within the sphere. As Abbas and Dervin say, "Researchers face the tricky fact that identity is both a scientific concept (a researcher analyzes the construction of identities in discourse) and a daily experience for every human being (I define who I am and I am defined by others whenever
I interact)." People need to engage with each other (participate and reciprocate) to build social capital within their community, and only when they do is trust and social capital built. The challenge of presenting a unified self to society is one with which mothers have struggled as they have sought identity in the paid workforce or tried to maintain social capital in deciding to stay home to raise their families. Today mothers have many different roles, and moving online appears to have given them an opportunity to reach out and connect with others who face similar challenges, and are willing to share their multi-faceted day-to-day experiences with others in quite detailed ways. Media and Mom Bloggers Mattelart and Reader (1982) have outlined the ways that mass media in the US have singled out women as a primary target for mass media promotional messages, beginning with soap operas and serials on radio and television. Advertising was such a prolific force that programming was formed around it, instead of the other way around. Intertwined with commercial production of content, advertising has been a constant presence in the forming of the female US media experience. In turn the media experience has defined and guided the role of the US female, fostering accepted norms of product purchases and their use, clothing choices, and parenting and family behaviors. For women, the challenges of life in our post-feminist society are ones which have never before been as plentiful. Questions laced with condemnation face every mother over the choice to stay-at-home or remain in the paid workforce. “So, what do you do?” has never before held so much judgment (Medved and Kirby, 2005, p. 437). It may not be surprising that many turn to the
internet for support, encouragement and connection with other women of like minds. Online, women are able to find areas of common concern and resonance (Compass Partners, 2009). Not all mothers are the same, and nor are all parenting practices. In the offline world it is very difficult to ascertain whether another mother shares similar beliefs or even takes the same approach to parenting – however, on social networks and blogs women are able to identify others who share the same beliefs, practice and challenges, and they can reach out without fear of recrimination. This freedom offers validation, support and friendship found through homophilous networks, without judgment. Beyond the resonance of friendship, women are also discovering a reinforcement of their identity as professionals through involvement with the internet. Women have taken to blogging in droves. In the US there are millions of women who blog, and the accomplishments and education they have made in business enterprise are finding realization in the domestic sphere (Compass Partners, 2009). Women who decide to leave the corporate world to raise families are beginning to move online and build enterprises as mom bloggers (or alternatively, “mompreneurs”) (for example, Druxman, 2010; Mendelsohn, 2010). Experience gained in women's corporate roles is being brought home and shared with other women through tips and tricks to build online sites that enable mothers to create and share content ranging from the most basic diary through to established, branded businesses. We are seeing a bridge between the corporate and stay-at-home choice being made real through communities of women using the network of the internet to celebrate their own and other women's choices, lives and experience. While Medved and Kirby identified this trait in the early stages of Web 1.0 with mothers beginning to treat themselves as CEOs of their homes (p. 454), today in a Web 2.0 social media
environment, women have created real businesses and established themselves as a corporate product. The revolution in the role of women through advances made by feminism have led to changes in the portrayal of women in mainstream media. No longer do women find resonance in once-popular matriarch characterizations such as those offered in shows such as Leave it to Beaver in the 1950s and The Partridge Family in the 1970s. Instead we see current female role models as independent, anti-domestic mothers such as Sex in the City's Miranda and each of the Desperate Housewives. The women in these shows present dissatisfied, awkward or simply borderline-insane women engaged with limited, traditional roles of mothering as opposed to powerful independent women who use men for sexual gratification. It is apparent feminism has no room or value for the powerful traditional aspects of motherhood. These women reflect the dissonance experienced for the last 30 years of women challenging each other through roles of working outside of the home rather than in the home. Women continue to experience the backlash from other women, as defined by the reputable feminist theorist, Susan Faludi, and raise the temperature of that battle with an internal conflict over whether to work at home or outside the home. Aligned with this battle is the media portrayal of “appropriate” mothering. When mothers are successful, mass media celebrate their unusual achievements. However, when tragedy strike a family, mass media reporting commonly blames the mother. This appears to be the case, no matter whether the unusual achievements were monumental celebrations such as Alison Hargreaves‟ accomplishment of climbing Everest in a solo effort without supplementary oxygen, followed by her fall from the media‟s graces when she perished in a subsequent climb of K2 (Gilchrist, 2007); or if it is the personal story of the tragic loss of a child where the mother is blamed for negligence or inappropriate behavior
that is deemed to have led to the child‟s death, even though the behavior had either no substantive evidence, or its relationship to the death is tenuous, at best (for example, Shepard, 2010; and King, 2010). It would appear that mothers have become an easy target for mass media. In the democratizing developments of authorship offered in the media of the Network Society, mothers could be the most interesting group experiencing change. Mothers are key stakeholders in the revolution of media demonstrated by their widespread adoption of blogging and other forms of social media. Women are taking the power of what is produced in mass media from the hands of those who seek to subvert or question the validity of mothering, and are instead using it to connect and find reassurance from other mothers. Often a lonely role made more so because of the dichotomies presented in traditional media outlets which seek to pit mothers who work outside the home against those who work at home, or those who choose to raise their infants with artificial formula instead of breastfeeding, the new opportunities offered to mothers through social networking have provided a new strength of identity which does not rely on two-dimensional, shallow aspects of mothering. Instead, social media allows a depth of communication and resonance which many mothers appear to find encouraging and supportive in ways they do not find offline because of busy schedules, family and work demands, and lack of time or energy to join traditional, offline groups.
As social media tools and CMC have become more mainstream and accepted standards for communication in western society, corporations have begun to infiltrate the online sphere, attempting to find influence with consumers and leveraging these non-traditional, less expensive CMC-based media formats in an attempt to sell their products and gain positive brand identities.
One key market for these corporations is known as “mom bloggers.” Moms in the US are responsible for more than 80 per cent of their family‟s expenditure decisions, totaling over $2 trillion each year. Moms are more likely to respond to word-of-mouth recommendations and more frequently women are turning to the internet for advice and connection. As a result, mom bloggers are considered influential within this market. Mom bloggers are also very active across numerous social media tools. They may run their own blog, have a Twitter account, Facebook page, podcast and even have their own web television shows. Some of the most popular mom bloggers may find an audience across all these forms of social media. Far outstripping the potential impact of any one traditional media format, these mom bloggers have a potential audience which run into the tens of thousands and be primarily made up of other moms who share a number of common key traits (for example, having a large family or working outside the home). While still in the early stages of development, many companies are seeking alignments with mom bloggers they believe are influential in an attempt to gain low-cost focused connection with market niches traditional media cannot adequately address. The Nestle promotional event considered in this study is an example of this. The company invited a number of bloggers (predominantly moms but two “dad bloggers” were included) to attend a two-day all expenses-paid event at its US headquarters in California from September 30 to October 1, 2009. The event was described by the company as a focus group opportunity for Nestle to hear what the attending bloggers had to say about the Nestle Family brand as well as serving as an introduction to the company‟s vast range of products. It is notable that a small number of invited bloggers chose not to attend due to either identified conflicts of interest, the Nestle brand falling outside the realm of their blog focus, and some due to their personal opposition to Nestle‟s
business and marketing practices which have been documented for over 30 years and which have resulted in boycotts of the company‟s products. At least one blogger who attended the event was informed of concerns about Nestle practices prior to the event, but still decided to attend. The families of those who attended were sent packages of Omaha Steaks by Nestle while the blogger was at the event. Additionally, the bloggers were reportedly provided with a generous amount of free Nestle products during their time at the company and also received a selection of products delivered to their homes following the event. They were also allowed to purchase Nestle products from the Nestle Factory Store during their time at the event, and a number of attendees tweeted about doing this. While the mom bloggers were at the event they were given free samples, taken on tours of the Nestle factory and attended presentations made by a number of staff. Many of the attendees were using Twitter to identify and celebrate their location and the activities they were experiencing over the weekend. Using the hashtag #NestleFamily, the tweets were generally very positive towards Nestle and its products. In ensuing online discussions and responses to blog posts, Nestle expressed that it had not anticipated the role of Twitter but that attendees “tweeting” was not discouraged by the company either. Attendees also stated that social media outreach of any kind was not expected as a condition of their attendance at the event, and that tweets such as the following one made after the event by attendee, @Totally_Toni, were not asked for by Nestle: “It‟s off to soccer this AM. I am taking a mug of Nescafe instant coffee with me.” A visual representation of what occurred in this message dissemination is shown below as Figure 1, below:
Soft positive messages delivered by Nestle to attendees at invitation-only event.
Attendees decided to use #NestleFamily hashtag, and disseminate positive messages related to Nestle and their experience at the event in the public stream to their followers on Twitter. The Twitter sphere then reacted to those messages with ones of their own.
Figure 1: Nestle Family Event message dissemination The media became the message The positive and thereby promotional tweets using the #NestleFamily hashtag did not generally find favor with the mom blogger sphere of Twitter, a segment of which is pro-breastfeeding and highly vocal in its stand against promotional marketing practices of artificial baby milk – a recommendation of the World Health Organization in its positioning paper on the marketing of baby formula. This “lactivist” segment of the mom blogger sphere was very critical of the mom bloggers who were attending the Nestle event and were vocal in their questioning about the
reasons they were attending and “representing Nestle.” In this questioning, the lactivist segment accused the attendees of being either misinformed, gullible, shills, uncaring or simply ignorant. Of the 102 Twitter users coded for this study, 18 were identified as negatively reacting to the attendees and the messages they were tweeting. The lactivists were outraged and demanded answers about why the bloggers decided to go to the event, as well as expressing disappointment that women they were associated with online were active with a company they felt was, in the words of one lactivist, “killing babies.” The attending bloggers were summarily referred to as one group together by these lactivist mom bloggers. In comparison, just nine of the coded Twitter users were expressing negative attitudes to the lactivist segment. The number of tweets produced by both sides of the argument gave a similar overview, with 28 tweets being actively negative towards the attendees, and just 17 negative towards the lactivists. We might view the two sides as being the extremes of opinion. A total of 56 mom bloggers in the coded section of the Twitter discussions (just under 50 per cent of the coded users) were not obviously aligned with either side. This group was very interested in finding out more information about the event and Nestle itself. A great amount of conversation and discussion ensued where a number of mom bloggers from the attendees to lactivists to those supporting both of these, and others with no alignment provided information to each other, challenged and supported each other‟s stance, and reinforced each other‟s position in what were primarily information-seeking and information-sharing discussions. On the outskirts one nonattending mom blogger (@mommygoggles) became a highly vocal proponent of Nestle and its products while another non-attending blogger (@sheilacakes7) stated she hoped to be invited to
the event if the company held it again the following year. These outskirt mom bloggers were also highly dismissive of the concerns of the activists and even made light of some of their concerns. A few hours into the event on September 30, Nestle created its own Twitter account, @NestleFamily, to respond to the pointed questions being aimed at the attending mom bloggers and the debate that was taking the focus of the hashtag #NestleFamily. Nestle invited all those with questions to submit them directly to an email address for response and invited one of the most critical bloggers to telephone with her extensive questions. This blogger, known as Annie (@Phdinparenting), decided it would be best to submit the questions via email, and have the responses in written form so they could be blogged for all to see. She sent in some detailed questions, which Nestle then forwarded to its corporate offices in Switzerland for a response. Over the next few weeks, Annie did a series of long posts on her long-form blog with the full questions and answers as well as an analysis of them all and appropriate links to external sources. These posts took more than a month and many hours of detailed journalistic work on her behalf, even though she reports she is not a trained journalist. Annie was also subject to significant focus and critique from areas of the online mom sphere – not unlike the focus suffered by the attendees. As a key influencer who many identify as the leading activist within the moms on Twitter who were involved in the discussions and calling for action from Nestle and the attendees, I was happy that Annie was included in all three areas of my research. (Please note: Annie opted to be identified in this research and thesis where relevant, as did two of the other depth interviewees.) Mark Granovetter‟s (1983) sociological theory of strong and weak ties says that social structure can be identified as having two types of connections. Strong ties are those represented
by close friends and family who each have a close relationship, and weak ties are represented by acquaintances and colleagues or more distant friends, who have a less close relationship (pp. 201-203). The discussions in this case demonstrated what Granovetter has termed “the strength of weak ties.” This theory relates to the importance weak ties play in our social networks. Granovetter states that our social network is strengthened through our relationships with the weak tie network because a number of weak ties in our network act as “bridges” to information, connections and sharing with other members of society with whom we may not otherwise connect (p.208). It has been said that online networks feature a heightened number of weak tie connections. This case study demonstrated a very rapid building of bridges through the conversations and debate had by users in all areas of the discussions. It is indicated that this plethora of weak ties featured not only bridging ties, but also what I am calling a tightening of all the weak ties in the discussion, due to the sensitive nature of the topic. This tightening is actually a concentration of intensity of relationship between the weak ties through this period, and it led some to relate their intent to act offline personally through a boycott of the company and public dissemination of the information they had learned. Through this study it was also possible to identify a flux of the social capital of each of the social actors in the Twitter sphere. The concept of social capital has been described as changed because of our emergence into the Information Age and the Network Society (Acevedo 2007). Today we think of social capital as a commodity or indicator of wealth of both entire networks and of individuals. It is social capital which underscores the influence networks and individuals are deemed to have, as understood by those whom they seek to influence. In the online sphere it would appear that social capital is highly dynamic. Reputation and
influencegained offline is also sought online. It appears that this reputation may not automatically be transferred from one sphere to the other. As the offline and online worlds become one, we are at a point in history where social capital some have taken for granted may now need to be reclaimed. Social Actors Nestle Nestle refers to itself as the world‟s leading Nutrition, Health and Wellness company. In 1867 the Nestle company developed the first artificial baby milk and since then it prides itself on following “sound human values and principles,” and reflecting actions of “basic ideas of fairness, honesty and a general concern for people.” The Nestle headquarters are located in Vevey, Switzerland. Nestle sales for 2008 were over $US103.6bn, with a net profit of over $US16.9bn. The company employs approximately 283,000 people worldwide and has factories in nearly every country. With brands ranging from bottled water to pet foods and even the Jenny Craig weight loss centers, Nestle has a constant presence in the everyday lives of a very large proportion of the world‟s people. For decades Nestle has come under fire regarding its business practices, particularly in relation to its promotion and advertising of artificial baby milk (infant formula) and the quality, health attributes and desirability of its products‟ nutrition content. Interestingly, recently concern has been expressed in blogs and online sources over the Chairman of Nestle, Peter Brabeck‟s belief that clean water is a saleable commodity rather than a
basic human right (Wagenhofer, 2005) – a statement which mainstream news media has largely failed to cover. For more than 30 years there have been consumer-led boycotts of Nestle products. In fact, the World Health Organization‟s Code of Practice for Marketing Baby Milk Substitutes was developed as a direct response to the actions of Nestle in promoting and sampling artificial baby milk in developing countries. Nestle‟s response can be interpreted as contradictory, in that it states it supports and recognizes the WHO Code and abides by it when it is enshrined in law by individual countries. Nestle says it recommends countries adopt the Code through legislation but in countries that have not adopted the Code in a legally enforceable manner Nestle continues to market its baby formula through sampling, giving incentives to the medical profession and through other forms of advertising. In recent years, media reports on the company have focused on its financial situation and profitability rather than its questioned business and marketing practices, thereby limiting the amount of independent information available to the general public on the situation. Furthermore, the company has been taken to court on numerous occasions in the US and internationally and a consumer-led boycott of the company has been instigated on more than one occasion. Specifically related to its advertising messaging, the company has been forced by independent arbitrators such as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACC) to retract messages regarding the health aspects of a number of its products (for example: The ACC enforced a ruling in September, 2006 that Nestle withdraw the claim that its Rollups range is „made with 65 per cent real fruit‟). Nestle has been sued by other companies for comparative claims that have been proven untrue or simply not researched (for example, in 2010 Weight
Watchers successfully sued Nestle over claims made by the Nestle-owned Jenny Craig weight loss program that it enabled greater weight loss than Weight Watchers.) The industry magazine, Advertising Age, estimated that Nestle‟s global advertising spent in 2008 was approximately $2.3 billion, making the company the 10th largest advertiser in the world. In addition to this extremely large investment in advertising spent in traditional media formats, Nestle has attempted to connect with consumers in the online sphere a number of times. Following the event considered in this thesis, the company invited numerous mom bloggers to be part of a “Digital Think Tank” that it claimed would reward people with Nestle products for providing input on how Nestle would best communicate online. This initiative was met with distrust by the mom blogger sphere, which was still smarting from the effects of the NestleFamily event, and went no further than the primary sign-up invitation. Eventually the page related to the “Digital Think Tank” was removed by Nestle. The company held an inhouse “Nestle Digital Day,” where representatives of the company and its advertising and marketing agencies were trained in social media and online activities, reportedly by company representatives of online tools and sites such as Facebook. Nestle has a presence on Facebook and other sites however activists continue to provoke the company through these avenues and it is arguably yet to find an authentic resonance with any online community. Nestle‟s only productive effort to date appears to be a more traditional promotion on the BlogHer community site, focused on mom bloggers, where it is currently sponsoring a competition that will reward a blogger with $1,000. This activity is leveraging the BlogHer identity as a middle-man between the company and the audience, creating a buffer more similar to a traditional media message.
Mom Bloggers The term “mom bloggers” is a contentious one. While some believe the term is derogatory, I have still decided to use it through this thesis as most people in the category will identify with it in some way, and there does not appear to yet be another commonly used term which replaces it. (While undertaking this research, it was interesting to observe women calling themselves “mommybloggers” rather than anything else – a term which arguably attracts an even greater negative reaction.) Broadly based and for the purposes of this thesis, a mom blogger is defined as a woman who uses social media on a regular basis, and who is of child-bearing age or has had children in her life at some point. This may include women who are personally childless, but are aunts, foster moms, grandmothers, or even just child caregivers of some description. Through my research endeavors and in particular, through attending (and presenting on marketing) the Mom 2.0 Summit in 2010, I have identified three types of long-form blogs run by mom bloggers. They are: a. Pitch Me – the blogger primarily focused on product reviews and marketing relationships. b. Magazine – the blogger that covers a variety of things they are interested and/or specialize in. c. Niche – the blogger that covers one specific topic. All three of these blog types are primarily driven by their content and their perception of reader expectation. Additionally, for the purposes of my definition, mom bloggers may not use a long form blog at all, instead being present in the online sphere through other forms of social media
such as Twitter and Facebook. While this definition is not necessarily one embraced or even shared by all mom bloggers it is the definition I am using for the purpose of this case study. Research is performed on the mom blogger sphere by market research company Nielsen, which produces a Top 50 Power Moms list each year. To be classified as a Power Mom, Nielsen states the woman must be between the ages of 25 and 54 with at least one child, and participate regularly in online activities. With US-based moms being responsible for over 80 per cent of their family‟s purchases, equating to over $US2 trillion in expenditure, it is no wonder that companies are exploring new ways to connect with this audience in a focused way online in addition to more traditional generalized forms of advertising and broadcast communication. The way moms connect using social media is also telling. Research performed by Gather and Mom Central Consulting in August 2009 (within one month of the case study this thesis considers) revealed that over 60 per cent of moms reported making a new friend online in the last year, 60 per cent said they had feelings of loneliness and 80 per cent believed they didn‟t have enough friends in their lives. While less than half of the 1,321 moms surveyed said they lived close to their family, more than 50 per cent said they didn‟t get enough support from their spouse. Considering the merging of offline and online identities and relationships, more than a third of the moms in the study reported having turned an online friendship into an offline one. Finally, 71 per cent of moms who made friends online identified shared passions and interests (as distinct from location) as being key factors to these friendships (Reuters, September 29, 2009). The 2009 Women and Social Media Study (Compass Partners, 2009) identified both frequency and behavioral aspects of how women use the internet and connect online. This study said that out of 79 million US women who self-identified as being online, 42 million said they
were involved in some type of social media activity on a weekly or more frequent basis. (Definitions of social media activity included reading, posting and commenting on blogs, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, message boards and status updating.) (Compass Partners, 2009, p. 7) It found that women who blog are significantly more active across all forms of social media. This study identified that one third of women surveyed had a college degree or above and one quarter of them had an income of over $75,000 (Compass Partners, 2009, p.12). There are millions of women taking up blogging, with the primary reasons being “for fun” (76 per cent) and to “express myself” (73 per cent), rather than motivations of persuading others (22 per cent) or earning money (17 per cent) (Compass Partners, 2009, p. 17). Identifying a need to be a part of a community received a low resonance of purpose with those surveyed, with just 29 per cent of respondents saying they sought community online – it appears women do not recognize they may be looking for groups of people, and instead are looking for individuals to connect with who share common interests. It is interesting to note, however, that while women say they do not seek financial influence online, 85 per cent of them said they made a purchasing decision as a result of a recommendation or customer experience posted on a blog (Compass Partners, 2009, p. 22). In the US, there are more than four conferences a year focused on mom bloggers. The largest, BlogHer, is held annually in August at different locations around the country. Organizers say the conference expects to attract over 1,800 attendees in 2010. Another conference, the Mom 2.0 Summit, had over 350 attendees in February of 2010, with 40 per cent representing marketers of corporate entities and the other 60 per cent being mom bloggers. Other major mom blogger conferences are Blissdom and TypeAMom, and there are many smaller conferences based in
different regions of the USA. All of these events focus on providing offline networking opportunities for members of the mom blogger sphere. While the realm of mom blogger is into the millions in the US, attendees of these conferences do not treat blogging lightly – they may range from moms who self-identify as committed hobbyists with personal diaries through to professional publishers, seeking high level relationships with sponsors and advertising revenue. As millions of US women connect with each other online through social media including blogs, companies who see women as their target audiences are trying to garner their attention in this new sphere. While this realm is relatively new, interesting comparisons are being drawn between the way mom bloggers are treated by companies compared to traditional professional journalists and mainstream news organizations. Free products for review and tickets to shows for the mom blogger‟s entire family may be regularly provided, along with additional free items intended to be given away through the mom blogger‟s network. Test months with cars and Disney cruises have also been given to mom bloggers who are deemed to be influential to an audience of readers specifically targeted by companies who would like to tap into their extensive audience and leverage the mom blogger‟s profile. It is also common for companies to hold mom blogger events, similar in style to traditional press conferences or “junkets,” where the bloggers have an all-expenses-paid opportunity to indulge in the company‟s products and enjoy social time with other mom bloggers face to face. Depending upon the company‟s budget and goals, these events may be held in different cities for mom bloggers in their individual city locations, or put together for a very select few mom bloggers who may be flown in.
This conduct has become so common that some mom bloggers are starting blogs with the primary goal being to take advantage of what is commonly called “swag,” and as of October 2009 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has initiated new regulations compelling bloggers whose recommendation of a product may be confused as a personal endorsement by a reader, to disclose any sponsorships or complimentary products received that may be perceived to have influenced the recommendation (Federal Trade Commission, 2009). Companies will regularly hire consultants who can help identify the most appropriate mom bloggers to connect with for a company‟s purposes (whether that is product reviews or activists, etc). For example, Nintendo worked with marketing company Brands About Town to hold a series of mom blogger events to promote its Wii Fit Plus in December, 2009. Groups of 10 to 15 mom bloggers were invited to different cities to try out the product and to enjoy some time with other mom bloggers. Each mom blogger at the Nintendo event left with their own Wii Fit Plus as a gift – something not dissimilar to gifts given to traditional mainstream media. Technology Twitter The social networking site Twitter was launched in October 2006, and has over two million people registered with accounts. Each Twitter user has a page with a very basic profile including name and location, an avatar, the number of Twitter users following them and the number they follow. There are myriad intricacies to the service, including the ability to lock your tweets so only followers you have approved may see them and send messages to you; the ability to block others from seeing your content or contacting you; the ability to directly message another Twitter
user privately, as well as user generated forms of syntax and etiquette, all of which are constantly developing. Although Twitter status postings are limited to 140 characters or less, the content of the discourse is substantive when considered as a broader conversation. While it exists online, the discourse is a representation of a traditional asynchronous conversation channel, where people‟s conversations are structured by the technology‟s character limitations to be highly dynamic. The technological framework of Twitter does not support a flattening effect to social bonds suggested by other research. In fact, I would assert there are both information and affective exchanges on Twitter. People feel attached emotionally to others, and demonstrate it through exchanges of information and concern. Furthermore, the global nature of Twitter invites issues to be shared and felt by a community which is not limited by geographic proximity. It is interesting to note that Twitter was not originally designed by its developers to be a platform for conversation and discussion. Instead the developers believed people would use it to simply post status updates about what they were doing, for a chosen range of friends they already knew offline. Since its launch and adoption by the user base, Twitter has morphed from the original idea to becoming a mass-adopted communication tool, connecting people across the globe who share conversations related to information giving, sharing and networking. At its recent official developer conference, the company announced it currently has over 105 million user accounts in operation. Syntax employed by Twitter users Different to other CMC tools, particularly text messaging and instant messaging, the syntax of Twitter is more likely to include complete and accurately spelled messages. Occasionally the
140-character limit results in a message being tweeted which includes a small number of abbreviations (commonly the letter R for are, or U for you), but these are not standardized enough to be regular. Reading tweets becomes less difficult than reading text messaging communications because of this. In this study most tweets included complete English formats, however occasionally abbreviations were used. It is important to note that some abbreviations are normalized in particular communities, and for this study the abbreviation BF (an abbreviation of breastfeeding) was somewhat common. The same type of abbreviation operates on Twitter for formula feeding (FF). The use of Hashtags on Twitter As a communication tool Twitter users have adopted a particular form of syntax which helps make the most of the technology framework. One part of this framework is the use of a pound sign before a word, to indicate a topic classification for discussion. In the Twitter syntax context, the pound sign # is referred to as a “hashtag,” and identifies a keyword that conversations around a particular topic may be searched on through the use of Twitter‟s search function. For example, for the purposes of this case study, a Twitter search on the hashtag #NestleFamily was conducted. Alternatively, if a third-party Twitter client is being used such as the popular Tweetdeck, a stream of all the tweets that include the hashtag can be aggregated and fed through a single column on the screen. When a user initiates a hashtag it invites others to include the same hashtag as part of the conversation. In this way all participants in a discussion can see what each other is saying on the topic, even if they are not “following” each other (that is, even if they are not already identified as being included in an individual‟s personal community). It regularly happens that some will
begin to follow others as a direct result of their comments on a hashtag‟s discussion, with the result being an expansion of their own community. User account identifiers Twitter account holders are referred to as their account name with an @ symbol before it (for example, @Mediamum). Due to the fact this linguistic function is used on Twitter itself, I have decided to continue its use in this thesis. Additionally, in tweets that are quoted as examples of trends, I have placed the Twitter account holder‟s name in parentheses before the tweet. This is to aid in the understanding of whom is speaking, without the context of the Twitter framework supporting it. Within a 140 character posting, if part of a conversation the direction of the tweet is identified by the inclusion of @<name>. While most Twitter users have unlocked accounts and so their tweets are all public to the entire Twitter online sphere, if the start of any tweet begins with an @<name>, it ensures that the only people able to read that tweet in a general stream of tweets are those who follow both the tweet‟s author and its directed recipient. This does not, however, carry across to the Twitter search function, and all tweets with the searched keyword or hashtag will be identified, unless a Twitter user has a locked account in which case the locked user‟s tweets are only ever seen by those users the author has included in their community. Internet connectivity While 60 per cent of American adults access the internet via broadband connections at home, 55 per cent use wireless devices, including phones, to access the internet (Rainie, 2010). This latest development in user connectivity to the web means we no longer see the internet as a separate realm to our everyday lives, only accessible through a single standalone computer for a specific
time period. Instead, connection to the internet and all it provides has become a pervasive part of our real life culture that is constantly vying for our attention and is accessible whenever and wherever we are. Today we live in a society where we simultaneously demand instantaneous connections with friends, colleagues and acquaintances, and also have them demand an immediacy of connection with us as well.
In approaching this study, I have taken inspiration from the structure and methodologies used by Cassell and Tversky (2005) in their paper, “The Language of Online Intercultural Community Formation” in which a triangulated ethnographic study was used to unveil numerous areas within a similar research area. Addressing an online community created specifically for children, their paper provides insights into how community interactions between participants change over time. My own research draws on this prior work and uses a mixed method ethnographic model. I believe this strategy is the best way to perform accurate and detailed research in an area which is dynamically evolving and currently under-researched. The intent is to both explore my research questions while also identifying areas of opportunity for further research. In conducting this research, in many senses, I may be classified as a participant observer. I am a mom who blogs and uses Twitter with a very high number of online followers, and wide ranging audience. I would, through my own self-reflection, fall into the category identified here as a mom blogger, and some regular Twitter users particularly within my own community would readily identify me as pro-breastfeeding or more colloquially, “crunchy.” With this in mind, from the earliest stages of this research I was very careful to disengage from conversations in and around the #NestleFamily stream during the dates the tweets were being collected for this
research. I have included coding for my own Twitter stream (@Mediamum) which happened to fall within the time of the 400 tweets that were coded, but note that each of my tweets throughout the time period related purely to asking people to complete the online questionnaire, or thanking people for inviting others to do the same. While there were no tweets from my account during this time either in support or otherwise of any of the participants, I must identify here that a small number of Twitter users may already have had a pre-existing impression of my personal allegiance before the #NestleFamily topic began to be discussed, purely based on previous conversations and the identity work performed in them. This impression, however, is balanced by my role as a graduate student and researcher, which is just as prominent a topic, and part of my identity on Twitter. There were three data sets used in this research: 1. Twitter stream of the #NestleFamily hashtag 400 tweets representing 102 Twitter users were taken from a collection of 2300 randomly identified tweets that were categorized with #NestleFamily between the dates of 29 September and 4 October, 2009, as well as the long-form blog posts linked to those tweets. Included in the long-form blog posts were detailed and at times very lengthy comments from other members of the Twitter sphere who had been involved in the discussions on Twitter. I reviewed all of these blog posts that were identified within the 400 tweets coded. 2. Online questionnaire An online questionnaire was created to investigate how respondents felt about other members of the mom blogger community and those attending the Nestle event. The data set consists of 68 respondents who were invited to reply through the #NestleFamily categorization
on Twitter over the same time frame the discussions on the hashtag were happening. The questionnaire was anonymous in order to gain the most honest answers and respondents included both event attendees and non-attendees. The questionnaire was delivered concurrently with the event and the discussions on Twitter, offering valuable insights while the event and Twitter discussions were actually underway, rather than them being reflective. 3. Depth interviews, blog posts and comments Four depth interviews were conducted with individuals identified as being key influencers in the #NestleFamily discussions. These interviews were conducted six months following the event and #NestleFamily Twitter discussions. Two of the individuals were attendees of the event who were also involved in the online discussions, and the other two were mom blogger activists who were purely involved in the online discussions. To add to this data I also visited nine long-form mom blog posts related to the #NestleFamily event that were directly linked to in the 400 coded tweets. Additionally I attended a mom blogger conference, Mom 2.0 Summit from February 18 to 20, 2010, in Houston, Texas, in order to gain observational insights into the community. 1. The Twitter stream
Over time, conventions of syntax have been introduced by those who use Twitter in order to assist conversational organization, direction and flow. One of these conventions is the use of what is called a “hashtag.” The hashtag (otherwise known in the US as a pound sign) is a construct which has been popular in previous iterations of social networks, and has been introduced and accepted widely on Twitter. The inclusion of a hashtag in a tweet operates to categorize the content of the tweet as relating to a particular topic area or conversation. The
introduction of hashtags to the syntax of Twitter was developed organically by users, rather than by the creators of Twitter itself. However, Twitter supports this user-led development through ongoing integration of the hashtag in recognizing trending topics. Throughout the Nestle event and its discussions on Twitter, the hashtag #NestleFamily was introduced by attendees of the event, to identify tweets related to the event. For my purposes in the preliminary content analysis, I pulled together 2300 randomly scraped tweets that were tagged #NestleFamily in order to give an indication as to the use of the hashtag on this one topic area, and to gain some idea of the sentiment and key influencers on the topic. Due to Twitter only holding publicly available tweets on any particular search for a short time frame, I used the Twitter search function, and manually copied all the tweets that came up with the #NestleFamily tag. I recognize that using this methodology may have missed a number of relevant tweets, and does not reflect the entire scope of the discussion on the Nestle issue or the event due to the fact I did not scrape any tweets that did not feature the hashtag. I expect there were many tweets that could have been informative, but for the purposes of investigating the early stage of this work, the preliminary (though primitive) form of simply copying the tweets was deemed sufficient. Of the 2300 tweets, I manually coded 400 of them in order to gain insights that could be combined with the results of the second piece of research, the online questionnaire. (The code book, and results of this coding, are included as Appendix 2.) In developing coding attributes for approaching this data, I identified basic characteristics that demonstrate modes of conversation, and basic characteristics of identity work and content. They were:
The identifying name of the person tweeting and who they were speaking to (if
anyone in particular beyond those following the hashtag). b. Whether they included a link to an external piece of work by themselves (such as
their own long form blog post), or if they linked to something that was posted by another mom blogger (the other mom blogger‟s long form blog post). c. Whether they included a link to an external agency or company site (commonly
Nestle itself, or the World Health Organization). Other areas of interest in this coding moved beyond the structure of the conversation and instead looked at the sentiment behind the tweet. This was the most difficult part of the coding as regularly in such short, sharp messages, firmly identifiable positive or negative sentiment is difficult to identify. In any case where the sentiment was unclear, ambiguous or simply difficult to identify without surrounding context or investigating a given link, I did not code the tweet in any way at all. As the only coder, and due to the fact I coded all 400 tweets in one day, I am confident the reliability of this coding is high. Sentiment was identified as being either positive or negative towards attendees of the event; and positive or negative towards the activists who were discussing the event using the #NestleFamily tag on Twitter. It was tempting to also consider identifying sentiment towards Nestle, and I realize that some may wish for that to have occurred. However, in the interests of maintaining focus on the mom blogger sphere and how members of it react and support each other, I did not investigate sentiment toward the company itself. The company entity has never been identified as being part of the mom blogger sphere at all, and it is new to using social media. Since this research was conducted, Nestle has furthered its social media efforts which have not found favor with the
online sphere (for example, Fox, 2010), and I believe further research into how large multinationals such as Nestle can approach and effectively create branded relationships with consumers in the social media sphere would be valuable. 2. The online questionnaire
During the days of the Twitter debate, I created a SurveyGizmo online questionnaire and invited those involved in the #NestleFamily discussion stream to respond to questions related to their impressions of other members of the mom blogger community, the attendees and thoughts about the nature of the discussions. The intent of the questionnaire was to enable people to reveal their own point of view anonymously and privately. The invitation to complete the survey was extended through the same Twitter stream and was also tagged #NestleFamily, with a direct link to the survey. The survey was retweeted throughout the community over a number of days by people who represented both attendees and others who were agreeing and disagreeing on this topic. As a result of the broad promotion over 500 people visited the questionnaire, with 68 full responses. These 68 respondents represented attendees of the Nestle event, the general mom blogger community, and even those beyond that realm but who were interested in the content for other reasons (for example, activists from international organizations such as Baby Milk Canada). Respondents come from across the USA, the UK, Canada and Australia, and interestingly, 80 per cent of respondents to the questionnaire stated they had only used the #NestleFamily hashtag discuss the topic on Twitter. This revelation adds weight to the portion of research using a random sample of tweets that simply use the same hashtag. It would appear that the majority of people tweeting about the #NestleFamily topic consistently used the
#NestleFamily hashtag when doing so. The rich data set offered through the online questionnaire was gathered while the discussions on Twitter and the event were actually in progress, over much the same period of time as the tweets in the coded Twitter stream, from October 1 to October 12, 2010. This provided me with data that is active rather than reflective. The value of data currency is considered to be greater than the value of performing a content analysis and then creating the questionnaire following the discussions. As a result, the questions contained in the survey were intentionally broad, with high value in the long form responses invited throughout the questionnaire. The reporting and responses from this survey are included as Appendix 3. 3. Individual depth interviews and observations of long-form blogs.
Six months following the #NestleFamily event, I attended a mom blogger conference, the Mom 2.0 Summit in Houston, Texas from 18 to 20 February, 2010. This conference is designed for marketers from major companies and moms to come together and discuss opportunities to expand and develop their relationships. (I personally spoke on professional marketing strategy at the conference on the first day, however I did not discuss any aspects of Nestle or the NestleFamily research at the conference either as a speaker or attendee.) The observations made at this conference, of the emotion and friendships demonstrated through mom blogger interactions allowed me to identify traits of community and bonding in an offline setting that other areas of the research were lacking. The final stage of the data collection involved approaching 15 people who were identified through the content analysis and questionnaire portions of the research as being key influencers and conversationalists throughout the period of the #NestleFamily event. These people represented both attendees of the #NestleFamily event and mom bloggers who did not attend, but
were highly involved in the conversations. I was disappointed that only four of these depth interviews were completed. Two of them were undertaken by email and two were done by telephone. It is interesting to consider briefly here the categorizations of people who responded and did not respond to my request for depth interviews. A total of 20 mom bloggers were approached for a depth interview. While eleven people did not reply to my email enquiry about being involved in this research, which is not unusual in a research context, one replied with a kind email which wished me well, but identified her distress over the topic and a desire to move beyond it. Another candidate who originally appeared keen to be interviewed, expressing her desire to outline how she had been taken "out of context," suddenly decided not to be involved, and gave no reason for the decision. This type of response was unexpected because of the encouraging response by mom bloggers who were engaged with the #NestleFamily topic of discussion to the online questionnaire. As a result, the in-depth interviews were more reflective of supporters of the anti-Nestle mom blogger activists rather than those who had been supportive of the company and its initiatives. I believe the willingness to be involved could be aligned with some questions of authenticity and social capital relevant to this thesis, however the lack of information and broad scope of the topic lie beyond the focus of this thesis. In an attempt to include the attitudes and longer views of those underrepresented in the depth interview area of this research, I additionally visited nine blogs which were linked to the coded Twitter stream portion of this research, and discovered some emphatic viewpoints which helped to further inform the research. This data is included in the research pool. Due to the lack of balance in responses for the depth interviews, I have used information gathered from the interviews only where they illustrate a point already
identified by the other research tools used. The list of questions used in this research is included as Appendix 4. I used the multiple research methods and resulting data sets to discover and explore answers to the following research questions: a. Why the “mom blogger” community exists, how it is identifiable as a community
even though it relies on weak ties, how it and its members find structure, authority and validation. b. Why people feel compelled to pursue discussions that are moving negatively instead
of just switching off or “unfollowing” people in their online community. c. What are the effects of the online sphere in a broader social sense, including the
marketing and political economy it may be associated with and expressions of intent for offline action following online discourse. d. How successful is the practice of using hashtags in organizing communication on
Twitter. e. Is it possible for debate to produce strong ties and a sense of community in an online
An examination of the research explored the research questions as follows:
a. Why does the mom blogger community exist, how is it identifiable as a community even though it relies on weak ties, how does it find and express structure, authority and validation? The identification of mom bloggers as a community is difficult to perform from a researcher's perspective, particularly as bloggers themselves often find the term troubling. For example, while Twitter is often referred to as a "microblogging tool," people who use Twitter do not readily consider themselves bloggers. The scope of blogger is perceived to be someone who writes in a long-form online site otherwise known as a blog. Even this delineation is troublesome because some women identify themselves as a mom blogger because they create content related solely to their family while others believe the only requirement to be a mom blogger is that they are a mom, no matter what content they produce. Muddying the water further, there are some mom bloggers who do not have children of their own. Depth interviewee number 1 said: "I don't have a blog, I don't identify as a „mommyblogger.‟ But I would say there is a mommy Twitter community." Depth interviewee number 2 stated: "I don't relate to being part of the mommyblogger community." However the same respondent added: "I think there are a couple of identities that mommybloggers can have, and it's evolving." A good overview of the inherent problems with the term mom blogger came from depth interviewee number 3:
“I am probably a member of the mommyblogger community. I don‟t love the mommyblogger term. I think when people think about a mommyblogger they think of someone writing about the life of themselves with their kids, and that‟s not what I‟m doing. I tend to play more of a research and advocacy and information dissemination role. I guess I‟m a mom and a blogger and I write about parenting issues. I don‟t know of a different term, though. I‟m a mom, an entrepreneur, an advocate. I wear different hats and I don‟t know that I want one term to define me.” Assuming to identify others in the mom blogger sphere, and even within individuals‟ own communities as "friends" caused problems. Depth interviewee number 2 said: "I wouldn't say that many people on Twitter are my friends. That seems like a strong word. But it seems like in many ways it's a support system. If something is a mess, I can get support or some concrete advice. And because it's self-selecting I feel like I've surrounded myself with a lot of women with most of the same viewpoints as me." However, depth interviewee number 1 had a different perspective on the same question: “I definitely consider them friends. Not in the same way as the people I hang out with in person, but for example I know a woman who switched to cloth diapers and she doesn‟t have very much money, and she needed some diapers and I offered to send her some. I did it for a stranger, but I would do that for a friend. I read enough of her stuff on Twitter, and we have had conversations. I would think of her as a friend.” This respondent‟s use of the word “friend” was one that she felt the need to clarify when speaking with me. Her explanation itself became broad as she said “I know a woman” which for many would infer a personal, offline relationship. However as she continued in her explanation it
became clear they have never met offline, and in fact the respondent calls her friend “a stranger.” The struggle that even mom bloggers have in identifying delineations between friends, strangers and acquaintances makes it very difficult to ascertain boundaries relevant to Granovetter‟s weak and strong ties. In looking at the coded Twitter stream, a number of links and posts were retweeted (that is, reposted) without commentary by individuals who had disagreed with the overall views of the original poster,. This action demonstrates mutual respect both for each other and the social media sphere, even when the message behind the tweet was something the retweeter disagreed with. Each of the mom bloggers involved in the #NestleFamily discussion on Twitter appeared to recognize that their own community may be interested in the views of the “other side” and sought to provide them with that content. Furthermore, in the tweets studied, there was an overall high level of engaged, generally mutually respectful conversation between one attendee in particular, @mommysnacks, and the larger Twitter mom blogger sphere. This attendee sought information and links from activists, most of whom treated her in a similarly respectful manner. At times the debate and conversation appeared to go off track, with tweets either being missed, or coming through at inopportune times (when the poster had just been discussing another area, and a tweet related to something which had been brought up a few minutes previously then came through the stream). In these instances due to the immediacy of the CMC tool, clarifications of information were able to be provided to those who sought them immediately so the conversation could continue. Additionally, those involved in the discussions were able to ask for further details on information in a direct and immediate manner. This was effective for @mommysnacks as she had built an extensive community of mom bloggers (her followers and people she followed on Twitter), so each tweet was being broadcast to a broad personal audience that
attributed to her a higher level of social capital than those without. This meant she was able to engage with ongoing conversations in the debate without feeling the need to appear more knowledgeable than she was, however still retaining the respect of others in the sphere. An example of these exchanges is: “@mommysnacks How much do you know about breastfeeding & its world history? #NestleFamily” “@Artemnesia I know National Geographic – that‟s the extent of my world history lesson on BF. #NestleFamily” “@mommysnacks Moms in developing nations need support but of a different type than a new mom in America would need. #NestleFamily” “@Artemnesia I COMPLETELY disagree. I respect the marketing practices argument. But support needs 2 be available 4 EVERYONE. #NestleFamily” Similarly, many participants appeared to be engaged in the debate as a way of extending their own networks and meeting new people – a method of increasing their own social capital. A total of 35 per cent of respondents to the questionnaire declared they added people to their community as a direct result of their engagement with this topic, which was seven times the number who said they only removed people from their community. As one mom blogger on Twitter, @CrunchyCarpets, said: "The coolest thing about the whole #NestleFamily thing is all the new blogs that are filling up my bookmarks and needing to be blogrolled!"
The need for social capital maintenance was also felt by the attendee mom bloggers. While the conversations demonstrated a lack of understanding and knowledge of the larger issues which concerned the non-attending bloggers, maintaining and building social capital in the entire mom blogger sphere was still necessary. One attending mom blogger, @Totally_Toni, produced a tweet which demonstrated her need to identify herself as sympathetic to the activists, in an attempt to maintain her social capital: “I was a self milk making mama until my kids self weaned. Still miss it and I am a BF supporter. Just a tidbit about me #NestleFamily” However another attending mom blogger, @dates2diapers, was disgruntled by the lack of respect she thought was being given to those who were attending the event. Her tweets reflected a belief that her higher level of social capital had gained the opportunity to speak with Nestle. Her indignation reflected a belief that the position of the attending bloggers should not be questioned. She tweeted: “There was no respect for us, as bloggers, AT ALL. What most companies will get out of this is whether or not to use a hashtag.” Other attending bloggers and some members of the wider mom blogger sphere did not see an alignment between Nestle and the attendees. The attendees sought separation from the negative sentiment about the company, and some of the supporting non-attendees who were part of their communities felt the same way. (@momspark) “You can address your concerns to @NestleFamily #NestleFamily”
(@SmallSlice) “I don‟t know why the real issue isn‟t taken up with the company instead of the bloggers who attended.” (In response to this tweet, @momspark said “EZ Target.”) (@Mommysnacks) “@Blabbermom We are not Brand Ambassadors. I am a consumer of many brands they offer & happened 2 go 2 the #NestleFamily event. Nothing more.” The search for individual social capital is informed by the changes individual mom bloggers made to their own communities during the debates. While most respondents said they learned about Nestle and its business practices, 63 per cent identified learning about other people‟s views of the company and only half of the respondents related learning about the Nestle range of products and even less, just 35 per cent said they learned about the Nestle Family initiative – which arguably would have been a goal for Nestle (see Figure 2, below). 8. What did you learn about Nestle during the #NestleFamily period? (You may choose more than one answer, and add detail in the last question if you like.)
VALUE COUNT PERCENT %
I learned about some people's 39 negative views of Nestle I learned about the Nestle range 31 of products I learned about the Nestle Family 22 initiative I did not learn anything new 15 about Nestle 24% 35% 50% 63%
Figure 2: Question 8, online questionnaire. Report from www.surveygizmo.com. Over 90 per cent of respondents to the online questionnaire identified that they learned about the people in their community. While for many this was a reinforcement of original expectations, for others it was a surprising experience with nearly half of respondents saying they discovered there were people in their Twitter community they did not like.
9. What did you learn about other twitterers during the #NestleFamily period? (You may choose more than one answer, and add detail in the last question if you like.)
Summary Value Count Percent % 74% 48% 34% 11%
I learned I like some of the people I follow even more 46 I learned I do not like some of the people I follow I learned about etiquette on twitter I did not learn anything about other twitterers 30 21 7
Figure 3: Question 9, online questionnaire. Report from www.SurveyGizmo.com While three quarters of respondents readily identified reasons why their own community was exhibiting behavior and views that were resonant with theirs, nearly half also said they had discovered that they did not like some of the people they had included in their communities in a
surprisingly strong way. Negative reactions were not mild. In the extended response section of the online questionnaire, one respondent said, (46089153) "I learned that some people are callous and greedy." Additionally, as part of her depth interview, Annie (@phdinparenting) said, “When I saw the list of people were attending my jaw just dropped. I can‟t believe that these people that I considered friends to some extent and who I respected were all attending this event and liking it and tweeting things about Nestle and how great it is.” An additional component was the fact that more than a third of respondents said they learned about etiquette through the #NestleFamily discussions. The 140-character limitation of Twitter called for a greater need for clarification in conversation than that sought in long-form blog posts, or in the more detailed questionnaire responses. Depth interviewee number 2 explained her attention to the etiquette of Twitter by saying: "I think I started off a lot harsher at the beginning because I didn‟t expect it to become a dialogue. When I started it I was just trying to get people to realize this was happening and to be aware of some of the issues surrounding Nestle. I was being very blunt. I could see how some of the participants would see it as alarmist and would become defensive about what I was saying. I didn‟t expect to get any reaction. I don‟t think of my opinion as radical, but I understand that many people do.” Coding of the 400 sampled tweets demonstrated the division between different opinions in the debate. Silos were created of people commonly supporting the views of those who believed the same information was both worthy and valid. Of the 400 coded tweets from a total
of 102 mom bloggers, only 24 mom bloggers provided links to content they had produced themselves in long-form blogs. However, nearly three times as many (69) mom bloggers on Twitter provided links to long-form blog posts of other mom bloggers in their communities. This great difference suggests a desire to build social capital through engagement with the wider sphere of mom bloggers rather than a focus on individual content creation. Information sources such as those of Nestle itself, external activist sites such as Baby Milk Canada, or even to the World Health Organization were only linked to 34 times, half the number of times bloggers linked to other mom blogger sites, which appears to indicate a greater interest in the content produced by other mom bloggers in their own communities than in authoritative external voices. These silos of support within the mom blogger sphere were sometimes reinforced by featured comments from the person retweeting the link, and included a history of mom bloggers from where the link was gained. For example: (@thefreckledmama) “@sewbjbstyle This has tons of info.. RT: CrunchyGoddess THE List of #nestlefamily blogs, http://bit.ly/Lah38 pls RT (via @BestforBabes)” This type of reciprocity demonstrates a fabric of community that extends beyond just the realm of one social media tool and into the wider online sphere. The conversation, opinion and network expanded beyond the 140-character limit and into an additional realm of social media – and also to the additional sphere of communities each of those social media networks contained. Attitudes and opinions were rehashed, expanded upon. Social capital was defended and claimed through the number of mom bloggers who visited the long-form blog sites of individual
participants and shared their own views, many of which had also commonly already been stated on Twitter. Not all commenters and visitors to the mom blogger long-form blogs were also on Twitter, however, and their introduction to the topic via the individual sites gave heightened social capital to the blogger concerned. The realm of influence appeared greater than the sphere of a single social media network. As the discussion broke off from Twitter, individual mom bloggers wrote at length on individual aspects of the discussion such as etiquette, company relationships, fair trade agreements and breastfeeding. These bloggers referred and linked back to the Twitter discussions, and the mom blogger‟s social capital was therefore reinforced in multiple social media as new participants to the discussion topics that fed off the #NestleFamily stream on Twitter began to engage in one or more formats in response. This spread of social capital and cross-social media involvement are most evident in a few of the long-form blog comments from visitors who had been unaware of the Twitter debates but were introduced to them via the blogs, and therefore came to the discussion from an alternative social media format. On @Blacktating‟s long-form post, “#NestleFamily, Bloggers & Race: Why it Matters” (Elita 2009), commenter Ico said: “Came over here from Renee‟s blog. This is a terrific post, and it needs to be said again and again, and loudly, until enough outrage is raised that Nestle changes its practices. I had some vague idea that they were a bad company – but I had no idea *how* bad until I read your post.”
Additionally, some who expressed views in direct opposition with others expressed interest in reading the long-form blog posts of each other with transparently honest interest that was far from combative or argumentative: “@mombloggersclub I‟m very interested in reading your take on it all. Can‟t read it now, but will later. #NestleFamily” “@crunchygoddess I can tell you we‟re going to disagree on this one, but will be interested to hear your thoughts. #NestleFamily” Questions about the alignment of individuals at all levels were consistently raised throughout the debate, and most of this conversation stemmed from whether or not the attendees were actually aligned with Nestle or were simply visitors. The attendees were also judged by other mom blogger twitterers on whether they were “taken advantage of” by Nestle, if they had a lack of awareness of the issues related to Nestle, if they were even interested in the concerns of the rest of the mom blogger sphere, or if they simply did not care. Even here, there is an overshadowing of passion and intense emotion as the bloggers involved in the discussions debated the alignments, as shown by the following examples from the Twitter stream: (@Queersubversion) “Holey shnikeys did Nestle ever dupe some bloggers. #NestleFamily” (@ShredderFeeder) “Ok, I‟ve refrained from comment on the whole #NestleFamily fiasco until now… but here goes. Bloggers – NESTLE USED YOU, YOU LET THEM.” (@doubedoube) “@QueerSubversion No one got duped – it‟s demeaning to suggest they CAN‟T see through it, fair to call them on it if they WON‟T #NestleFamily”
Motivations of each of the social actors were also questioned through the Twitter stream. Nestle was accused of using attending bloggers as a “buffer” which compelled the company to create its own Twitter account, @NestleFamily. However, this account was mainly used to simply interact with the attending mom bloggers, and to invite others in the wider mom blogger sphere to submit their questions to an email address to be passed on to the head office in Switzerland for a response. This was somewhat frustrating to some in the wider Twitter sphere. The immediacy of discussions on Twitter called for an immediacy of response. The wider sphere of mom bloggers appeared frustrated by having to funnel their questions through the attendees, and the attendees were feeling attacked by the volume of attention they were receiving. Having Nestle begin its own Twitter account was seen to be a step forward. Nestle‟s reluctance to actively engage and recognize individual questions from the wider mom blogger sphere was seen by some to be “fobbing the concerns of the mom bloggers off,” raising their ire. At the end of Friday 2 October, the person tweeting for the @NestleFamily account said they would be back on Monday, however the account was not active with postings until Tuesday – something that did not go unnoticed by those involved in the debate. However, it was not just the mom blogger attendees and Nestle gaining attention from those who questioned motivation. One of the most active bloggers from the activist side of the debate was invited to have a phone conversation with Nestle representatives to address her particular concerns. Instead, Annie (@phdinparenting) decided to initiate a conversation that would be more transparent to her community than a phone call. She replied that she would rather email the questions and then report the responses on her long-form blog, www.phdinparenting.com (which itself deals with research and interesting areas of babies and parenting). Nestle was agreeable to this, and
@phdinparenting invited those following the #NestleFamily twitter stream to send her questions that could be asked. During this time, one blogger accused Annie (@phdinparenting)) of attempting to gain traffic to her blog over anything else. Annie sought to clarify her position in her depth interview: The financial or material motivations of participants on both sides of it – lots were saying oh they‟re only doing it to get free stuff, and I was only doing it to get traffic and ad revenue. I think if anything I lost revenue because of it. I ended up taking half days off to deal with this stuff. It was an investment for me if anything. The blog responses were a big investment. It was partly elongated by Nestle getting their answers to me – my last post of the questions directly related to #NestleFamily was on November 29th, but the first was on September 29th. Two months. It became apparent that the social capital offered to mom blogger attendees through being given the fully expenses-paid focus group #NestleFamily event opportunity was overshadowed by the relationship with a company that was perceived by many as being anti-family. Of the 400 coded tweets, demonstrations of support for the attendees or something they had tweeted were less than half of those who were negative for either the attendees, or something the attendees tweeted. However, the double-edged sword of being an attendee at the #NestleFamily event was felt by all mom bloggers, no matter what their personal social capital or place in the mom blogger sphere, and sympathy was evident. In reviewing the tweets, there is a flavor of connection through the majority of this sphere, even in the face of disagreement. The connections for many rose above the topic at hand, even though the positions of those involved
were felt strongly. This flavor of connection was shown through expressions of support for individuals, humorous or lighthearted moments and a reliance on each other for information sharing and clarification of information in the conversation, no matter what perspective or “side” the participant held dear. The following tweets demonstrate the flavor of connection: (@VDog)“@mommysnacks I still love ya baby. I know you are a good, quality person. Just because you attended #NestleFamily doesn‟t change that. XOXO” (@myflydays)“@beths_confusion That was not my tweet you RTd ;)” (@mommysnacks) “Can‟t fail 2 mention the GREAT support from so many 2! Thank U so much. Ur support/friendship will NOT be forgotten! #NestleFamily” Comments on the long-form blog posts show that people were learning more about corporate relationships and etiquette within the sphere of mom blogging, not that they wanted simply to eliminate people from their communities. These posts indicate a fabric of belonging, even if people are not directly identified as members of others‟ communities. The latent sphere is operationalized through the posters attempts to rationalize around the topic and make assumptions about each others‟ intentions, rather than to simply disengage from posters and comments they find unpalatable. Cheryl @SomewhatCrunchy posted a comment on This Ain’t Livin (Smith 2009) that demonstrated her empathy for the experience of the attending mom bloggers, and relief that she dodged a bullet in not having been invited to attend. Her honesty is compelling: I'm a mommy blogger, I do accept freebies in return for an HONEST review. I will NEVER back a product/company that I don't like or agree with (just in case you're wondering). I'm embarrassed to say that I would have jumped at the chance to go to this
junket, and would have never even thought to do any research... I mean it's Nestle! They've been around forever. I am 30 years old and I‟ve never heard of any boycott. I imagine many of the other mommy bloggers were the same as me. This whole debacle has truly taught me to do my research, look deeper and look for more than that brand name. I had no idea that any of this was lurking behind the name.... amazing. Alignments were sought by various social actors. Nestle‟s intent to align itself with bloggers it felt were influential is shown through its references to “Nestle bloggers” on its own web page. The attendee mom bloggers wanted to be seen as influential in the social media sphere, and used the relationship with Nestle as a support to that end. However this alignment seeking brought its own challenges. Attendees were accused by some on Twitter and in blog posts of being more aligned with Nestle than with their own communities or the wider mom blogger sphere, but others felt the decision to attend and be part of the #NestleFamily event was more an error of judgment than something the attendees should be judged too harshly over. The topic was discussed openly in the tweet stream: (@Artmenesia) “When you accept this kind of arrangement you make yourself a company representative, like it or not. #NestleFamily” (@Blabbermom) "Your face is on the @NestleFamily website. You are their brand ambassador." (@Wittybear) "Oh dear #NestleFamily bloggers are now being targeted by Nestle to be duped into doing their dirty work." Larger examination of this came from the long-form blog posts and comment areas linked to in the coded tweet stream. Instead of producing content aimed specifically at Nestle and
its business practices, long-form blog posts such as “Nestle Marketers Tell #NestleFamily Bloggers What They Want to Hear & Know They‟ll Believe it.” (Friedland, 2009), “What do you Get When you Combine a Press Junket, Uninformed Bloggers, Angry Activists, and the Internet?” (Smith, 2009), “On Missing the Mark” (Forty Weeks, 2009) and “Nestle Family and Blogging Responsibility” (Heather, 2009) looked specifically at the mom blogger sphere, and how its members should undertake due diligence and deeply consider opportunities for alignments with companies. In fact, the online questionnaire revealed that one quarter of the 23 respondents who reported blogging in long form about the debate actually chose to speak to issues related directly to their mom blogger community such as public relations relationships and etiquette rather than concentrating on Nestle‟s actual business practices, as shown in the graph representation in Figure 4 below. Again, this focus of attention on the community rather than Nestle demonstrates bloggers‟ priority of interest. While it could be expected that bloggers would consider the importance of the issues being discussed, a wider range of discussions were had on the practice of blogging and alignments. (Of all respondents who reported blogging in long form regarding the #NestleFamily event). Q 14.If yes, was your blog post’s focus: (check all that apply)
VALUE COUNT PERCENT %
About business practices About Nestle About "freebies" and PR relationships About the Nestle attendees About twitter etiquette
19 17 11 8 7
83% 74% 48% 35% 30%
Figure 4: Question 14, online questionnaire. Report from www.surveygizmo.com There were also gaps between the focus of the silos of people involved in the debate that were not helped by the technology. One online questionnaire respondent said in the long form section: (46159569)"I lost major respect for those bloggers who heard comments such as "Nestle buys milk from Grace Mugabe's ranch" and replied with "Tried some awesome cookie
dough." It was very awkward for me to read such serious claims rebutted by such trivial experiences." The most extreme demonstration of this disconnect is shown by one blogger who was not an attendee of the event, but was blatant in her unbridled support of Nestle. The determination of @mommygoggles not to engage with anyone who disagreed with the company‟s alleged practices led to her being perceived as offensive in what anti-Nestle activist bloggers deemed conscientious ignorance. In the midst of somewhat detailed and lengthy discussions of Nestle's business practices, this mom blogger tweeted messages that were at minimum inappropriate, and at worst simply disrespectful of the wider mom blogger sphere seeking practical information: "Getting ready to make homemade peanut butter cookies with #NestleFamily Mini Chips. YUMMY!!!" "Just made #NestleFamily cookies. Anyone want one? They are awesome! #I HeartNestle" Even when this blogger demonstrated support and connection with the attendees of the event, she laced the support with messages that sought to raise her social capital with Nestle, rather than with the bloggers of her community: "Welcome home from #NestleFamily! We love Nesqick (sic). In fact - I think I need a glass right now :)" @Mommygoggles also created an additional hashtag, #IHeartNestle, which she added to the #NestleFamily tag, and posted messages that could be deemed passive aggressive indirect responses to the entire activist representation.
"Seeing all the immature boycotting posts for #NestleFamily truly makes me want to BUY MORE Nestle Products. #IHeartNestle" “@vegas710 The only child labor that happens in my home with #nestlefamily is the labor of opening the wrappers to eat. LOL #IHeartNestle” These posts were not only antagonistic to the activist bloggers, but also dismissive of the attendees who were seeking to retain social capital with those following the #NestleFamily stream by engaging in conversations, as well as those who were either sharing information, or looking to qualify factual information. b. Why do people feel compelled to pursue discussions that are moving negatively instead
of just switching off or ‘unfollowing’ people in their online community? The personal construction of community resulted in individual mom bloggers feeling a personal ownership of their own community space. As a result, while some discussions were heated, most people were reluctant to unfollow people, or did not unfollow people based on their actions during this time. One online questionnaire respondent explained: (46096950) “I plan to unfollow several who tweeted pro-Nestle, but after the storm dies down so it doesn‟t seem blatantly related. Is that etiquette or cowardice – I suppose it doesn‟t matter much. It is just Twitter after all.” However, more than a quarter of respondents actively used their #NestleFamily stream's interaction with the topic to add as well as subtract people from their own community, as shown in the graph representation in Figure 5 below.
10. Did you follow new Twitterers, or unfollow them, during this period, AS A DIRECT RESULT of their interaction with this topic? (You may add detail in the last question if you like.)
VALUE COUNT PERCENT %
I added people I neither added nor unfollowed
20 people I both added and unfollowed people I unfollowed people 17 3
Figure 5: Question 10, online questionnaire. Report from www.surveygizmo.com. Negativity appears to have had a place in the building of community. Far from a Stepford-like imitation of community in the online mom blogger sphere, participants in these #NestleFamily discussions tried to be informative, however some disagreed with each other
strongly.Most participants seemed to be respectful of others and engage them in conversation rather than simply berating them. (46091626) "I am glad more people learned of Nestle's dark history." This, however, was not always successful and more than one respondent to the online questionnaire felt attacked over her decision to attend the NestleFamily event. Interestingly, this respondent's view demonstrates a perceived betrayal by others with whom she felt aligned and part of the same community. Her use of the words "fellow BF moms" twice in one response, and reiteration of her hurt through descriptions of "attack, belittling and bashing" demonstrated the depth of sincerity behind her words, as seen below: (46092273) "I was very hurt by fellow BF (breastfeeding) moms that chose to attack me because I am supporting a company that I have had in my life for 30 years and will continue to have. If they have a problem with Nestle that's fine but the attacks on myself and the other attendees was uncalled for. I am sure every one of those moms supports something that I may not and I woud never in my life resort to belittling and bashing them just because of that. It was very hurtful. While some I did converse with civilly it was very upsetting getting bashed from so many that are fellow BF moms.” Another attendee in her depth interview (4) reported the valuable connections of being part of the mom blogger community, even in the face of negativity: “The most valuable thing I have received from the mom blogger community is real friendship. There is negativity in all aspects of life, and the mom blogger community is not immune. I choose to focus on the positive and forgive those who have hurt me or others. We are a community of strong-minded women. We are smart and passionate. We
want our voices to be heard, and will fight until they are. I love this about our community, even when I don‟t agree with the issues. Saying that, I do think there is a line that should not be crossed. Name-calling, slander or threatening others should never be accepted.” This interviewee is both protective and supportive of what she calls her “community.” Her sense of belonging is described by the use of the word „we‟: “We are a community of strong-minded women. We are smart and passionate. We want our voices to be heard.” Additionally, the depth of emotion this respondent feels is reflected by sentiments such as “The most valuable thing I have received from the mom blogger community is real friendship,” and “I love this about our community.” Control within the community of some description, however, is also identified here and it relates specifically to acceptable etiquette: “There is a line that should not be crossed. Name-calling, slander or threatening others should never be accepted.” c. What are the effects of the community in a broader social sense, including the
marketing and political economy it may be associated with and expressions of intent for offline action following online discourse. Many companies are engaging with Twitter through individuals who hold social capital in the online sphere. This alignment offers understandable credibility to the messages the company aims to have disseminated and offers a company a link to a wide audience without the company needing to build the audience itself. However, the lack of control over the messages and, more importantly, the wider online sphere's response to people in their community pointedly displaying a commercial affiliation appears to sometimes attract a negative reaction which can overshadow and in fact launch a far more negative perception of the company than expected -
and it appears the bloggers who attended the event were largely similarly affected. Undoubtably, their social capital suffered as a result of being involved with the event. Less than five attendees tweeted during the #NestleFamily event. Reportedly, Nestle did not require them to tweet or disseminate any messages of any kind with social media or on their blogs, however the company itself ran an aggregated stream of attendee Twitter postings in which it refers to the attendees as the "Nestle Family Bloggers" through an external site called www.socialmedia.com. In a truly ironic statement on the life of the internet, the page remains live at the time of writing, eight months after what can only be described as a failed event. A screen grab of the page is shown as Figure 6 below:
Figure 6: Screen grab of Nestle Family web page at www.socialmedia.com. Reportedly, Nestle had contracts with attendee mom bloggers which included the use of attendee likenesses for its own use, as well as ongoing possible interaction. Most of the 20 attendees to
the Nestle Family event did not tweet during the event. One attendee, whose tweets were more engaged and transparent offered the following at one point, during day two of the event: (@mommysnacks) "Just got a comment that I lost my first reader as a result of #NestleFamily controversy." This comment in itself offers the mom blogger an opportunity to retain, and arguably even gain,some social capital. The transparency @mommysnacks offers here built on her willingness to openly discuss her activites at the #NestleFamily event and demonstrates to her community an interest in putting the community first. While @mommysnacks does not follow this comment with any further references to a loss of readers on her blog and/or followers on Twitter, it would be even more interesting if she had done so. In social media such as Twitter, transparency is a key factor to gaining social capital. At times that transparency could reflect negatively on the user in the short term, however possibly could build the user‟s social capital in the long term. Other respondents stated their gratitude for gaining information they found valuable about Nestle through the debates. (46167159)"I didn't know anything bad about Nestle before this now I'm an avid boycotter!" (46097652) "I learned not just some other bloggers' opinions about Nestle, but some factual info I wasn‟t aware of, like the connections to slave labor via the Forbes article, and the issues in Zimbabwe." Discussion of Nestle‟s business practices was discussed widely in the long-form blog arena. One post was frankly titled, “I Am Evil,” (Deb, 2009) and conveyed the depth of action the author felt compelled to initiate as a response to her heightened awareness of Nestle‟s
business practices. The author‟s realization that while she had been peripherally aware of poor business practices by some companies, that awareness had not been confrontational enough to impact her purchasing decisions until after the Nestle discussions. The post includes the sentence, “I need to internalize it and make it about me, my children, my community.” The author‟s words connected and resonated with others who responded in the comments section with their own intentions to act. These actions included opting out of allowing formula and bottle ads on their own blogs and boycotting Nestle, through to revealing personal challenges about receiving gifts produced by a Nestle-owned company at a baby shower. The extended comment section on the online questionnaire included a number of references to actions both offline and online. The respondents indicated this intent was also communicated to others in their personal communities, which itself demonstrates further tightening of weak ties in the latent sphere. For example: (46305575) “I didn‟t know about the boycott, or just HOW MANY brands they owned, before (am too young to remember the previous boycott!) Now that I know, I am planning to find substitutes for any of their products that might find their way onto my shopping list. Also, to shop less-corporate in general, and to try to promote breastfeeding. I shared some of the links I found with my Facebook page. Even though I didn‟t produce that many related tweets, I saw a lot, thought a lot, and commented on several related blog posts. I‟m not a mom, but interact with a lot of moms on Twitter because my sister is a „mommyblogger‟. This „event‟ certainly made me think.” The above post includes references to a number of aspects which were discussed on Twitter through the #NestleFamily event. Details of the Nestle boycott, reference to the number
of brands owned by Nestle, a desire to move away from „brands‟ in the supermarket and, finally, an intent to promote breastfeeding. Beyond this, the respondent references another social media tool, Facebook, and how she used it to further disseminate the information she had gained. At one stage on Twitter, strong reaction spread very quickly to the words of the previously mentioned blogger who was not an attendee, but had established brand relationships and was interested in seeking social capital with Nestle. The Nestle-focused blogger tweeted to one activist mom blogger, using the director @ in the tweet; (@mommygoggles) “@that_danielle I think you need to back off the #NestleFamily bloggers that are trying to tweet info & experiences. Nestle Nazi‟s go away.” The tweet was reacted to strongly. The recipient tweeted twice in quick succession: (@that_danielle)“@mommygoggles Now who‟s calling who names? You better watch who you call a Nazi. That‟s not a term to use lightly. #NestleFamily” (@that_danielle)“@mommygoggles You better think twice before you call a Jew a Nazi again.” The Nestle-focused blogger responded with: (@mommygoggles)“@that_danielle Then, stop acting like one. Plain and simple. #IHeartNestle #NestleFamily” Following this, discussion on Twitter ensued over @mommygoggles‟ comments and lack of desire to retract her statement. One blogger, @TheLactivista, suggested sending the comments @mommygoggles had made to companies with whom she was corporately aligned. One blogger
who had been seeking information about Nestle‟s practices without taking a personal position, believed this type of practical action against @mommygoggles should not be taken. (@vegas710)“@TheLactivista Attacking bloggers for stuff they said on twitter = taking twitter too seriously. #NestleFamily” (@vegas710)“And yes, when you go after someone‟s source of income, it‟s officially an attack. #NestleFamily” (@vegas710) “@TheLactivista Do what you feel like you need to do. I just think it takes this to a whole other level of ugly.” The use of words such as “attack” and “ugly” reflects emotions that are akin to a personal desire to ensure transparency and balance within their community. It was apparent @vegas710 saw a conversation on Twitter as something which should have no bearing on a professional relationship. A second non-attendee blogger declared she had been taken out of her intentional context when she tweeted a reference to the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory during an aspect of the Twitter #NestleFamily conversation stream focused on child slave labor. (@sheilacakes7)“@babyrocasmama We didn‟t take the History of Oompa Loompas 101 class in school #NestleFamily” This single tweet was loaded with inference because of other tweets she made at the same time: (@sheilacakes7) “I wasn‟t around during slavery. My family never had slaves so why punish people in 2009 about it #NestleFamily”
(@sheilacakes7) “I have never been a racist and those who play the race card have nothing smart to say so they get defensive #NestleFamily” (@sheilacakes7) “Who googles oompa loompas? #NestleFamily” When accused of being racist or racially insensitive by some pro-activist mom bloggers, she objected numerous times, calling it a misrepresentation. @sheilacakes7 said she had grown up with the film and knew that Nestle was a producer of the Wonka brand of chocolate. Her comment had, in her opinion, been an attempt to “lighten the mood.” However, her comments spread very quickly and @sheilacakes7 suffered a tirade of accusations. She became labelled as insensitive in the same way as @mommygoggles, with whom she had been conversing during the debate due to her perceived lack of contrition. Comments on some of the long-form blog posts surrounding the topic referred directly to her tweets, continuing the accusations of racial insensitivity, even though she continually denied the intention of making any racist remark. This was an interesting conundrum in a number of ways, however it is not the focus of this thesis to undertake a more detailed discourse analysis of this particular aspect to the conversation. The social capital of @sheilacakes7 in this instance (purely based on my observation of her followers, her blog appearance and engagement with the mom blogger sphere), was lower than that of @mommygoggles at the time. It could be considered that the social capital at stake through sharing a joke with a mom blogger with a higher range of social capital moved @sheilacakes7 to make the comment about Oompa Loompas. It could be seen as one of a number of attempts to align herself with a more established blogger, even though that blogger was attracting negative attention at the time.
How successful is the practice of using hashtags in organizing communication on
Twitter? While 80 per cent of respondents said they used the #NestleFamily hashtag on Twitter to engage in discussion about the topic, the success of the hashtag itself is questionable. It must be considered what the question "How successful do you feel the #NestleFamily hashtag was in organizing the discussion" actually means to respondents. It appears that the respondents expect "successful in organizing discussion" had a greater meaning than the perfunctory aggregation of conversation and debate around the NestleFamily topic area. Instead, the word "organizing" was perceived to have a political emphasis, as demonstrated by the following comments: (46084563) "From Nestle's point of view, the use of the hashtag did not organize the discussion at all because they meant for the "discussion" to be a stream of Tweets from attendees parroting the advertising language they were given by execs, but from the point of view of the activists, it was a very effective organizing tool." (46092273) "I think people took the hashtag and ruined it for attendees. Someone suggested using #discussnestle for the ones who were bashing Nestle and the bloggers but obviously they could not do that and it was very offensive to those of us attending." (46166927) "It was very successful from the perspective of all the info being located at the same place. Probably very unsuccessful from Nestle's perspective though!" The issue of control of the hashtag found focus in many areas of discussion, both on Twitter and in comments on long-form blogs. It was also discussed in the depth interviews. The “ownership” of a hashtag was a primary consideration, and it appears the social capital of a participant does not overshadow the larger democracy of the online sphere. Whether the
participant is a company itself, or a blogger attending an event, or someone on the other side of the world with no information on the event at all, the use of a hashtag is open to anyone. Even creating the hashtag does not infer ownership. The hashtag only gains credibility across the network when it is used by a number of people, and in a social media sphere that relies on conversation, the hashtag could lead anywhere. As one respondent to the questionnaire said: (46084624) "I think this was a great example of how corporations cannot really control the internet. They tried on Twitter with a hashtag to have 'positive thoughts' be spread through unwitting tweeters and it blew up in their faces." Additionally, some did not believe that use of the #NestleFamily hashtag to discuss or highlight negative aspects of the company were appropriate, particularly when the individuals discussing the negative points were not attendees of the event, as shown here: (@datestodiapers) "The thing is, using the hashtag #Nestlefamily was a way for the attendees (US) to talk about OUR experience with Nestle. It was taken over." Some discussion of “hijacking” of the #NestleFamily hashtag ensued. It was apparent that the view a hashtag should be used purely for the purpose intended by the hashtag‟s creator was felt more strongly by the bloggers who had existing alignments with corporate entities, or who sought them, rather than by the bloggers who were not intent on creating a corporate alignment. e. Is it possible for debate to produce strong ties and a sense of community in an online
The debate that occurred on Twitter and spilled into the long-form blog arena demonstrated stronger connections between participants in parts of the mom blogger sphere than those that existed prior to the event. In what can be described as a tightening of weak ties, mom bloggers added each other to their communities through following and subscribing to each other across multiple social media. A number of bloggers across all three forms of research identified an understanding of an opposing viewpoint, even though they continued to disagree with it. Furthermore, they variously appreciated different perspectives, or the difficulty some had in dealing with deciding how to feel and act through the discussions. Depth interviewee number 1 described her reflections on the community: I think a lot of people did not intend to be offensive, but were taken as offensive because of the limitations. Some of the people I know said some strong things that they possibly regret. For example, that woman who referred to people as breastfeeding Nazis, that was really stupid of her to do, because that got broadcast out, people retweeted it and took screenshots of it, and even though she might have deleted it, it‟s out there. Not just the Nazi thing, but their emotional, not very well thought out reactions, were emotional and angry. This event was a turning point in how I saw Twitter. And it did change my view in just having Twitter be an informing, sharing of information to actually having a dialogue. Additionally, individual mom bloggers on Twitter took the time to address the fact that while they were in disagreement with other bloggers in both their own communities and the wider mom blogger sphere, they still retained mutual respect with those they believed treated others appropriately:
(@retrohousewife5) “@mommysnacks That is sad, as you know I‟m on the other side but it‟s not u that I have a problem with it‟s #NestleFamily.” (@BeckiYagh) “Disagreements or not, I have met some of the nicest ladies through the #nestlefamily event. Now, everyone, please play nicely!” McPherson, Smith-Lovin and Cook (2001) have described the homophily principle, where people limit themselves to interactions with others who share similar feelings and attitudes. In a shallow way, the homophily principle is demonstrated by the mom blogger discussion in the content analysis. Silos or echo chambers of conversation happened as some agreed with each other strongly, both tweeting and retweeting the posts and comments of those who shared their own viewpoint. In this study, a minimum of people appeared to connect with others outside of each of their own silos, and in the coded tweets just 12 bloggers engaged in regular active conversations with those who held dissimilar views to their own. However, the #NestleFamily discussion was not simply reinforcement of existing opinions. McPherson et al‟s assertion that “homophily limits people‟s social worlds in a way that has powerful implications for the information they receive, the attitudes they form, and the interactions they experience” is not supported by this study. The mom blogger communities built around individuals were having conversations and discussions that overlapped with those of other communities in the space of a Twitter stream. Those mom bloggers who used the #NestleFamily hashtag as a way of following the discussions were shown multiple views and opinions that often challenged their own. Many bloggers engaged with the discussions. There were over 80 different bloggers identified through 400 tweets, and while most were not frequent posters, it can be argued that in order for each of them to actively engage in the discussions, they
needed to be following the stream of tweets related to the topic. Furthermore, the mom bloggers retweeted opposing viewpoints and engaged in respectful ongoing conversation. Revisiting the weak and strong ties identifications, the people who reached out and questioned each other‟s differing viewpoints can be identified as bridging ties between groups of weak tie communities in this instance. The work performed by these bridging ties was shown to all people following the #NestleFamily hashtag, and these bridging efforts resulted in a tightening of the mom blogger sphere over this topic.
The area of community in the Web 2.0 sphere is greatly under-researched and still in development. Difficulties for researchers arise as the technologies and their use change very regularly. From the technological frame, additional functionalities alter the way people are able to use a social media tool. From the user frame, greater numbers and types of people who begin to create new communities on social media also influence the way in which syntax is developed and connections are made. For example, the use of @ to direct face in discussions, and the use of hashtags on Twitter was initiated by the user sphere rather than by the technology, however Twitter supports the user directives through identifying @replies as being part of the accepted framework of the tool and also Trending Topics based on hashtags. Myriad opportunities call for investigation from the communication and sociological sides as well as from the technological side. As these disciplines converge, however, it is apparent that they overlap and condition each other. What appears to be multi-disciplinary is actually intertwined. For example, Twitter‟s 140character limit is both restrictive as well as conducive to discussion. Stemming directly from this study, there are three main areas that invite deep research.
Mom Bloggers This sphere of people in online media is still evolving. Research that looks into how accessible mom blogger social actors are to companies, and to what level of discretion they exhibit when „working with companies‟ will be highly valuable both to the members of the mom blogger sphere as well as to the companies that seek relationships with them. From this, some guidelines on best practice will inform all participants moving forward. Additionally, looking at the best ways to instigate conversations with mom bloggers is paramount. Is it possible to use a traditional form of messaging with this audience, or does it need to be adapted? If so, how should the message be adapted for the audience? As this study is the first looking directly at this sphere, it would be relevant and timely to consider in greater detail the structure of the mom blogger sphere over time, how its members forge alliances within the sphere if not within their own constructed communities, and further research into how social capital is granted or claimed. Companies In moving online, companies are engaging more directly with consumers than ever before. The model of message distribution is changing, possibly turning away forever from a reliance on traditional unilateral mass messaging copywriting strategies that have been the base of advertising and marketing to date. Research that looked at how social media interactions can better convey a full and complete image and engagement with brands than was possible with traditional media formats is necessary as companies attempt to build their own base of social capital. Two-dimensional messaging that is enabled through traditional media outlets has sought to build brand personality and resonance within the marketplace. It makes sense that using media
which celebrates three-dimensional messaging could actually offer brands an opportunity to build greater resonance with their target market. However, best practice offerings are scarce, and companies do not yet have a broad enough base of specialists who understand the nuances of online communities well enough to best serve the interests of all parties. Identity Further research is also relevant in looking at how social capital built in the online sphere relates to social capital in the offline sphere. The two appear to be similar in respect to collateral, however the depth demanded in the two environments are different. I expect that the two are identifiably linked, given the indications of meeting bloggers at conferences etc, however as the pervasive nature of technology in our society creates a new sphere of reality, issues of identity are no longer separate and instead reach across both the online and offline spheres.
The women in this study do not go online to engage with existing communities. Rather than moving into social media and joining communities, it would appear that these women are instead creating their own communities, with each of them individually at the center. The women in this study were drawing connections from a global presence, and adding and subtracting individuals rather than groups, to their own streams. Most identified being part of a community in social media; however, it is clear that inclusion in the community is self-nominated and self-identified, rather than externally credited. At no point in any of the research was any person‟s membership to a community questioned. Instead, issues of personal credibility, alignment and interests were challenged and discussed.
It is important to remember that while the mom blogger sphere is wide, and those involved in the discussions of this study were all following the #NestleFamily hashtag, not every person in the discussions was “following” everyone else. This means they were not part of each other‟s community. However, every weak tie was part of an overarching latent sphere network. Even when they the mom bloggers agreed on an aspect of the discussions, they did not automatically follow each other. For many in this latent sphere, the bridging weak tie connection was purely being made through the organizing hashtag of #NestleFamily, the topic of interest, and messages were only being received by each other through the use of an @ symbol in the tweet. However, when women who made up individuals‟ communities began disseminating messages that they found highly disagreeable, they reacted strongly by engaging with their community member rather than simply unfollowing or disengaging from the user. This action is not something that reflects a thinning of society, or a traditional notion of the constitution of a weak tie. Instead, this demonstrates a desire to control and contribute to an individual‟s own community, to maintain balance and to promote respect. Far from a flattening of community as supposed by Wittel and Miller (2001; 2008), this case study demonstrated a rich bonding of women who used various forms of social media to enable their communication. The CMC contained multiple layers of emotion and information, and even led to a number of women determining to create both online action (unfollowing and following people in their own community networks as well as disseminating information they discovered through their wider online networks) and offline action (boycotting Nestle products and disseminating information through their offline networks) as a direct result of the
discussions. It is apparent that aspects of day-to-day life and connections that happen in the online sphere have direct consequences and impact on a user‟s offline sphere as well. The two are intertwined. This case study demonstrates the very real existence of a latent sphere in the Network Society. This latent sphere of weak ties becomes tangible as the ties tighten around particularly sensitive or emotive topics. This particular case study was just one instance where the latent sphere is apparent. To date, I have also been able to identify indications of the latent sphere within the weak tie network of mom bloggers when crises, such as the loss of a child or other relative occur. Further research into these areas is warranted. While most of the women who were not in attendance at the Nestle event were connected purely through weak ties and a very limited opportunity to converse (given Twitter‟s 140character limit), they expanded their engagement with others in ways far more resonant than one would expect from an offline weak-tie acquaintance. These women employed multiple forms of social media, and faciliated intense passionate engagement with people who would not fall into Granovetter‟s category of a strong tie. These actions demonstrate what I call a tightening of the weak tie. This tightening explores the realm identified as possibly existing in the online sphere by Huberman, et. al. (2009). Rather than a realization of a collection of “latent ties” as defined by Haythornthwaite (2001), I state that these reactions form a complete latent sphere, with myriad interactions that constitute an active weak tie network that tightens over common issues. This latent sphere is one whose fabric is built through the immediacy of the technology and the engagement of participants over the topic being discussed. The functional technology of Twitter in only
allowing 140 character messages invites very fast moving streams of messages, very similar to a normal verbal conversation. However this conversation is usually being had with a very large number of listeners, particularly when it is undertaken in the context of a hashtag. As seen by the coded tweets here, a total of 102 bloggers were engaged enough with the discussions to tweet using the #NestleFamily hashtag. Given that we would expect many others to simply be watching the conversation and not actually engaging, the number of people these discussions actually reached, particularly when expanded through other networks such as long-form blogs, is extensive. It would appear the more passionate the conversation, the tighter the weave of fabric of the latent sphere. Within the social media sphere a lack of engagement on a number of levels beyond a single message appears to result in distrust and even suspicion. The actions of @mommygoggles refusing to engage with others beyond a very shallow and, at the time, purposely dismissive and mocking tone, combined with her pandering to Nestle rather than the interests of her community, did nothing to raise her social capital in the sphere. While previous literature identified differences between identity representation in the offline and online spheres (for example, Turkle, 1997; and Hine, 2000), the pervasive nature of social media and the technology that supports it has blurred the boundaries between our offline and online realities. Baym (in Jones, 1998) accused academics of having a fascination with online identity play and suggested that it was a very small area for consideration. Ten years later, the high level of frequency with which people conduct social interactions with others online and the need to build social capital in that sphere compels individuals to present as authentic an identity as possible. Additionally, the frequency of tweets through CMC raises the possibility of a three-dimensional representation of someone that has not been seen before.
It is also notable that the constituents of the mom blogger sphere are anything but recalcitrant. This study unveils a mom blogger sphere which includes highly educated, curious and passionate women who are constantly seeking to both reach out to each other as well as learn more about issues of mutual concern. These few days of discussion over Nestle and its business practices elicited extensive conversations about a wide range of areas. From the nuances of working with businesses through to child health, fair trade chocolate, boycotting actions and moral issues related to promotion of artificial baby formula, the women in these discussions were, for the main part, actively engaged, motivated and focused. Instead of simply a twodimensional acceptance of a company, or even an acceptance that the company had a right to be part of their community stream of tweets, these women pushed back with demands for more information, justification and dissatisfaction. As one mom blogger said on Twitter: (@Artemnesia) “I feel the issues are plenty important; am glad 4 a platform where a commercial can turn into a discussion #NestleFamily” Social capital is constantly being sought, gained and taken away as we integrate social media identities with that of our offline lives. The two blend and find reinforcement through face-to-face meetings that celebrate our online identities. Through this case study, over the course of a few days it would seem that passionate debate and even negativity results in an even faster attainment or loss of social capital, and that the traditionally held social capital of a company as large as Nestle does not guarantee it a level of unquestioned respect in the online social media sphere. Nestle‟s experience in this study demonstrates that while the company is used to controlling its messages through traditional media advertising, and unilateral perspectives, to
assume it could continue this type of control in this new media realm was a mistake. The technology of Twitter invites all users to be treated in the same way as others. No single user has superiority over others. The only hierarchy that is remotely possible to identify relies on the creation and building of social capital through interactions with others, on any topic relevant to discuss. Twitter is the first truly conversational platform in the digital sphere to invite and discover a utilization of this true democratization of communication between users around the world. While most users in this study used discretion and appropriate etiquette in their dealings with each other, they were unafraid to voice their concerns and opinions, perform information gathering and dissemination activities, and also “call out” those they felt were being insensitive, inappropriate or disrespectful, no matter who they were or what social capital they were deemed to hold. The findings of this study demonstrate a realization of the type of engagement through passion, conviction and activism democracy relies upon to survive. It is this commitment which shows the essence of community and interest in the wellbeing of society is felt deeply, even within the online sphere of the Network Society. Even the most dedicated social media mom bloggers continue to be surprised by the intensity of emotion in both resonance and dissonance found through social media. In this study, the participants shared a mass of information throughout the sphere and within their own communities, and there was active and emotional discussion of individual ethics, the use of the social media tool, company relationships, and credibility – however connections remained strong, at least for the length of this study. This research demonstrates many mom bloggers who were invited by Nestle to attend its event, and accepted the invitation did not handle the #NestleFamily debate well. In fact, six months following the event, some bloggers maintain it was a positive experience for them.
However, this view is not shared by them all, and the reluctance of one blogger attendee to be part of my research based on it being an experience she would rather move beyond demonstrates this. The blogger who was most celebrated at the event‟s conclusion (@phdinparenting) was not an attending blogger, but an activist who both acted in discussions with the mom blogger sphere, extending questions to Nestle, and reporting the responses with her own inclusions of analysis and commentary. This blogger demonstrated her commitment to the discussion well beyond the realm of one form of social media. She engaged with other bloggers and with Nestle, and attempted to be transparent in her dealings with all of them. The need for the social actors in this case study to fully embrace more than a single, two-dimensional conversation in order to gain social capital was demonstrated best by her actions. Furthermore, the multiplicity of identity invited by the use of social media is not congruent with the offline sphere‟s regularly accepted norm of using a single term (usually their working role) to describe a person. People are happy to be identified as an accountant or lawyer in a face-to-face setting, where it is automatically assumed that the scope of your interests lies beyond that categorization. However, in an online setting, social capital is not achieved through a single two-dimensional classification. If a woman is described in social media as a lawyer, for example, this carries with it a certain amount of social capital. However, the lack of physical presence and the nature of the conversational tool demands a deeper revelation of identity, a three-dimensional representation, which appreciates the number of “faces” or depth of identity a person may have. Women in this study appeared to want to expand their communities and engage with the mom blogger community in a way which included some who did not share some of the same opinions. These mom bloggers seemed to recognize that the three-dimensional identity revealed
through social media limits the ability to find “cookie cutter” representations of themselves in others. Their reluctance to “unfollow” other women in their communities, even though they held differing viewpoints, demonstrated that the practice of homophily is not sought in an online sphere to the exclusion of all else, even though the network is considered to be made of weak ties, and the technology infrastructure makes it very easy to disconnect. The offline assumptions and descriptions that we attribute to identity, friends and community do not translate easily to the online sphere. It would therefore be foolhardy to determine an easy translation of strong and weak ties between the two environments. If we agree that weak ties are predominant in the online sphere of the network society, then we must also agree they act differently and are actually a latent sphere of ties rather than individual links. As society moves further and further into a reality of intermingled connectivity between the offline and online spheres, traditionally held notions of identity, community and friendship become blurred and it would appear that individuals continue to seek connections with all they encounter, even if their thoughts and ideals are not aligned.
Nestle Family event message dissemination.................................................20
Question 8, online questionnaire. Report from www.surveygizmo.com ......................................................49
Question 14, online questionnaire. Report from www.surveygizmo.com ......................................................51
Question 10, online questionnaire. Report from www.surveygizmo.com ......................................................64
Screengrab of NestleFamily Blogger web page at www.socialmedia.com ........................................................67
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Code Book for Project/Client: #NestleFamily tagged tweets from 29 Sep 09 to 4 Oct 09
The identifying „handle‟ of the twitterer.
Tweet Structure Categories @ Includes the @ symbol. These indicate involvement in a conversation, or intent to begin one. Alternatively, they may simply act as commentary to something another twitterer has tweeted, or a reinforcement of the tweet of that person, through their „retweet‟ of it. (Whether conversation surrounds the tweet or not.) Includes a link to identifiable external content that the twitterer themselves has created (may be blog posts, other tweets, images, etc). (Other Mom Blogger Post) Includes a link to identifiable external content (usually a blog post) that was created by another member of the mom blogger sphere (ie someone who is either identified as a mom blogger and has self-identified previous involvement, or is part of the #NestleFamily conversation on Twitter during this time.) Please note: links to external agencies who were part of the #NestleFamily conversation are not applicable here (eg: Mike Brady of Baby Milk Action). Those who are not members of the mom blogger sphere fall into the Link (ExtInf) category. Includes a link to external information that is not directly connected with the mom blogger sphere. Examples may include press articles, WHO information, Baby Milk Action, Nestle web pages, etc.
Tweet Content +Att Sentiment of the tweet is overall positive towards the attendees of the Nestle Family event. This includes RT or links to attendee or other +Att blog posts. Sentiment of the tweet is overall negative towards the attendees of the Nestle Family event. This includes RT or links to attendee or other –Att blog posts.
Sentiment of the tweet primarily aligns attendees with Nestle or seeks to separate attendee from non-attendees in the mom blogger sphere. These tweets may create/reflect view that attendees are operative as „voice‟ of Nestle, or are acting as renegades. May use words such as „brand ambassador‟ or may be attendees identifying themselves as different to the rest of the twitter sphere. Sentiment of the tweet primarily aligns attendees with the community – creates image that attendees are closer to membership of a sphere of mom bloggers than acting as renegades or representing Nestle. Tweet may demonstrate concern for “their own.” May use words such as „I want you back‟ or indications that Nestle is „using‟ the attending bloggers. Alternatively, tweet might be from an attendee indicating they felt stronger attachment to mom blogger sphere than to the company (Eg “I wish I‟d done more research before attending” or “I‟ll get your questions answered.)
Please note: a. Not all tweets will fit in any or all categories. b. If a tweet is considered by the coder to be in any way ambiguous, it should not be classified as any of these. Only clear alignments and indentifiers should be recognized. Coding comments: Some links (both posts by mom bloggers and external references) were RT‟d by people, even though they already agreed. Probably due to understanding their own communities were made up of different members to each other. Some links have been removed or deleted. In those cases the sentiment of the title has been used to determine the + or – of the link. Where doubt existed, the tweet was not coded. Some statements were very strongly positive or negative, but aimed at Nestle rather than directly at attendees or activists. In these cases the tweet was not coded. Links to external blog posts sometimes referred to content within the post comments section rather than directly focused on the blog post‟s original viewpoint. In these cases the intent of the comment the link referred to was coded rather than the post it was commenting on.
Report: NestleFamily Twitter Response Summary Report Survey: Twitter #NestleFamily feedback 1. What country do you reside in?
2. Were you an invited blogger to the #NestleFamily event?
3. Reviewing your tweetstream, how many times did you tweet about Nestle or NestleFamily in total during the period Wednesday 30 September to Friday 2 October?
4. If you tweeted about Nestle or NestleFamily, how many times did you use the #NestleFamily hashtag itself?
5. Did you use any other hashtags (#) related to Nestle during this period? If yes, what was it / were they?
6. How successful do you feel the #NestleFamily hashtag was in organizing the discussion? 1=Very, 2=Somewhat 3=Patchy, 4=Not very, 5=Terrible
7. How well did you believe you knew Nestle and its brands prior to the #NestleFamily event
8. What did you learn about Nestle during the #NestleFamily period? (You may choose more than one answer, and add detail in the last question if you like.)
9. What did you learn about other twitterers during the #NestleFamily period? (You may choose more than one answer, and add detail in the last question if you like.)
10. Did you follow new twitterers, or unfollow them, during this period, AS A DIRECT RESULT of their interaction with this topic? (You may add detail in the last question if you like.)
11. Do you believe that showing bloggers Nestle's facilities and plans for Nestle Family in this way was successful for Nestle? (You may add detail in the last question if you like.)
12. Do you believe that Nestle showing bloggers its facilities and plans for Nestle Family was successful for the attending bloggers?(You may add detail in the last question if you like.)
13. Did you blog in long form about Nestle as a result of the twitter discussions during this period?
14. If yes, was your blog post's focus: (check all that apply)
Report Appendix 2: If you have something further to say about your use of the #NestleFamily hashtag, or others related to it, during this period, please add it here. Data Code Value I would note that, from Nestle's point of view, the use of the hashtag did not organize 46084563 the discussion at all because they meant for the "discussion" to be a stream of Tweets
Data Code Value from attendees parroting the advertising language they were given by execs, but from the point of view of activists, it was a very effective organizing tool. One thing which surprised me was that the people crying "hashtag hijack" didn't simply pick a new hashtag, but instead persisted in using the hashtag which had been "hijacked." I felt the people using the #NestleFamily hashtag who were not at the actual event were for the most part rude and unproductive to the actual conversation. There were a 46091860 few people who were not at the event who had valid concerns, but by hijacking the hashtag with the negativity thrown at actual bloggers, not the company, it was a serious misuse and turned me off to the entire debate. Surprised how "possessive" some folks were about the hashtag. Accused dissenters of 46091875 spamming, etc. I think people took the hashtag and ruined it for attendees someone suggested using 46092273 #discussnestle for the ones who were bashing Nestle and the bloggers but obviously they could not do that and it was very offensive to those of us attending. I think there was so many attacking one another, because many were passionate about 46093624 the issue on both sides, it got ugly and childish. The hastag made it easy to interupt and protest Nestle's PR activities. It was much 46093671 like, but also much easier, than knowing about a press conference and being able to show up with a protest sign. Hashtags are easy to hijack by those who want to say something to people paying 46094515 attention to the tag, but not involved in the purpose for which the tag was introduced. #nestlefamily was like that. The hastag was successful in tracking the conversation but it did not guide things in a positive way for them. I think that the bloggers made the mistake of defending verses listening and trying to get answers. I think that Nestle made the mistake of starting the 46094914 hastag when they had no social media and this was their mistake. I think that some bloggers like @2dates2diapers @busymom made themselves look bad and more like bloggers doing things for big brands but with no ethics. If nestle family wanted a media presence before this should have been in place before 46096505 the bloggers came down and they got the brunt of it. I thought it was a great way to both share information about the event as well as for 46096587 others to get counter-points across to those who feel the full story about Nestle wasn't being shared. I didn't use the hashtag, but the juxtaposition of pro/con tweets was an interesting read on the event. It definitely caught my attention moreso than if there were two hashtags 46096950 or an irreverent one like #nikonhatesbabies ---why no one thought of using a #nestlehatesbabies I don't know. Hashtags work only as well as people remember to use em. They also do not make a 46084624 discussion private, which I think people thought. I actually didn't know about the #nestlefamily event. I was responding to some other 46096309 tweets calling for a boycott of nestle. I stated why I didn't feel I could boycott nestle.
Data Code Value I posted links to evidence regarding Nestle's practices, particularly when bloggers were relaying untrue or misleading statements from Nestle. I responded to a request for questions to put to Nestle. When Nestle came online inviting questions, I posted 46148800 questions and offered to take part in a debate with Scott Remy of Nestle, on behalf of Baby Milk Action. There were no answers or response to the debate offer - but then Nestle refuses to even speak in public if Nestle is present having lost a series of debates in the UK between 2001 - 2004. The hashtag was nice to see the bloggers' adventures through the event, but I was 46157975 disgusted to see the activists that invaded with their boycotting 46159136 I became aware of the event because of the hashtag It was interesting to watch it be used by and for two completely opposing 46159063 groups/ideas. 46159569 It seemed that at points people were either not using it or the search wasn't working. 46161738 People on both side were very rude but mostly from the Nestle bloggers. The hash tag was a bit long. Had trouble with # of characters in tweets often, but it 46164010 was too late to switch it for something shorter. It was very successful from the perspective of all the info being located at the same 46166927 place. Probably very unsuccessful from Nestle's perspective though! 46167159 I didn't know anything bad about Nestle before this, now i'm an avid boycotter! I think it showed how a hashtag can be multi-faceted--both a way for corporate brands 46167433 to organize attention and a way for people who have issues with the brand to make their views known. I didn't really read the public twitterstream of the hashtag, other than for just a 46305575 moment! My tweets are private & so I'd only be able to respond to people already following me, anyhow. Most of the time, the tag was too long to add to my tweets. :P Report Appendix 3: Please add any other comments you wish to make. Data Code Value One thing which was really interesting to see here was that Nestle was either experimenting, or did not fully realize the consequences of engaging with social media. Given that Nestle is one of the top three most boycotted companies in the world and has been for over 30 years, you'd think they would be aware of the dangers of exploiting a medium which has proved to be extremely effective for activists and 46084563 organizers. Another thing to note is that most of the activists engaging on Twitter were rehashing very old complaints/arguments/challenges to Nestle. Some of the (apparently naive) conference attendees seemed to think that these challenges were being brought to the attention of Nestle for the first time, and that their attendance at the conference was even some sort of service for the good of humanity. Neither was the case.
Data Code Value I said it was successful for Nestle but I can't be sure what their goal was. I believe it was successful in that they have a better feel for what moms and bloggers think of 46084518 their brand. I think it was successful for the bloggers because they have said they got what they wanted from it. A nice trip, some face time with the people they purchase from and they learned a lot about the company and it's products. 46089153 I learned that some people are callous and greedy. Personally believe the bloggers who attended are freebie entitled bloggers who have 46091586 NO ethics and don't care what a company does as long as they get free stuff. 46091626 I am glad more people learned of Nestle's dark history. I was totally addicted to the conversation. I've boycotted Nestle (as well as one can with so many changing brands) for nearly 30yrs - family boycotted, etc - and think it's 46091875 one of the world's most unethical companies. Upset when it was framed as a BF vs FF debate. Fascinated by the murky waters of bloggers and their corporate partners. I was very hurt by fellow BF moms that chose to attack me because I am supporting a company that I have had in my life for 30 years and will continue to have. If they have a problem with Nestle that's fine but the attacks on myself and the other attendees was 46092273 very uncalled for. I am sure everyone of those moms supports something I may not and I would never in my life resort to belittling and bashing them just because of that. It was very hurtful. While some I did converse with civilaly it was very upsetting getting bashed from so many that are fellow BF moms. I think that if one performed a SWOT analysis of this event, Nestle risked much more than it gained. No new products or services seemed to be shared. People who like their products or have a neutral feeling may have been unchanged, but I believe that many more were either reminded of the problems with Nestle or were introduced to the 46093671 problems. The event validated the exposure companies have to protest to their own events or to user generated conversations. The event underscored the problem bloggers have in accepting corporate junkets that come with a PR hashtag, in that their ethics in attending and their PR activities on Twitter were publically challenged. 46094796 http://lilmomthatcould.com/2009/10/because-i-say-it-better-on-other-peoples-blog/ I think that Nestle should have invited the bloggers in private to have them consult for 46094914 them on how to engage in social media like they said they were doing via twitter. This would have been more productive for them. I understand that people either love or hate a product when a blogger is there like walmart or nestle. I don't know why they went down, but it was interesting to see that nestle who wanted a media prescene had to jump right in because many people are passionate about things they believe in. I think the bloggers should have been made 46096505 aware that they might have haters since they are down at the conference. I followed for bit , but there are alot of negative toward the bloggers. But if you are coming down for a conference to learn more or represent a company, they should have been made aware of it. I don' t think that the bloggers were aware of the hate that comes along with certain companies. 46096950 11. I plan to unfollow several who tweeted pro-Nestle, but after the storm dies down
Data Code Value so it doesn't seem blatantly related. Is that etiquette or cowardice--I suppose it doesn't matter much. It is just Twitter after all. I was an attendee, and one of the two dads present. To #12 only time will tell. My post about this, which is coming out on monday, takes them to task for their inpreparedness for social media. The event was very informative and the company answered all the questions that were asked by the activists that relayed them to us on Twitter. The fact that they don't like the answers are not something we could have controlled. Chances are they are never going to like their answers unless Nestle agrees to all their demands, which in reality is highly unlikely since this has been going on for 35 years or so. However, what the powers that be at Nestle learned about social media, internalized the advice we offered and the ultimate plan and execution of a social media strategy that goes beyond just telling us how great Butterfingers are will determine whether or not this event was worthwhile for them. To #13, time will also tell. as to the attendees. It really depends on the motivation of the individual blogger 46096687 and what their end game was to begin with. Since dads are the redheaded step children of the parent blogging world, I was interested in going just to immerse myself in the conversation and take the power of social media in from the perspective moms have been seeing for years. As a consumer I've been purchasing Nestle products for years. Their reach in terms of product depth and breadth in the consumer market is pervasive. This is not to say that I am brand loyal, as a single family household I am price loyal. If I can save money, then that is what I buy. Having been to the Nestle Family event I am no more likely to target Nestle brands as I am to not target Nestle brands in my purchasing decisions. Any success for any individual blogger will most likely also rely on the plan and execution of a social media strategy by Nestle and to whatever extent those individual bloggers are concerned. They (Nestle) voiced a strong desire to build a relationship, so it will be telling what strategy emerges from this event and the twitstorm. I think this was a great example of how corporations cannot really control the internet. They tried on twitter with a hashtag to have 'positive thoughts' be spread through 46084624 unwitting tweeters and it blew up in their faces. Though I am still wondering about this. Why would they not have had a soc med person running the tweeting? I learned not just some other bloggers' opinions about Nestle, but some factual info I wasn't aware of, liek the connections to slave labor via the Forbes article, and the 46097652 issues in Zimbabe. I'd say Nestle has a big, long-term PR mess on their hands that has just made it to social media. I picked up the conversation quite late on, but followed with great attention thereafter (and am still following with great attention). I was surprised at the human reactions of some invited bloggers and their unwillingness to look at Nestlé in its overall approach 46146720 to the well-being of young children. I discovered a lot, through links from Twitter, about Nestlé's negative international reputation in marketing to children in developing countries. I am motivated to encourage more action (outside of the Twitter arena) to publicise Nestlé's activities and appalling policies to a wider public. 46148800 Twitter stream: http://twitter.com/mikebradyuk Blogs:
Data Code Value http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2009/10/twitter-answers.html http://boycottnestle.blogspot.com/2009/09/nestle-family-twitters.html My post about #Nestlefamily is here: 46158776 http://crunchydomesticgoddess.com/2009/09/30/did-we-learn-anything-from-thenestle-family-twitter-storm/ I'm also working on an update boycott list. I think this event brought a lot of focus on the reasons Nestle products should be 46159136 boycotted in the US....they claim to be about Family, but continue to violate WHO agreements regarding infant feeding. In terms of it being successful for Nestle, I think that while there was a large amount of backlash, ultimately Nestle is able to use the feedback not just from the attendees, 46159063 but also from online media to further shape their products and PR. While I am really glad that a lot more people are now aware of their unethical practices, Nestle is a huge company and so I'm not sure how negatively this will impact them. I'm not sure what Nestle's goal or the bloggers' goals were, so I can't say if I felt they were successful or not. I thought it was a bad idea for Nestle, and I lost major respect 46159569 for those bloggers who heard comments such as "Nestle buys milk from Grace Mugabe's ranch" and replied with "Tried some awesome cookie dough." It was very awkward for me to read such serious claims rebutted by such trivial experiences. I found this whole event ugly. Honestly, Nestle doesn't care, so this became a dog pile 46159952 on the bloggers who went. Attacking a corporation? Go for it. Attacking fellow mommy bloggers? Completely unacceptable! I think this all reflects badly on Nestle. They obviously did not know what they were doing inviting bloggers and tweeters to their event if they thought there wouldn't be any criticism of it. With the exception of one blogger (Telling Dad) I was really disappointed in all the attendees. I don't think their participation reflects well on them. 46160625 In this day and age it is silly to accept and not question anything you are told by PR people. And some bloggers were totally dismissive of the accusations and even rude. There was no one I unfollowed as a result, but now there are people I will never follow. And someone whose blog I stopped reading. I'm very upset with Nestle and was before but now I'm also upset since they could 46161738 never answer my question. I was fully aware of the Nestle boycott prior to the blogger event. I tweet and blog on 46162892 behalf of my business and do not engage much in controversial issues, such as this. I wrote about Nestle being a brand that's not for my family. It never really was, but 46165249 their event pointed out why. I'm sad that they're trying to make poor people eat more bad food. Am working on a blog posting on t his topic. Have known about Nestle's practices for 30-some years. Am mostly concerned about the nastiness of the tweats on both sides. 46165148 But as someone in the mainstream media, I am also concerned about "freebies" and PR relationships. I think this might have been a lose-lose. Fascinated by your research. 46165309 I was thoroughly disgusted at the length some bloggers went to to defend Nestle as a
Data Code Value family. Ironically enough, they were the same bloggers that rarely express interest in anything but themselves and their own lives-i.e. they don't care much for social issues at large, not just Nestle. I think they were mostly out for their own self promotion and cared very little about Nestle, consumers, or any issues pertaining to either. I've commented quite extensively on Twitter and on other people's posts. I think there are a huge number of issues wrapped up in what happened. There is, of course, the issue about Nestle's practices and whether or not they are, indeed, occurring, if hey are, are they ethical violations of a high order and, if so, how do we address these? There are the issues about what, exactly, are bloggers? Are they journalists or brand enthusiasts or community leaders or experts or what? Can you attend an event like this without having been said to represent the brand? And then there are the issues surrounding social media...is it rude to challenge someone's public statements? Is it against etiquette to "crash" a hashtag? Why is a multi-billion dollar brand hosting a microsite with a twitter feed for an event without a single employee versed in Twitter? I think that part of the problem was the "feel good", superficial nature of the event and most of the participants' tweets from the event that felt callous in the face of such important allegations. There were some horrible things tweeted, but for the most part they were not coming from prominent bloggers either at the event or opposed to Nestle. They were trolls who were muddying the water. There is one blogger who wrote and tweeted some racist and insensitive things and has added the Netsle brand 46098496 logo to her Twitter page. I'm sure Nestle will not consider her a good brand representative. There were others who were just so sadly ignorant of government, marketing, and/or science but chose to jump in and start shouting names--I felt like I was watching a high school debate adrift without facts. Again, there were only a few, but they were vocal and it made me sad to see. Only one blogger who was at the event seemed to be making light of slavery, though she denies that was the intent of her tweet. For most of the rest it was really more the cavalier attitude towards the possibility that Nestle might engage in heinous practices that I think set the activists off. I hope that Nestle realizes that its evasive answers do not fly when they are involved in a conversation (as opposed to a FAQ on their corporate website). I think Nestle could have hosted a social media event, but they needed to address the issue up front and discuss steps they are taking. I know they tried to invite those who might be critical of Nestle but those invitees refused. Nestle should have tried harder. And they might have had more success if they had sponsored an event around an "issue" instead of around look how cool Nestle is and you get to dance with the Quick Bunny. There's a lot more I could say...but I'm sure you've heard most of it. I think this event was actually more helpful to the boycott, because I know that very few of my friends had heard of any of Nestle's bad behavior before I started finding 46167159 out & spreading the word, which i can only imagine happened to many other people too. I suspect Nestle was fairly successful in promoting its brand with the bloggers it 46167433 invited--the event was rather self-selecting in that respect. Meaning, those who were unaware/indifferent to Nestle's forumula marketing practices overseas were happy to
Data Code Value attend, and those who had problems with those practices were either not invited or chose not to attend. I do think it's becoming increasingly clear that plausible deniability in the age of Google is a new and interesting question. When blogger credibility is based on authenticity and voice, what happens to both when negative information about a corporation or brand is just a few links away and yet that information isn't included in a blogger's report? Also, does a corporation gain or lose in credibility when it acts as if it is unaware of its own negative record (also just a few Googled links away)? I learned from the experience that as someone that is pro-breastfeeding, I disagree with a lot of what Nestle does. I was not aware of their business practices before and am disappointed in the company. Would that cause me to boycott? Doubtful. I would choose other brands over Nestle that have a more pro-mother/child focus where 46168669 available but would not refuse to buy a product my family enjoyed just because it was made by Nestle. As far as other "Twitterers" I learned that I disagree on the issue with several of my twitter friends. That does not mean I would unfollow them. I personally would not have attended any conference held by Nestle as a representative of "mommy bloggers" because I don't find their practice mother/baby friendly. 46202397 I have not yet written my blog post but I will. I didn't know about the boycott, or just HOW MANY brands they owned, before. (am too young to remember the previous boycott!) Now that I know, I am planning to find substitutes for any of their products that might find their way onto my shopping list. Also, to shop less-corporate-in-general, and to try to promote breastfeeding. I shared 46305575 some of the links I found with my Facebook page. Even though I didn't produce that many related tweets, I saw a lot, thought a lot, and commented on several related blog posts. I'm not a mom, but interact with a lot of moms on twitter because my sister is a 'mommyblogger'. This 'event' certainly made me think.
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Depth Research Question Guide 1. What drew you into the tweets about the Nestle event? 2. Looking back, do you think you reacted strongly to messages on twitter? Why/why not? Would you have acted any differently in hindsight? 3. In your tweets, were you only reacting to the words being tweeted by others, or do you believe there were other things contributing to what you tweeted? 4. Why do you seek to engage with people on twitter? Do you believe you're part of a community, or is it something else? 5. How important is being present and talking in social media to you? 6. What do you believe you are looking for in being part of the mom blogger community? (Information, friendship, business relationships, etc?) 7. What are the most valuable things you have gained from being part of the mom blogger community? 8. What problems do you have with being part of the mom blogger community? 9. Do you have more or less trust in the mom blogger community because of what happened with the Nestle event? 10. Why do you think that many of the responses were so emotional in this community? 11. Anything additional you‟d like to add?
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