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‘Texas Speech Communication Journal Vol 45,2019, pp. 55-66 Augmented Placemaking and Community Engagement: Exploring Social Media Interaction in Brazoria County “Rocks!” John A. McArthur® Alicia Juregu® "Department of Communication Studies at Furman University Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte Abstract To better understand the effects of social media on placemaking — our experiential connection to geographic place — this study explored the use of social media posts by the residents of Brazoria County, Texas in the Brazoria County “Rocks!” Facebook group, This group is a unique integration of interpersonal communication, social media strategy, ‘and geographic community. Using a grounded theory analysis of group posts during the seminal month of the group, this study argues that social media, and Facebook in particular, can digitally augment human experience of geographic location. This research ‘suggests that bringing a discussion of placemaking into the study of social media can create new conversations about interaction and engagement in communities that are at once geographic and digital ‘The Brazoria County “Rocks!” Facebook group was created to promote and document a grassroots, county-wide, artistic challenge. The group's stated purpose according to its founders was to make people smile, which we in the academic community might rephrase as ‘to enhance participants’ positive affinity for place.’ These smiles were the intended result of group member efforts to paint and hide small rocks for other participants to find throughout the geographically-defined community of Brazoria County, Texas. The painting, hiding, and finding activities promoted by this group have been wildly successful. ‘When the group launched in 2016, Brazoria County's population was estimated as just over 340,000 people (US Census Bureau). The Facebook group started by Ashlie Crowson on August 10, 2016 enrolled 33,098 members (equal to roughly 10% of the county's population) inits first month, The stunning growth of this group in its first month, and the original artistic intervention (which has been replicated with various success around the country) suggests that the intersection of digital connection and physical location is an area primed for study. To that end, this study of the specific case of Brazoria County “Rocks!” seeks to examine the application of social media tools to the experience of placemaking, ‘The integration of digital, mobile, and interactive technologies into lived experience ‘CONTACT: john A. MeArthr,jobn.mcarthur@furman edu, Furman Universi, Greenville SC USA © 2019 Teas Speech Communication Asocation eee ry ey 56 MeArthur,[.A. & Jauregu A has implications not only for our personal interactions, but also for our interactions with place. Creative and artistic interventions have become a popular method for reinvigorating physical public spaces (see League of Creative Interventionists, 2016), and public art has a long history in placemaking (Fleming, 2007). The goal of creative interventionists and placemakers continues to be the enhancement of users’ experiences of the spaces and places they inhabit. When these physical places and spaces connect to digital places and spaces, the results can be mixed. Researchers have explored the multiple role of digital space as replacements for physical spaces (McArthur & White, 2016), augmentations of physical spaces (Benyon,,2014), and explorations of new types of hybrid or digitized spaces. ‘The case of the Brazoria County “Rocks!” Facebook group suggests that social media can work alongside creative and artistic interventions in physical spaces to augment the experience of geographic location. Such interactions have implications for the interactions between people and the places they inhabit, from public art to museums and memorial spaces, and across the spectrum of tourist destinations in which visitors interact with geographic locations. This study examines this case through, first, a literature review focusing on two main concepts as guideposts for the study: (1) placemaking, in its physical sense and incorporating digital interventions, and (2) social media as a tool for community participation. Then, this study uses a grounded theory exploration to analyze the social ‘media interactions among members of the Brazoria County “Rocks!” Facebook group to articulate the ways that social media might augment our traditional view of placemaking. Finally, the discussion centers on implications for the use of social media to augment physical locations and create heightened experiential impact for visitors. Literature Review In his book, The Art of Placemaking (2007), Ronald Lee Fleming described the components ofa space that embue a location with a sense of place. Basing his argument on public art and urban design, Fleming offered four components of successful placemaking that guide the experience of the user: spatial orientation, connection, direction, and animation. Spatial orientation refers to the history of the geographic location. Connection describes the signs or symbols in the space that inform the user about that history. Direction refers to the wayfinding techniques that visitors use to ascertain how to inhabit the space. And, animation describes the observable physical behaviors that result during the use of the space. These four components create an experience for each user of a space. In the case of public art in a park, a statue might be erected as a result of a specific spatial orientation (e.g. in memory of the caretaker of this flower garden). That history might be ‘communicated to visitors through a plaque, and visitors may be directed to, through, and around the statue by signage. And, an observer would be able to witness the various ways that visitors to this statue interact with it. Spaces that we observe, visit, and inhabit all incorporate these cues and behavioral indicators to greater and lesser degrees. ‘TEXAS SPEECH COMMUNICATION JOURNAL 57 Even though Fleming's ideas engage the physical space without much attention to the digital one, some authors have suggested that interventions created with digital tools may enhance, detract from, or further impact placemaking. Spaces augmented by digital technology become spaces in which new behavioral patterns can be enacted. These patterns are shaped simultaneously by inhabitant, co-present others, digitally-connected thers, the characteristics of the location itself, and the devices and technology employed. Ina special issue of the International Journal of Heritage Studies, articles examined the role of digital technology in the understanding of cultural heritage, materials, and artifacts. This collection of studies collectively argues that digital augmentations can “re- create a sense of place” and “reinforce people's unique engagements with physical spaces and territories” (Giaccardi, Champion, & Kalay, 2008, p. 196). Digital tools can provide connection between the history of a place and the visitor, prior, during, and after visiting the space (see Champion, 2008; McCarthy & Ciofli, 2008; Malpus, 2008) and employ digital tools to enhance storytelling practices within historic sites (Betsworth et. al. 2014). Whereas each of these studies focuses on heritage sites, the current study posits that similar engagement is possible in everyday places as well. In Digital Proxemics (2016), McArthur argues that spaces augmented by digital technology become spaces in which new behavioral patterns can be enacted. These patterns are shaped simultaneously by inhabitant, co-present others, digitally-connected others, the characteristics of the location itself, and the devices and technology employed. ‘Technologies that support these interventions might include user-specific devices like smart phones, mobile devices, tablets, computers, and cameras, as well as site-specific technologies like beacons, wireless Intemet access points, geo-fences, and responsive digital displays. These physical-digital hybridizations of space need not be expensive or profound to have an impact on placemaking. For example, the intervention described in Chatham and Mueller (2013) augments a physical space - a public basketball court ~ with a digital display that counted shots made and offered a variety of messages on a lighted sign. Court users reported that the display enhanced their game, challenged them to play harder and more frequently, and connected them to other (potentially unknown) players ‘whose scores were also included in that day's tally. The digital intervention added to the players’ experience by enhancing the play that was already occurring there, suggesting that interactive displays can create changing, reward-based directive cues for users of @ physical environment. In a similar vein, this study seeks to understand the ways that the digital Facebook group impacts the artistic experience of the users of Brazoria County “Rocks!” as they move about and explore their geographic county. As such, this study intends to add to the conversation on placemaking and its potential interaction with digital and social media tools. Social Media Interactions Researchers studying social media and its interaction with spaces and communities ee 58 McArthur]. 8 Jauregu A. have approached this work from a variety of angles. Many of these have involved the use of social media to create of new spaces as gathering sites. Chat rooms were among the early spaces for interaction (see Gee, 2004; McArthur, 2009) and have continued to be popular sites for like-minded individuals to gather. Even though chat rooms have been updated to Reddit pages (Roschke, 2014), Twitter chats (McArthur & White, 2016), and Facebook groups (Furr, et-al.,2014), the passionate affinity groups that gather there use social media asa mechanism for the creation of shared space. These spaces are solely digital, without a physical home. In contrast, this study aims to extrapolate these digital gathering sites as potential extensions of geographic locations in the material world. Other studies have focused on the ability of social and mobile technologies to connect users to the spaces they inhabit. In Mobile Interfaces Theory (2012), Jason Farman suggested that mobile devices can add information to physical spaces. The typical result of this addition is either a distraction from the physical location or a stronger connection to the location, noting that the digital-physical hybridization of space has the ability to do both simultaneously. Likewise, de Souza e Silva and Frith’s Mobile Interfaces in Public laces (2012) suggested that digital augmentations of public places can engage users with that place in a variety of ways. And, in their article on the personalization of urban spaces, Ito, Okabe, and Anderson (2010) described the digital traces left behind in public places through our interactions with technology. These studies and others like them support the notion that physical, geographic spaces and places are curiously intertwined with the digital interactions that occur within, Using a grounded theory inquiry, this study intends to answer the following research questions: 1) What themes, if any, emerge from a content analysis of the Brazoria County “Rocks!” Facebook group? 2) What do these themes suggest about the broader use of social media for place-based community engagement? Method Posts from the first month of the Brazoria County “Rocks!” Facebook group made up the data set for this study, and included 200 posts from its initial launch in 2016. Because the group is public, member posts and comments are available for onlookers to observe through public posts in an open group. As such, each included post was visible and discoverable in compliance with privacy settings offered to users by the Facebook platform. At the time of this publication, the group Brazoria County “Rocks!” remains active daily with over 30,000 members. ‘To conduct the grounded theory analysis, the first step in the process was to gather rich data by reviewing the Brazoria County “Rocks!" Facebook group posts and comments ‘and begin the coding process through initial coding. Charmaz, (2006) stated that “during initial coding we study fragments of data-words, lines, segments, and incidents-closely for their analytic import” (p. 42). For this step, researchers attempted to remain open to ‘TEXAS SPEECH COMMUNICATION JOURNAL 59 any possibilities that might arise from the data. According to Charmaz (2006), “Codes emerge as you scrutinize your data and define meanings within it” (p. 46). The researchers used memo writing to articulate ideas that came to mind in the data. Memos focused on each post from the data set collected and included notes about post content as well as information on how the post communicated about rocks. ‘The second stage of the process, focused coding, established codes that were “more directed, selective, and conceptual than word-by-word, line-by-line, and incident-by- incident coding” (Charmaz, 2006, p. 57). In this phase, recurring themes or categories in the data set helped to determine the accuracy of initial codes established during the open coding stage of analysis. The data and specific incidents were compared repeatedly to develop categories and context of the data in an effort to formulate stronger categories. As stated by Charmaz (2006), “Focused coding requires decisions about which initial codes ‘make the most analytic sense to categorize your data incisively and completely” (p. 57- 58). Thereby, in this stage of coding, the researchers reviewed the memos and generated a series of larger, connected ideas in categories. In the third phase of coding, axial coding, researchers grouped categories into titled themes in ways that explain the content therein. The focus then shifted to the holistic review of categories, memo notes, and titled ideas to determine central categories. According to Bohm (2004), “grounded theory recommends asking repeatedly, in the course of an investigation, which phenomena ate central and formulating appropriate theory. memos” (p. 273). After these core categories were established, data could be analyzed until saturation, the point at which all possibilities of new data leading to new revelations were exhausted (Charmaz, 2006, p. 113-114) and the conceptual relationships of the categories became clear. Through this process, researchers developed 4 themes which ‘were comprised all of the conceptual categories of data studied, and determined that ‘theoretical saturation had been reached. Results Four themes emerged as a result of this grounded theory analysis of Facebook group content: (1) Mission Orientation, (2) Spreadability, (8) Personal Connection, and (4) Tactics. Original writing, shown in quotes, has been preserved to retain the authenticity of the statements used here as examples. This original writing, quoted below, includes the stylistic choices of the contributors and maintains their purposeful deviations or accidental errors in language, spelling, and grammar. Mission Orientation Posts in this category overwhelmingly supported the mission of the Facebook group, Given that the founder’s mission for the creative intervention was “to put a smile on people's faces,” it was no surprise that this mission was realized in the posts. In practice, EEE SEE! E™E {60 Mearthur, LA & Jauregui A. these posts included spreading positive messages, group members posting feelings about the movement, rocks made in support of a group (police) or cause (Autism/Cancer awareness), or simply using rocks as tools to welcome new members to the community. ‘When examining the positive effects of the movement, it quickly became clear that rocks were a tool used to begin conversation. Placing rocks for others to find allowed for the person sending the message to do so in a safe space while also allowing the rock finder to have (and post) their own authentic reaction to the message. Two examples of data for this category stem from posts made by members of the community to share their feelings, with the Brazoria County “Rocks!” group members. Debra D. writes, “love what this group is doing to bring smiles to faces and at times to those who find inspiration when they need it most. The world is as good as you see itis. If you focus on the bad, you will see a “bad” ‘world. If you focus on the good, you will see goodness. Choose your focus carefully.” This post recognizes the favorable effect the group seems to be having on the community and encourages members of the group to continue to focus on the positive. ‘A second example posted by Jimmy B. reads, “Yau'll ate taking so much pride in ‘your rocks. Im not only impressed but proud of you all. I KNOW THAT IM NOT ANYONE IMPORTANT TO MOST OF YOU AND YOU DONT KNOW ME...but that doesn’t mean that I cant be proud. Keep up the great work ladies and gentlemen. YOU ARE REBUILDING THE AMERICAN SPIRIT THROUGH LOVE “ONE ROCK AT A TIME”... AMEN!!!” ‘The two examples above were chosen because they do not include the group process of hiding or finding rocks, but speak directly to the sentiment expressed among and to ‘group members. Certainly, the mission of positivity was also reflected in many posts about hiding and finding the rocks, and in the photos of smiling faces that discovered hidden rocks around the county. Cathy H. explains the difference her rock made in her mood and day: “Found my very first rock this morning on the way to school. I have to say, I was surprised at how it changed by mood. I was having a rough morning. Caught it out of the comer of my eye on. top of a fence post on comer of CR 809 & 50S. Kind of neat how something so small can have such an effect on you. Thank you whoever put it there, Brightened my day!” The post included a photo of the rock found which depicted a likeness of Patrick from SpongeBob Square Pants. Spreadability Spreadability refers to posts that advocate for propagation of the movement and/or comment on the outreach potential of the group. In this category, some members reported taking the challenge a step further by adding a gift to go along with a painted rock or attempting to spread the movement beyond the county's boundaries to other counties and states. Examples of this category follow. Laura T. posted, “Yayy, look at what I found at bucees on old angleton road and 2004 on the ice machine.. I'm so excited..And I won something to go along with it.” A photo ‘TEXAS SPEECH COMMUNICATION JOURNAL, 61 alongside the post depicts a rock with a beach scene painted on it and a note that says, “Please post on Brazoria County Rocks to receive free mini photo shoot.” The inclusion of a gift by the artist took the founder's original mission one step further with bonus prizes. for participation, and caused new members to join. Moreover, members of the community took Brazoria County “Rocks!” beyond the ‘geographic lines of the county, to see what might happen. Rocks found at the Louisiana State Capitol building, on Galveston Island, and in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska were among the posts in the Facebook group. Shannon D., who found rocks in a hospital unit in Galveston, ‘TX, wrote “Amazing the distances that love and friendship reaches! We will pass these on!” Yet another user, Ami Jo F., inquired “Anybody want to paint a pretty rock for me to take to Hawaii this week? I want to take a few and attach a note to look up ‘Brazoria County Rocks.” Her desire to connect people outside the geographic zone of Brazoria County to the digital space on Facebook is a particularly compelling example of the capacity for digital sites and physical artifacts to interact beyond geographic boundaries. Personal Connection A third category which emerged from the data is personal connection. Personal connection posts involved self-disclosure or circumstance sharing. The simple act of creating art - in this case taking the time to paint a rock and hide it for others ~ is an act of putting oneself on display. Beyond that, members often revealed personal messages oF private ideas in the art or words they displayed on the rocks. These rocks inspired sharing of inspirational words, religious beliefs, and feelings. At times, personal posts accompanying the rocks allowed participants to share their feelings or stories about particular events in their lives. Virtual strangers shared their personal stories with others in the group. Group members who do not personally know one another shared stories of their lives, their children, and hardships with the group. The act of finding or hiding a painted rock and telling it story on social media served as a catalyst for interpersonal disclosure. One event, in particular, a marriage proposal, played out via the Brazoria County “Rocks!” Facebook group. A post made by Cindy Ann A. read, “I found this rock at Clute City Hall! This gentlemen want to marry a sweet beautiful lady named Bonita!” The post included a photo of the rock which read, “Will You Marry Me? Suneeta Bonita.” ‘There ‘was also a note along with the rock asking the person who finds the rock to please post on the Brazoria County “Rocks!” Facebook group to help make this beautiful lady his wife. This gentleman shared one of the most important days of his life with the Brazoria County “Rocks!” Facebook group and in turn they shared his joy when Bonita accepted his ‘marriage proposal. Another example is a post by Karla N. which reads, “Dennis Pa Pa N. decided to take this one to the ARMY recruiting office in LJ and gave it to a soldier with a daughter. Thank you for your service!!!” A photo of a smiling soldier dressed in Army fatigues holding the rock accompanied the post. The rock, a background of the American flag painted under | 62 McArthur, JA. &Jauregui A, small black silhouettes across the stripes of the flag of an Army soldier standing next to a child. Giving this particular rock to this soldier and posting it to the Facebook group group serves as an expression of personal value in and connection to the US Armed Forces. ‘A post added by Brenda D. reads, “I made this rock for my grand baby. She would have been 3 years old today, she passed away from SIDS at 5 months. I will hide it in the morning.” A photo of a pink rock with the words “Angel Amilynn” in silver letters accompanied the post. There were also small pink flowers glued on the rock with a silver ‘cross. Across the bottom of the rock were the dates the child was born and died. ‘These three examples depict personal connections to the art on the rocks in ways that both honored the group and its mission as well as delved deeply into the personal lives of participants, in the processes of both hiding and finding. These rocks inspired self- disclosure by not only their artists but also by their finders, who then shared them again and added their own stories to the rock's digital archive. Tactics Tactics refers to posts that discuss strategies for participating in the group or connecting to the work of members. This category includes administrative posts which offer guidelines for participation as well as posts that describe community events, family participation ideas, or individual participation efforts. Even though proof of participation occurs in the “painted it" and “found it” posts made by members of the Facebook group, overarching tactics contributed to the compilation of posts in the group. Innovative ideas for participation were also part of this category, such as posts about hosting rock hunts, holding painting parties, and sending rocks from other cities for use in the Brazoria County ‘community. Examples of this category include a post made by Cheryl A. who posted an announcement in the Facebook group that read in part, “Itis our pleasure to invite the kids in our communities to come out and join us for an afternoon of finding rocks!" A photo ofa flyer included details of a kid-friendly rock hunt including time, date, and location. ‘Another example from this category described the inclusion of non-residents, an idea which surfaced on more than one occasion with different members. This example, posted by Christine R. reads, “My brother messaged me from Austin that he wanted to contribute to his hometown happenings and send my kids some fun, silly face rocks for them to hide. Here's the loot he mailed us.” Christine's brother, Mathew N., then posted in the group: “Here's my rocks. Nothing special, just silly little monster faces. I'm going to mail them to my sister and she and her kids will hide them for me." Each of these posts contained photos of the rocks that Mathew painted with monster faces on them. Other posts in this category included information seeking posts concerning the group. Inone example, Josh T- originally posted, “Hey what's up with everyone finding rocks, can ‘me and my kids play, where are y'all looking for rocks at.” One minute later Josh received a response from Rachel A. who said, “Any & everywhere! Please join in!” This conversation TEXAS SPEECH COMMUNICATION JOURNAL 63 continued between Josh and Rachel with Josh disclosing that he has four kids and he is going to ask them if they would like to play. Other members encouraged Josh and told him that rocks would be hidden in the city where he lives the next day. His question also ‘seemingly resulted in new hiding opportunities in new parts of the county for rock painters. Discussion Brazoria County “Rocks!” offers a unique example of the opportunity for social media ‘and geographic location intertwine through creative intervention. In the exploration of placemaking, this study builds on the conversation by suggesting that places might be injected with new enactments of behaviors as a result of social media. In the exploration of social media, this study adds to the literature suggesting that social media can intersect with physical spaces and territories by building a sense of place virtually, if not also geographically. ‘Asa creator of community, the Facebook group for Brazoria County “Rocks!” functions to facilitate interactions between members of the same geographic community. The themes that emerged from the data indicate that groups such as those found on Facebook form communities and affect change in the world around them. Groups like Brazoria County “Rocks!” seemingly constitute functional communities within both county lines and the borders of the Facebook group. ‘The four themes that emerged from the study of the Facebook group speak to a variety of community connections. Mission Orientation unites members in a singular purpose. ‘Tactics explains the rules and procedures of participation. Spreadability opens the group beyond its borders to function as an inclusive subset of the county's population. Personal Connection suggests that members are willing to self-disclose and enact behaviors of camaraderie and purposeful interaction within the group. On the surface level, these four data points read as a good model for group communication. However, a careful analysis of these data points reveals that the characteristics of the county as a location undergirds the connections that exist, pushing this group communication toward a relationship with place. ‘When these four themes are compared to the four components of placemaking, they bear some striking similarities, and some intriguing differences. Placemaking’s first component is orientation to the history of a site. In the case of Brazoria County “Rocks!” the work of mission orientation reinscribes the history of the county from that which is historical toward a sense of pride. Public art installations do this same work of rewriting the history of a site to make it more approachable. In this case, the rewriting is behavioral, connecting members through the pursuit of art. ‘The second component of placemaking, connection, describes the place's ability to offer signs and symbols in its design to inform users. Brazoria County “Rocks!” uses its Facebook page to do just that, and the tactics category speaks directly to this effort. Interestingly, tactics are shared by the page administrators, but they are also created and CC | 64 Mearthur, LA. & Jauregui A shared by everyday users, suggesting that digital placemaking might offer a fluidity of connection perhaps more flexible than that of physical sites. ‘The third component of placemaking, direction, describes the ways that-users find their way around a place. In this Facebook group, painters shared thelr rocks and clues about where they were hidden. Likewise, finders shared their discoveries and pointed ‘others toward other hidden rocks in adjacent areas. These user-generated acts of direction connect the user to the place differently than we might expect in a public art installation. Ina town square, directions might include a path by which a visitor can best view historical markers, ora chronologically-ordered array of events. In Brazoria County “Rocks!” the place is quite large, and yet the spreadability theme suggests that people around the 24-city ‘county can all share in the experience of place together, through a similar hunt wherever they are. This public art embedded by users across the county allows the work of direction to occur in the digital gathering site of the Facebook page. ‘The fourth component of placemaking, animation, concerns the behaviors and actions that inhabitants exhibit in their use of place. In Brazoria County “Rocks!” the actions of self-disclosure, publie praise, and interpersonal connection are enacted by people across the county who come together digitally. This is a fascinating reinscription of the animation process, suggesting that the act of being in a place together can occur across vast swaths of space, connecting people and places regardless of distance and synchronicity. ‘These illustrations of the themes from the Facebook group are not meant to be an exact reinscription of placemaking. Instead, they serve as an entry point for the application of existing theories about space and place to the variety of emerging digital, augmented, and hybridized places that people encounter. As digital technologies continue to advance, these theories hold great potential for expanding our understanding of the ways we might interact with people through technology. Given that the Brazoria County “Rocks!” movernent only began on August 10, 2016, the relative longevity of such a group remains unknown. However, outside the scope of this study’s data set, it is pethaps worthy of note that when portions of Brazoria County ‘were evacuated during the historic floods of Hurricane Harvey in August 2017, the Brazoria County “Rocks!” Facebook group continued to be a site of social support and encouragement among its members, Limitations and Future Study Future research can continue to explore the connections between geographic proximity and digital community. The Brazoria County “Rocks!” movement is dependent on (1) participation through painting, hiding, hunting, and sharing in any number of combinations, and (2) participation in the social media campaign on Facebook. Therefore, cone limitation of this study is that it can only assess the role of the Facebook group in the community building process if and when residents post and share their participation. Group members will need to continuously document activity to keep the group active and ‘TEXAS SPEECH COMMUNICATION JOURNAL 65 ‘members interested. Another limitation of this study is the purposefully short time frame analyzed. To measure the sustained impact ofa movement such as Brazoria County “Rocks!” in its community both locally and globally, researchers will need to conduct studies across longer periods of time. Factors to consider might include sustained membership, participation, post volume, and integration of new members. A third limitation is the geography of the location studied. County size, resident demographics, and the urban- rural divide are only some of the factors that may impact group participation. Studies of similar Facebook groups that connect people in geographic proximity would be beneficial in understanding the nuances of digital augmentations of geographic community. ‘The contributions of this study are three-fold, First, this study establishes grounded theory as a vehicle for the analysis of extant texts on social media. Applying the strategies of Charmaz. (2006) and her interpretations of Strauss & Corbin’s methodology, this study demonstrates a process for social media analysis as a strategy for understanding the connections between social media and society. Second, this study interjects placemaking into the conversation concerning hybridized and augmented spaces. In this case, augmentation is built on each user’s decision to connect with neighbors inside Brazoria County digitally as well as geographically. 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