The world has its heads down, and the minds of the masses are being temporally and spatially shifted, as social media continues to alter the way in which we live. New media and technologies have completely changed ways of human interaction and subsequently offer new innovative potentials and superfluous human roadblocks. This semester, the Integrated Media 2 course attempted to take a hold of social media and bring new meanings and understandings in facilitated and constructed online interactions that resulted in online publications. The unpredictable nature of the cyber parameters made for interesting results, and forced myself to engage in deep contextual analyses in order to move forward in the multifaceted task at hand. In many ways the three areas of discourse, (the discovery, live and build phases) provided structure for content and reflective practices, and led to a stronger comprehension of the aims of intended function.
The overarching theme of On The Road initially presented itself as a burden but developed into something that could be grasped and thereafter flourish. My early resistances lay in my lack of prior success or experience with using multifarious social media platforms as a means to promote a cause and receive contributions and engagement from other users. After coming to terms with the broad nature of the theme, the stimulating dynamic of the group triggered my creative side, and consequently offered a strong passion for the assignment. It felt like the familiarity with sites such as Facebook, worked in my favour in terms of being able to derive a better perspective on approaching the task. However, having comparatively less experience in using Tumblr and Twitter did not harm my inspiration, as I was aware of their manageability and potential to connect. Whilst ideas are often scrapped after further consideration, the initial intentions of basing our online magazine around the life of a taxi driver remained on the agenda. In deciding to have users contribute stories of their own taxi experience, we reached our first critical point. The importance of developing and maintaining both a like-ability and entertainment factor in the magazine and social media interactions affected how the brief was fleshed out. A clearer purpose was granted to both the co-creators, and the users, as well as myself by giving a persona to the taxi driver, and making it the centre of the magazine’s universe. In principle the original Russian immigrant character of Linka Blotski would offer aspects of liveness, association and humour. Setting off to construct a means of interaction, it was agreed to use the Facebook page as a means of submission for the stories and ideas, use the personalised Linka Twitter and Facebook accounts for relaying her character, and the Tumblr as the collated whole that would form the online magazine. I experienced both positivity and doubt in using a character and developing ‘friend’ profiles for Linka, as it was difficult to ascertain how the public would respond to a level of misguided truth. Therefore it was highly necessary to develop the character’s background and promote a like-ability around Linka’s existence. Testing the waters in the discovery phase, each of the group members submitted their own stories to the Facebook and developed them into stories as if they were for the magazine. Whilst the magazine brief was to involve a number of textures, we were predominantly focussed on the textual basis at this point. After avidly constructing a world for our magazine and corresponding character, and setting up example posts for users to acknowledge, we set about initiating the live phase.
After Linka went live, we were inundated with comments on the Facebook page recounting personal taxi stories, which we could later incorporate into the Linka On The Road online magazine. Nonetheless it is worth reflecting that a large selection of people who posted stories on the page were typically friends of one of the team members. After a matter of days we’d already received more than enough input to create stories, and this consequently presented a challenge to introduce other ways of interaction and communication with the users to stimulate views and build the audience. I found an essential factor in understanding where to take the process to be time; more pertinently, giving the users time. Much like the viral campaigns of the modern era, Linka Blotski spread throughout a number of social sectors in the Facebook network, and became a name that a distant friend of a friend might bring up in discussion. People began to friend request Linka, some due to curiosity, others through recommendation. The character of Linka Blotski was the foundation of our assignment and solution to our creative hesitancies. Having a fictional character played with the notion of social media privacy and deceit issues, yet also gained intrigue through the varied senses of believability and entertainment. Linking the Twitter and Tumblr accounts to Facebook saved time in re-posting the same content and attempted to direct Facebook users to the other platforms. As the live phase progressed however, we found that it was in fact doing the opposite and inadvertently encouraged the user to remain interacting through the one social medium.
Throughout the build phase we endeavoured to deal with the issue of expanding our audience to Tumblr and Twitter, but I think more could have been done to increase user interaction and development. Through Twitter, trends and topical issues were incorporated into Linka’s Tweets in hopes people would discover an entertainment factor and interest to respond to. This resulted in a number of unexpected followers, including other taxi drivers working overseas. The foreign nature of Linka was utilised to build to the collective of already established communities, however looking back I would have been more forthright in following a selection of random and purposeful people to stimulate growth. On the Tumblr we followed other users (who would in turn follow us), in hopes that they would re-blog our content and eventually follow our online publication. I believe the inadequacy lay in the re-blog potential of our posts, which were long, complex and not wholly universal to outsiders. It was through these actions and reflections that I reached another critical point in the process. In addition to maintaining the interest of the users on Facebook, and gaining some for Tumblr I suggested expanding the ‘brand’ of Linka to webisodes. Webisodes have the potential to use the tools of television program structures to reach distant audiences online, and I felt our concept lended itself well to the film and television format in regards to exploring the narrative of the character. It also became event more imperative to preserve the interest and attention of the already loyal fan base. Shooting Linka On The Road: Episode 1 on the fly solidified the basis for further installments and re-indicated her back-story within a new context. As many novels progress to film to reach mainstream audiences, so too did our assignment. Early positive feedback led to the production of Episode 2 and later Episode 3 and Episode 4. Due to the looming deadline for the assignment and end of university, we shot Episodes 3 and 4 together to eventually be released online after the ‘end date’. I felt my strengths shone through in this area of the assignment, as I directed, filmed and edited each of the episodes, and spent time crafting dialogue to perfection with the collaboration of my other group members. The faith and commitment I have had towards this assignment is unfaltering, and as such intend to stay dedicated to finishing off the story of Linka Blotski, at the least with the release of the final webisodes which leave Linka’s future open.
From the early days of this assignment, online users were apart of the decision making process in how Linka Blotski’s story was developed and conveyed. Earls 2009, explains how co-creation can be an important factor in receiving positive feedback in all areas of the work. Co-creative technologies can be described as, “those that offer assistance in the creation process. People are naturally creative and are almost always more interested in experiences that allow them to create instead of merely participate.” (Schuler 2007, p. 214) In many ways the successes of Linka On The Road stemmed from this awareness of people being more interested in being apart of the work, as rather than just observing. For instance, the dynamic formed from the co-creation in our assignment not only permitted a high morale between group members, but allowed the interactive users and viewership to respond positively as it was all about a creative team effort. Co-creation was evident in the early 2000′s when Nike set up online tools for users to design their own shoes in an attempt to engage customers. This formed new creative boundaries and encouraged workflow and consumer advice in the design process. Another example would be Converse’s online request for customers to create their own video advertisements for the product, which was effective in stimulating brand interest. Through using multiple contributors and collaborators, the sense of the self is diminished and the collective are able to experience both the highs and the lows together. Throughout all stages of the assignment audience responses would be one of the fields in which we monitored the most, exploring different ways of approaching new agents and encouraging interaction. Becker (1989) suggests that audiences typically produce two responses to new offerings; rejection and adaption or integration. We worked on our assignment off of the belief that, “audience change is intrinsically bound to the content of new media.” (Becker 1989, p. 9) The users of social media are quite malleable in the manner, which they have flexible qualities in adapting to new means of online content and interaction, as relentlessly evolving technologies continue to push the boundaries of online user commitment.
My journey with this assignment has in all facets been On The Road. I commenced it unaware of where the trip would take me, and found myself facing many roadblocks and stop signs along the way. Utilising alternative routes and building new roads for exploration allowed me to test my skills, confidence and team ethic, ultimately leading to the ideal destination, with more many more adventures and opportunities on the horizon.
Becker, L & Schoenbach, K 1989, ‘Anticipating Audience Behaviours’, in Audience responses to media diversification: coping with plenty, Routledge, USA, pp. 9-28.
Earls, M 2009, Herd: How to Change Mass Behaviour by Harnessing Our True Nature, John Wiley and Sons, England.
O’Regan, T, Balnaves, M & Sternberg, J 2002, Mobilising the Audience, illustrated, University of Queensland Press, Australia, pp. 245-249.
Schuler, D 2007, ‘Cultural Institutions and Co-creativity’, in Online communities and social computing, illustrated, Springer, Germany, pp. 213-215.