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SASA Research Series #1: Social Media (2 of 8)

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

This week, we bring to you the second post of SASA Research Blog Series #1.

The intention of Series #1 (Social Media Utilization for Engagement of Humanities-Based Non-Profit Audiences: Opportunities, Models, and Barriers) was to develop research that may assist evidence-based strategy for non-profit organizations and other audiences intending to maximize their online presence. Studies have been categorized into posters according to subtopics relevant to SASA, from broad introductions to specific approaches such as platform-dependent content. This post (2 of 8) is titled Barriers to Social Media Use in the Humanities.

The first post of the series examined the benefits of social media use in humanities-oriented non-profits. However, a successful online presence is not always easy to achieve. The general impression in the media is that there are widespread reservations towards the intersection of social media and academic institutions: “Everything that social media communication represents- immediacy, impermanence, collectivism- is contrary and harmful to the thoughtfulness, permanence and individualistic experiences necessary to humanities discourse” (Adamek, 2010). There is a gatekeeping stigma, with emotional factors involving sacrality in the field of humanities, and personal and institutional reputation and values. Further factors include policy conflicts, pedagogical issues, privacy concerns, all of which are complex structures that have and will continue to require years of discussion, proposal and approval. After all, discussion and education in the humanities require room for nuance and complex thinking, which are elements not often associated with social media.

Though these many barriers may sound discouraging, instead of focusing on whether social media should have a place in the humanities at all, the focal point should be on how scholars can overcome said barriers and connect with a broader, more accessible audience. Social media should complement rather than compete with traditional media forms. Though social media might not be able to adequately compete with the research forms that have traditionally shaped the humanities, it can still complement them. For example, social media content can heavily influence consumers’-- and thus students’-- views towards organizations and societal structures (Smith and Gallicano, 2015). If academic institutions can create a social media-incorporated curriculum that balances education and entertainment values, dense materials of history, philosophy, and more might be presented in a more accessible and relevant manner.

When it comes to nonprofits and organizations in the humanities, there are also complex elements of engagement to consider for effective social media usage. Organizations that either exclusively post about themselves or post unrelated content are “bemoaned” by millennials, but companies whose content is “interactive or funny” – as opposed to strictly “information-based” – are more appealing (Smith and Gallicano). Consumers associate engagement with “using the company,” and they are more likely to follow a company if they can get something in return, whether promotional (i.e., coupons and special offers) or pro-social (i.e., the satisfaction that comes with supporting a social mission with which you agree).

Studies also show that social networking tools are increasingly being used between academics as well, to “enhance scholarly communication by strengthening relationships, facilitating collaboration among peers, publishing and sharing research products, and discussing research topics in open and public formats” (Manca and Ranieri). These tools are enabling academics to more easily connect and exchange information with others. Facebook, for instance, is popular among scholars as a tool to keep in touch with colleagues. Non-profit organizations, too, have been using Facebook to engage stakeholders. After all, in order to better involve supporters, it is important to provide contact information such as an e-mail address to an organizational representative (71% of non-profits) or an organizational phone number (9%). Further crucial points of contact include message boards (44%), current volunteer opportunity lists (13%), and of course, a site for donations (13%).

Today, many teachers and professors have positive attitudes toward integrating social media into teaching, but do not have tangible plans due to low returns compared to risk, and incompatibility with current practices. Higher perceived risk and external pressure serve as a barrier to adopting social media usage in an educational context, though Stefania Manca and Maria Ranieri found that over 40% of faculty at an Italian university used one or more tools for teaching on at least a monthly basis. As attitudes begin to shift, the future of social media use in the humanities seems optimistic.

While there is still plenty of room for development, social media is gradually securing its role in the realm of academia, both in classrooms and in non-profits. The goal, however, should not be to replace the conventional papers, lectures, and e-mails that facilitate communication in the humanities but to supplement it. Especially in the field of Ancient Studies, which is heavily rooted in traditionalism, the transition to social media will not be easy, but understanding its barriers will prove to be vital when creating content to increase engagement.

Research Performed By Emma Renz

Written By Justin Rosenthal

Edited By Yuna Kim



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