Visualising the Social Media Conversations of a National Information Technology Professional Association

Visualising the Social Media Conversations of a National Information Technology Professional Association

Stuart Palmer (Deakin University, Geelong, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/IJHCITP.2019010103
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Social media systems are important for professional associations (PAs), providing new ways for them to interact with their members and stakeholders. Evaluation of the impact of social media is not straightforward. Here text analytics, specifically multidimensional scaling visualisation, is proposed as an approach for the characterisation of the large scale ‘conversations' occurring between an information and communication technology PA and its stakeholders via the Twitter social media system. In the case presented, there was found to be a significant level of congruence between the corresponding visualisations of tweets from the PA, and tweets to/about the PA, although differences were also observed. The new method proposed and piloted here offers a way for organisations to conceptualise, identify, capture and visualise the large-scale, ephemeral, text conversations about themselves on Twitter, and to assist them with key strategic uses of social media.
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Online social media systems have created new ways for individuals to communicate, share information and interact with a wide audience (Lee, Reinicke, Sarkar, & Anderson, 2015; Suddaby, Saxton, & Gunz, 2015). For organisations, social media provide new avenues for communication and collaboration with their stakeholders (Alfaro, Bhattacharyya, & Watson-Manheim, 2013). Professionals are also using social media to connect with other individuals who share similar interests (Bacigalupe, 2011). For information and communication technology (ICT) professionals and organisations, there is a natural affinity for the use of online social media systems (Johnson, 2015; Pramod & Bharathi, 2016).

PAs have been using online communication networks for information sharing prior to the emergence of modern social media systems (Wasko & Faraj, 2005). However, the rapid adoption of social media and mobile communications has dramatically expanded connectivity options for PAs, and indeed has changed the role and nature of PAs (Dawson, 2016). Suddaby et al. (2015) note that, in North America, the social media activity of the ‘Big 4’ accounting firms is contributing to the domain expansion of accounting work at least as much as any activity of the relevant PAs. While fundamental professional formation and development continues to be provided by formal learning environments, such as universities, social media have created new forms of flexible and distributed professional learning (Dale, 2016). Social media provide a knowledge diffusion infrastructure to connect the ‘push’ of information from PAs to the ‘pull’ demand for information from practitioners and the public (Dearing & Kreuter, 2010). The impact of social media systems on PAs continues to be significant, and while there is substantial literature relating to the general use of social media by organisations (Alfaro et al., 2013; Culnan, McHugh, & Zubillaga, 2010), and the use of social media by professional associations (PAs) is well documented descriptively (Dawson, 2016), the research-based literature on the effective use of social media by PAs is currently much more limited.

The potential benefits of social media for PAs do not accrue automatically. Micieli and Tsui (2015) observed that, for the ophthalmology profession internationally, related patient advocacy groups were more active in social media than professional organisations. PA members may not understand social media, or they may be concerned about confidentiality or privacy issues (Bacigalupe, 2011). PA members may find the ephemeral nature of social media posts, or the fact that interaction/activity levels can be low until a critical mass of users become connected, do not suit their intended purpose(s) for social media engagement (Colley, 2014). Social media continue to evolve - an investigation into the use of social media systems by library and information systems (LIS) professionals found that, over the period 2006-2009, the use of blogs by LIS PAs declined by 50 per cent, and this was attributed to the emergence of newer social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter (Torres-Salinas, Cabezas-Clavijo, Ruiz-Pérez, & López-Cózar, 2011). There is evidence that the benefits to organisations of involvement in social media are enhanced when they actively engage with it (Alfaro et al., 2013; Culnan et al., 2010; Gallagher, Psaroulis, Ferguson, Neubeck, & Gallagher, 2016), however many authors note the need for additional research on the use of social media systems by PAs (Bacigalupe, 2011; Colley, 2014; Gallagher et al., 2016; Hemsley & Dann, 2014; Suddaby et al., 2015).

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