Breaking the Digital Divide: Using Technology to Improve the Lives of Older Adults

Posted on: July 13, 2017

Shelia CottenAs we age, our ability to learn and retain new information diminishes. So much so, that by the time we reach our 80s and 90s, a skill picked up easily by a toddler – like tapping and swiping on a mobile phone - can seem too daunting to undertake. Frustrated and defeated, many older adults simply give up trying to learn new skills.

That’s where Shelia Cotten, Ph.D. steps in. A professor in the Department of Media and Information in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences (ComArtSci), Cotten researches technology use across the life course. Her goal is to improve the lives of older adults by closing the digital divide and helping them learn to use technologies to improve their lives.

Training Older Adults

Elderly man using computer tabletIn a recent study, Cotten and her team spent 5-years working with 19 different assisted and independent living facilities training older adults to use computers and the internet. The training lasted for 8-weeks in each facility, with 2 training sessions per week plus an additional office hours session.

The team started with the basics – from turning on a computer, to conducting an internet search, to sending an email.

“A lot of times, older adults have had no experience with computers in their lives,” said Cotten. “So, we have to start very basic. We started early teaching them to use email because findings from our prior work showed that older adults really enjoy that one-to-one communication/interaction.”

The participants also learned how to search for health information, and to critically evaluate the information they found.

“Because a lot of older adults have more health problems than younger aged groups [the question is] ‘How do you find information on the latest prescription that you’ve been given?’ and ‘Is there a conflict with some other medicine that you’re taking?’ We try to help them to be more critical consumers of information,” said Cotten.

Improving Quality of Life

The team also observed the mental health and quality of life benefits the residents received while working with the research team, including impacts on depression, isolation and loneliness.

“A lot of times as people age into their 80s or 90s, their partners or spouses have died, their children may be living far away, their health tends to decline… the combination of those factors

leads them to be more isolated, have higher rates of loneliness, have higher depression levels as they move into older adulthood,” Cotten told us.

According to Cotten, more opportunities for interaction and exchange of social support often lead to more positive outcomes for older adults. Because of that, Cotten focused her study on training older adults in a face-to-face environment, teaching them ways to use technology to connect with their present as well as their past.

“We found the interaction is very beneficial for older adults in general,” said Cotten. “But, over and above [we found] that the training and technology usage had positive effects. Teaching older adults how to use computers and the internet had positive impacts on their quality of life.”

From finding their childhood homes using Google Street View, to watching their favorite classic television shows or listening to music from earlier generations on Hulu and YouTube, the participants were able to see that many of their memories still live on.

Findings of the Study

At the end of the 5-year study, Cotten and her team found that their work was a success.

“We saw very positive effects in terms of teaching older adults in these communities to cross the digital divide and use computers and the internet successfully,” Cotten recalled. “They had reduced loneliness, better social integration, and lower depression. And many of the positive results tended to persist over time.”

The group even wrote a book on designing technology training programs for older adults in continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs). The book is intended to help additional facilities work with their residents in the future, continuing to improve their quality of life.

Cotten said the team wrote the book “To provide the latest research- and design-based recommendations for how to design and implement technology training programs for older adults in CCRCs. Our approach concentrates on providing useful best practices for CCRC owners, CEOs and activity directors, as well as practitioners and system designers working with older adults to enhance their quality of life and educators studying older adults. Although the guidelines are couched in the context of CCRCs, they will have broader-based implications for training older adults to use computers, tablets and other technologies.”

More to Come

Cotten has dedicated her career to exploring innovative ways to use technology to improve people’s lives and just finished her fourth year at MSU. This summer, she is conducting a large-scale survey of older adults across the U.S. about different aspects of technology, including digital assistance and even autonomous vehicles.

“You know Alexa? And Siri? We want to get their perspectives on these technologies. There isn’t a lot known about these new technologies coming out and older adults’ perceptions of them and how they might use them to improve their quality of life,” said Cotten. “Autonomous vehicles have such a huge potential for older adults who have mobility problems and can’t drive anymore… Using autonomous vehicles has the potential to significantly impact their independence and have positive impacts on their quality of life.”

In addition to research, Cotten also teaches classes in ComArtSci, is the Director for the Sparrow/MSU Center for Innovation and Research, the Director of Trifecta and was recently promoted to MSU Foundation Professor.

“I love being in the Department of Media and Information and being at MSU; my whole department is focused on how can we use media and technology to improve people’s lives and the larger world. It’s a great opportunity to be in a very interdisciplinary department and have great collaborators who are all interested in different aspects of technology, media, or information. I love it here,” said Cotten.

View more of Cotten's work >> 

By Nikki W. O’Meara

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Filter Bubbles: ComArtSci Professor Researches News Consumption Trends

Posted on: June 22, 2017

With all of the information we have access to these days, you’d think we’d be exposed to a variety of topics. ComArtSci’s own Winson Peng, associate professor of communication, is here to tell you that you might not be receiving as much information as you thought. Peng conducted research on how individuals’ news consumption has become less diverse. In other words, he discovered that people are likely to view similar information over time. Winson Peng

Peng presented his research at the conference of the International Communication Association this May in San Diego. His presentation was titled, “Structurally embedded news consumption on mobile news applications,” and is a collaboration between Peng and other two researchers in China.

His Findings

Peng’s goal was to discover and understand the patterns of human communication behavior. He did so by mining large amounts of digital traces on social media.

“In the study, the digital traces refer to users’ behavioral records on mobile news applications,” said Peng. “Our dataset includes 29 million news views from about 30,000 users in a 6-month time span using a popular mobile news application in China.”

Peng discussed “micro-information environments,” or environments with a very narrow range of information. Many social media sites take note of what we like to view, and what we try to avoid. This in turn leads us to a more personalized set of information.

“Voluminous and diverse information is available on social media for individuals to consume,” said Peng. “However, the recommendation algorithms deployed on many social media platforms will create an individualized micro-information environment. This will lead to the formation of “filter bubbles” for news app users, which will expose users of social media to more and more homogeneous information over time.”

Peng was surprised to find that with all of the information we have access to today, people actually end up seeing less and less of it.

With the popularity of social media, we assumed that we are now embedded in a much richer information environment than we were in the past,” said Peng. “However, our consumption of news information is much more limited.”

Moving Forward

For future research, Peng hopes to take a more detailed study of the evolution of news content and the dynamics of news consumption. He notes that his current findings could help shape the way in which mobile news applications present information.

Mobile news applications should be aware of this narrowing trend of users’ news interests,” said Peng. “To avoid the loss of users, mobile news services should maintain the diverse news interests of their users.”

News Wide Photo

Peng believes that in order for us to receive the most accurate information, we must be aware of many different categories of news. This way, we are learning about more diverse issues, rather than just one specific area.

“A recommendation system can set a minimum number of news categories to be displayed for each user,” said Peng. “Furthermore, mobile news services can investigate news interests and develop the potential news interests of users that are beyond their news viewing behavior and personal registration information.”

With all of the information out there, it’s impossible to consume it all. But next time you think you’re catching up on the latest news, make sure you’re widening your search.

By Katie Kochanny

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ComArtSci Researcher Wins Sataloff Award for Young Investigators

Posted on: June 15, 2017

Every year, one voice researcher around the world receives the prestigious Sataloff Award for Young Investigators. This year, the award went to Maryam Naghibolhosseini, a postdoctoral research associate for the Voice and Speech Lab at ComArtSci. She is the first researcher at MSU to be honored with the award, co-sponsored by Elsevier and The Voice Foundation.MAward

“Getting this award and being recognized by the voice community at this early stage in my career means a lot to me,” Naghibolhosseini said.

Researching mechanisms of sound production

Her research focuses on how vocal folds produce sound and how they could possibly lead to voice abnormalities in people with voice disorders. She is working on developing new methodologies for capturing images of the vocal fold function.

“If you put your hand on your throat and say ‘aaaaa’, you can feel the vibrations of your vocal folds while producing sounds,” Naghibolhosseini said.

Using innovative technology to revolutionize clinical voice practice

Naghibolhosseini uses data obtained from a high-speed video camera connected to a flexible fiberoptic endoscope to record the motion of the vocal folds during running speech. The camera takes 4,000-20,000 images per second. Her research is unique because it is the first study that uses recordings of high-speed videoendoscopy during connected speech to study laryngeal mechanisms of sound production.

“My research can revolutionize clinical voice practice,” said Naghibolhosseini. “My ultimate goal is the clinical implementation of high-speech videoendoscopy in connected speech that would be beneficial for people with voice disorders.”

Additionally, Naghibolhosseini believes her research can help speech-language-pathologists and otolaryngologists to develop new therapeutic, medicinal or surgical treatment strategies.

Finding a home at MSU

Naghibolhosseini conducts research under Dimitar Deliyski, MSU Foundation Professor and Chair. She enjoys working under his mentorship and values his global perspective on voice research and emerging research areas.

“He is an effective educator and communicator, always thinking positively towards finding optimal solutions,” Naghibolhosseini said. “Beyond his leadership and mentoring skills, Dimitar has an incredible personality, and I have learned a lot from him in work and life over the past two years.”

Naghibolhosseini began working in the ComArtSci Voice and Speech Lab in 2015.

“My experience at MSU has been extraordinary,” Naghibolhosseini said. “MSU provides unique opportunities for conducting collaborative and synergetic cutting-edge research. I am delighted to be a part of the MSU family.”

In addition to research, Naghibolhosseini co-mentors graduate students and stays up to date on department activities, including faculty search, teaching responsibilities, bylaws and policy making.

Naghibolhosseini hopes to further develop her career in the area of voice research because of its scientific challenges and potentials for developing mathematical models and statistical analysis.

“Beyond its research and academic attractions, working in this area will allow me to better serve people through employing my engineering and scientific skillsets in solving health-related problems, particularly people with voice disorders,” Naghibolhosseini said.

By Rianna Middleton

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“Just One More Episode”: ComArtSci Professors Research Binge-Watching

Posted on: June 14, 2017

We’ve all been there: cozy on the couch, our favorite show on Netflix, telling ourselves that this is the last episode we’ll watch. But before we know it, we’re five episodes in and can’t seem to stop. We’ve just fallen into the trap that is binge watching.

Morgan Ellithorpe, assistant professor of advertising and public relations, partnered with Allison Eden, assistant professor of communication, to conduct research on the effects of binge watching. The two presented their findings at the 67th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association (ICA).

A lot of people engage in binge-watching - that is watching more than 3 episodes of a show in a row,” said Eden. “But it is relatively new in terms of being available to everyone, due to streaming technology like Netflix. We are trying to understand if there is something different about binge watching than other types of viewing behavior, and if it can have an impact on your health.”

Allison Eden2

Allison Eden

What They Found

Ellithorpe and Eden’s research found that binge watching can have an impact on a person’s health.

“Our research suggests that binge watching is associated with detrimental health behaviors such as foregoing sleep in order to continue watching, selecting unhealthy meals, unhealthy snacking and sedentary behavior (i.e., sitting too long, less exercise),” said Ellithorpe. “Other researchers have found similar effects, including a possible link with heart disease.

Morgan_Ellithorpe_Wide

Morgan Ellithorpe

Though their data points to negative health effects, the researchers acknowledge the positive effects as well.

“Entertainment can do a lot of positive things for you, beyond just laughing and enjoying it in the moment,” said Eden. “It can keep you company when you feel lonely, help you recover from a long day of work and take you outside yourself to experience another character’s perspective. We see a lot of these positive effects generally when studying entertainment.”

Interestingly enough, these positive effects are even stronger after one has been binge watching.

Importantly, we see some evidence that these positive outcomes of media entertainment – enjoyment, immersion and character involvement – are stronger after binge watching than they are after watching TV the traditional way (i.e., one episode per week),” said Ellithorpe.  

Both researchers point out the fact that binge watching is not to be confused with problematic television use. Ellithorpe notes that problem viewing has elements of behavioral addiction, indicating continued viewing despite sometimes serious consequences. This may include issues such as inability to cut down on TV time, displacement of other activities, withdrawal and continued use despite knowing that the activity is causing problems. Ellithorpe makes it clear that although binge watching can sometimes touch on some of these behaviors, it does not generally make it to the level of problematic viewing.

“We have some evidence that although on the face of it, binge watching for hours on end seems like a potentially negative behavior that is almost akin to an addiction, it actually is not the same as problematic, addictive television use,” said Ellithorpe. “Problematic television use is worrisome for the way it impedes other aspects of one’s life – from social contact to mental health. It is important (and relieving, given its popularity!) that binge watching is different from problematic television use.”

One Step Further

Ellithorpe and Eden are interested in the overall effects of media, and more specifically how it can affect a person’s health. In terms of binge watching, they realized what a common practice it has become, and wanted to further their research in the area.

“From an entertainment standpoint, it’s a really interesting question to ask if the form of media consumption can alter the response and effects,” said Eden. “Of course, from a personal perspective, many of us have certainly struggled against the desire to watch ‘just one more’ episode of a show. Also, with Morgan’s interest in health outcomes from entertainment, and my past work on guilty couch potatoes, it seemed like a natural next step to take.”

Eden adds that their research was welcomed by many at the ICA conference. Since binge watching has become more popular over the past few years, thanks to streaming sites such as Netflix, many people were able to relate to their findings.

“It’s a common practice,” said Eden. “So people were pretty interested in finding out how best to manage this behavior and if there are any negative effects.”

Next time you’re tempted to binge watch, remember that although it may be good for your mood, it could also be detrimental to your health.

By Katie Kochanny

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ComArtSci Professor Honored with Gene Burd Outstanding Dissertation Award

Posted on: June 8, 2017

RM Award WideRachel Mourao, assistant professor of journalism at ComArtSci, received the Gene Burd Outstanding Dissertation Award from the International Communication Association (ICA) this year.

“It’s very special,” said Mourao. “You spend a year working on a project, exclusively working on a dissertation, so it’s nice to know that in some way you did good work. It’s a nice way to finish a cycle.”

Mourao was a journalism P.h.D student at the University of Texas at Austin when she met Gene Burd, an associate professor emeritus. She studied under Steve Reese, the associate dean for academic affairs for the Moody College of Communication.

Mourao’s dissertation research focused on a wave of protests in Brazil from 2013-2015, which started out small, but evolved into massive right-wing demonstrations with elite support. She studied how journalists navigated this transformation to cover the protests, what influenced their work and how they made sense of the political strife.

Mourao’s findings contradict literature gathered in the U.S. and Europe that found news portrayal of protesters to be negative.

“The stories focus on spectacle and violence, and some argue that comes from an ideological resistance that journalists have to protesters,” Mourao said. “The story I found was different— it was the opposite of that.”

The majority of the reporters in Mourao’s study were against the demonstrations, especially in 2015, yet their coverage was supportive of the protests.

“It’s really indicative of Brazil— what really drove negative or positive portrayal of protesters was how aligned the protesters were with official sources,” Mourao said.

For example, if there were official sources, meaning elected officials or those appointed by elected officials, that were supportive of the protesters, the coverage of the demonstration would be supportive, regardless of the journalist's personal views.

From Reporting to Research

Mourao was born in Brazil and worked there for several years as a reporter, where she witnessed many of the problems she has encountered in her research. She said her research is a way for her to give back to Brazil.

“I knew I wanted to write something that would shed light on some of the issues faced by the press in developing countries, which are sometimes different and sometimes similar to issues faced by the press in the United States and Europe, where most studies focus,” Mourao said. “My main goal was to show that some of the processes that we take for granted here or that seem really evident in the literature produced in developed countries do not always work the same way in less developed nations.”

Mourao said there is lot of criticism of the press in Brazil, such as claims that the media self-censors and their coverage is against those under the poverty line. As a journalist, she did not see this criticism reflected in the newsroom. Now, her research aims to explain why and how journalists’ coverage reflects the beliefs of those in power.  

The Next Step: Broadening the Research

Mourao used content analysis to examine the way the mainstream press covered the demonstrations and compared that to survey data she gathered from journalists. She also has a third element that she hasn’t used yet— the journalists’ tweets.

“I want to know if the coverage they sent on social media is different than what they produced for mainstream newspapers,” Mourao said, “If it is, then there are different norms and expectations of social media. If you are producing a type of content for your employer, and then you are putting out something else for your personal brand, then there are some influences there. So that’s what’s next for me.”

Mourao’s studies focused on the mainstream press, elite journalists and big newspapers from the urban centers of Brazil. She hopes to expand her research by studying how journalists in the poor regions of Brazil cover protests.

“We don’t have a lot of access to [the journalists],”said Mourao. “I have a lot of access to them via survey, but the stories they write are harder to get.”

Mourao said she is still working on dividing the dissertation into smaller studies. She presented two of the papers at the 67th Annual Conference of the ICA. She will be presenting one more at the 2017 Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC).

By Rianna N. Middleton

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ComArtSci Professor Researches Media’s Influence on Teens

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Morgan_Ellithorpe_WideMorgan Ellithorpe, assistant professor of advertising and public relations at ComArtSci, partnered with colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania to study how risky behaviors portrayed in the media, such as alcohol and tobacco use, sex and violence, are repeated by teenagers.

Take for example, shows like Empire, Narcos and Game of Thrones. Ellithorpe said teenagers see their favorite characters drinking alcohol, doing drugs and/or being violent in multiple episodes and come to think that this is normal behavior.

“My job is to figure out which adolescents are more likely to repeat the risky behaviors they see in the media, what kinds of media are more or less likely to influence behavior and what we can do to decrease the likelihood that these kinds of things will transfer from media to adolescent behavior,” Ellithorpe said.

Media Consumption Differences Across Racial and Ethnic Lines

Ellithorpe and her colleagues have published several research papers on the issue and she presented on the topic at the 67th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association (ICA). Ellithorpe said their research has shown that there are racial and ethnic differences in media consumption.

“We know that black, Hispanic and white adolescents watch different kinds and amounts of media, and the media they watch portrays different risk behaviors to different extents,” Ellithorpe said.

For example, Ellithorpe and her colleagues have found that black youth watch more media than their Hispanic or white counterparts and the shows they watch are more likely to include black characters, who are more likely to be involved in sex and alcohol use than white characters. Despite these facts, the team has found that black teenagers seem to be less influenced by media than white teenagers.

Ellithorpe said that, in the past, similar studies did not include media that was relevant to black teenagers, such as television shows with black characters. However, even with the inclusion of this type of media, she has found that black teenagers still show lower levels of media influence than white teenagers. Ellithorpe challenges future research to confirm these findings and help solve the puzzle.

Research Findings Consistent with the CDC

The researchers have also found that drinking alcohol before or during sexual intercourse is common among adolescents and young adults, which is consistent with similar findings by the CDC.

The combination of alcohol use and sexual behavior is the most common behavioral risk combination in television and movies,” Ellithorpe said. “We know that drinking alcohol before sexual behavior increases sexual risk taking and susceptibility to accidental pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, so it is really important to understand the who, when and why of this behavior.”

Hope for the Future

Ellithorpe hopes that her research will positively impact the lives of young people.

“I hope that stakeholders in adolescent health and wellbeing —  from policy-makers to health organizations to physicians and parents — will be able to use this information gleaned from our research to reduce the negative impacts of mediated risk on adolescent behavior,” Ellithorpe said.

In the future, Ellithorpe hopes to explore the role of social media on influencing adolescent behavior.

“Adolescents and young adults are very often posting on social media about television content and we are exploring the possibility that this social media posting could be a way to intervene in the negative influence of television risk behavior,” Ellithorpe said.

Additionally, Ellithorpe hopes to see more research in the area of media targeted at specific racial and ethnic groups, such as Spanish-language programming.

“This is a growing area of scholarship that really needs more research to understand how this media is different from mainstream media, who is watching these kinds of media and the influence exposure to this kind of media has on cognition and behavior,” Ellithorpe said.

By Rianna N. Middleton

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ComArtSci Hosts Third Annual International Summer School Conference

Posted on: June 6, 2017

From May 30th - June 4th, ComArtSci’s Communication Department hosted the 2017 Annual International Summer School conference. The theme for this year’s event was Synchronization in Communication Systems.

Research on synchrony dates back to the 17th century when Dutch scientist Christian Huygen discovered that barely detectable motion in floorboards led pendulums to synchronize, the topic of synchrony has become much more well-known. Synchrony has been used to explain how people's limbs become entrained during dance or military drills, how strangers develop rapport and cooperation and how movements with a virtual character can reduce outgroup prejudice.

The third annual summer school addressed the role of synchrony as a fundamental construct for communication science by bringing together scholars from the fields of communication, computer science, neuroscience, complex systems and cognitive and social psychology. Topics included research in neural, motor, physiological, virtual reality synchrony and communication research. Throughout its five days, the summer school provided advanced training and mentoring for young researchers at the hands of some of the biggest names in synchrony research.

“This is the third year of the conference. The first year was hosted by the University of Cologne, and the second year was hosted by Nanyang Technological University,” said Lindsay Hahn, one of the graduate student coordinators for the Sync Conference. “It's a great opportunity for us to be able to host it this year because we've brought scholars and students in from all over the world to be here, including the U.S., Germany, China and Singapore. In addition, we have gotten the chance to showcase our new motion capture/virtual reality lab (room 29 of ComArtSci) to all attendees.”

A handful of MSU professors presented at the event:

  • John Sherry - Synchronization as a Communication Construct
  • Devin McAuley - A Lifespan Perspective on Entrainment and Attentional Dynamics  

Sync1

  • Jingbo Meng - Synchrony in online health social networks for behavior change
  • Josh Introne - Causal coherence and narrative convergence in online social networks
  • Winson Peng - Convergence and Divergence of Public Attention on Social Media

Over a dozen MSU students also presented at the conference. Hahn encourages students, both inside and outside ComArtSci, to get involved in next year’s conference.

“Information about next year's conference would be posted in the coming months on our twitter account: @syncMSU,” said Hahn. “Interested parties could also email us at syncmsu@gmail.com to be added to a mailing list for updates.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

By Katie Kochanny

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Meditate to Change Your State: MI Professor Publishes RelaxU App

Posted on: December 5, 2016

Just in time to help you keep your New Year’s resolutions, MI Professor Carrie Heeter has published a new meditation app.

RelaxU includes five 10-minute seated meditations: Calming, Favorite Place in Nature, Comfort, Releasing, and Stability. Each has been carefully designed, applying the tools of yoga (mental focus, breathing, gentle movement, and meditation objects) to help you change the state of your system in a desired direction.

relaxu1Three of these meditations were used in a research study by Heeter and colleagues on benefits of meditation for hospice and palliative health care providers. Significant, substantial changes were observed when these meditations were practiced regularly over a 6-week period.  For example, health care providers reported increased ability to manage stress, improved focus, heightened emotional awareness, and more listening to and trusting bodily sensations.

Heeter teaches user experience and serious game design. Since 2013, she has been studying and working with meditation expert/mind-body therapist Dr. Marcel Allbritton to design RelaxU and other cybermeditation experiences.

She values the humbling and sometimes hilarious privilege of working with a content expert who is also her meditation teacher.  Collaboration involves a certain amount of creative tension, exacerbated by the stress of deadlines. But in this case, it was essential to approach every aspect of creating the apps from an appropriate mental state. The state of mind of the creators colors the creation. So Heeter and Allbritton engage in “mindful wrestling,” rather than heated discussions. If she becomes agitated while programming or editing audio she stops (perhaps to do a mediation), resuming when her state is calm.

These meditations are simple tools for novice meditators that help you quickly change the state of your system (mind and body). Though simple, the meditations are highly refined, each on about the tenth iteration.  The designs draw from the science of yoga and meditation, Allbritton’s meditation expertise, Heeter’s user experience, game, and technology design background, extensive user testing, and scientific research.

relaxu

The RelaxU icon

RelaxU meditations allow the individual to have their own experience. You move and breathe at your own pace, moving only as far as is comfortable. Subtle meditation design approaches such as synchronizing gentle movements with inhale and exhale can quickly change the state of the system. Meditation objects are also specific to the person. For example, in the Place in Nature meditation, you are guided to think about a favorite place in nature. The place each person thinks of will be unique to them.

The meditations on the RelaxU app are tools for changing the state of your system. The first time you do one, quite a bit of your attention will be on figuring out what to do.  Returning to that same meditation the next day, your experience can be more focused and deeper. Doing a meditation repeatedly over a period of time exercises and builds mental attention skills.

RelaxU is published by Heeter’s company, Mindtoon Lab. It is available for free on the Apple app store and on Google Play. To find it, search for “Mindtoon Lab” and then scroll down to RelaxU.

Mindtoon™ meditations are not medical interventions. They are potentially helpful tools designed based on Mind-Body Therapy principles, that may or may not be helpful to any particular individual.


carrie-heeter

By Carrie Heeter, PhD

Professor of Media and Information, Michigan State University

Director, Mindtoon Lab

 

By Savannah Swix

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New research explains the roles of social media communicators in organizational settings

Posted on: December 2, 2016

In modern day organizations, social media tools enable companies to gather and disseminate information, engage with their audience and create relationships with multiple communities.

Companies are hiring social media communicators to represent their organization, interact with the public, and speak and publish on behalf of the company due to its newfound necessity.

To understand the roles of social media communicators (SMC) in organizational communication efforts, Serena Carpenter Ph.D, assistant professor of Journalism Innovations in MSU’s School of Journalism, and Alisa Lertpratchya M.A., a doctoral student in MSU’s AD + PR department, applied a variety of research methods.

“I am fascinated with how people working within innovative roles navigate that role,” said Carpenter. “The internet and other new technologies have led to a number of workers working in newly created roles.”

Exploring roles

The first study conducted by Carpenter and Lertpratchya explored role stressors associated with SMCs and how they handled job stress in this recently created position. The purpose of the study was to assess how people holding innovative roles learn and navigate the responsibilities of often ill-defined jobs.

Carpenter and Lertpratchya drew results from qualitative interviews that investigated how this digital workforce contributes to the organization when their role is not well understood.

The interviews revealed that SMCs did not experience conflict as a result of leadership holding multiple expectations of them. Instead, a large portion of SMCs experienced role ambiguity because management and coworkers did not fully understand what they did for the organization.

As a result, SMCs used several tactics and resources for guidance in learning more about their responsibilities. Results showed SMCs navigated the ambiguity by turning to search engines to get questions answered, having a mentor, networking, participating in seminars and training sessions and more.

“In the digital media environment, social media communicators addressed ambiguity by banding together with outside social media experts to help each other advance within their own organizations.” said Carpenter.

While jobs varied for SMCs involved in the study, SMCs overall saw the ambiguity of their role as empowering rather than stressful. In their respective companies, SMCs were regarded as experts because of their ability to use social media to improve campaign efforts, relationships and other communication tactics.

The study concludes that knowledge workers, or SMCs, must regularly learn and share their expertise to manage role ambiguity. But as a whole, the study deduced that social media communicators were not only adept and personable, they were digitally literate and self reliant, too.

Expanding understanding

Carpenter and Lertpratchya conducted a second study to create and define a set of social media communicator roles, leading to the creation of a measure that illuminates what these employees do within an organization.

“The study specifies the various functions of their position,” said Carpenter. “People working in such positions can better understand their job responsibilities and leadership can better understand how to manage digital media workers.”

To understand social media communicator roles, 10 SMCs were interviewed and asked 10 multi-part questions. Following the interviews, the researchers received feedback from social media experts that assessed validity and evaluated their scale. Additionally, Carpenter and Lertpratchya administered a pretest to eight professional communicators and surveyed experts to assess and adjust their questionnaire structure.

As a final step, the two researchers conducted a quantitative survey to professionals under the SMC role.

Roles is a sociological concept, and roles aid social scientists in understanding how multiple publics such as management, colleagues, audiences, and other social media experts influence how they define their role,” said Carpenter.

Defining these roles can help inform those unfamiliar with the various roles and responsibilities of SMCs. The results of this study showed five common general behaviors that describe the roles of SMCs: customer service provider, mobilizer, information disseminator, researcher and community builder.

Read more about the stressors associated with SMCs and the various roles of SMCs through a scale.

By Lily Clark

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Interdisciplinary team led by ComArtSci receives USDA grant to study retail purchase decisions

Posted on: November 14, 2016

vlcsnap-2016-11-11-13h26m20s268The answers behind purchase decisions may lie in the eye of the beholder according to a recently funded interdisciplinary study involving the Michigan State University departments of Advertising and Public Relations and Horticulture.

Beginning early 2017, Professor of Retailing Patricia Huddleston will join Professor of Horticulture Marketing Bridget Behe in leading a student research team that will use eye-tracking technology to investigate how people make product choices—in this case, plants. The two-year project recently received a Federal State Marketing and Improvement Program grant for $136,000 through the United States Departmehuddleston-pat-09132016-3032-2nt of Agriculture.

"I've always been interested in what happens at the moment of truth," Huddleston says. "It's fascinating to looked at what consumers do when they are actually picking a product off a shelf or a rack. The context here are plants, but you can apply this research to any type of product."

Huddleston explains that much of the success of retailing depends on getting things right—or the science of finding the right mix of product assortment, pricing and merchandising that attracts and entices consumers. The recently funded study, she says, will look at how merchandise—specifically selections of herbs or flowering annuals—ispresented at the point of purchase, and how information in displays affects consumer behavior.

The study will be conducted on campus the first year, then migrate to retail settings in mid-Michigan in 2018. Huddleston and Behe will construct displays that vary in product volume and complexity, and then enlist subjects to pick a particular plant for purchase. Participants will wear second-generation Tobii eye-tracking glasses during their retail experience, which enables researchers to gather and analyze data about what shoppers look at, for how long, and in what sequence before making their purchase decision. Participants will also complete a questionnaire to further assess cues and previous product involvement that may influence their decision.behe-bridget

Huddleston says it's exciting to capture physical evidence through the eye-tracking technology, and to translate the results for retailers. Both she and Behe
also say the research charts new territory since previous research involving visual gaze path analysis has typically examined highly-packaged products in boxes and bottles—and not minimally packaged products like plants, apparel, furniture and art.

"This project will push us a bit more in our learning because we will capture, manage and relate visual data in a more realistic retail setting," says Behe. "And what better products to explore the shopping process than plants? Besides, if we all planted more plants, the world would be a better place."

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