Theory in 21st century communication

In the exciting, popular and ever-changing world of social media, the idea of “theory” may seem better suited for the dusty halls of academia. But social media offers a window into how communication theories may be changing in the Web 2.0 world. Diffusion of Innovations (DoI), the theory of how, why and at what rate new ideas and technology spread, identifies communication channels in one of two ways. Mass media allow a source of one or few to quickly reach an audience of many. Interpersonal communication channels permit social exchanges between two or more individuals.

The media of the 20th century – radio, newspaper and television – can clearly be defined as mass media channels. These media act as vehicles to disseminate information to millions of listeners, readers and watchers. But what about the media of the 21st century? Do the communication channels of Web 2.0 fit smoothly into either the box of mass media or interpersonal communication? Specifically, what can be said about Twitter and its “diffusion of innovation?”

The microblogging platform Twitter blurs the traditional lines drawn by DoI, fitting both classifications of mass media and interpersonal communication. Twitter offers individuals the opportunity to reach an unlimited number of followers simply by sending a tweet out to the Twitterverse. Far quicker than the mass media channels of the past, Twitter provides users the opportunity to reach their mass audience in seconds.

On the other hand, Twitter also provides users the opportunity to interact and have dynamic, two-way conversations with each other through such features as following, direct messaging, replying and retweeting. This certainly fits the DoI categorization of interpersonal communication.

So while Twitter clearly fits definitions of both types of DoI communication channels, it also combines them into a hybrid channel of interactive mass media. As an individual on Twitter, you have followers that you interact and engage with in a clearly interpersonal way. These followers also act as filters between you and everyone else in their network. They become the vehicle, the media to disseminate your information to their mass audience.

Constantly changing and converging, social media may offer insight into the static communication theories of the past, theories like DoI. The communication theories of the future, however, must become fluid in order to encompass the fascinating and evolving aspects of the Web 2.0 world. Where do you think other social media platforms might fit in Diffusion of Innovations theory?

– Lynn Hector (@lhectorPR, www.lynnhector.wordpress.com)

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4 thoughts on “Theory in 21st century communication

  1. Pingback: Turning theory into reality on Twitter | Strategic Social Media

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