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Re-reading Personal Influence in an age of social media

O’Regan, T. (2021) Re-reading Personal Influence in an age of social media. Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media and Culture .

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This article explores the many parallels – but also discontinuities – between the interpersonal communication medium and research enterprise pursued by Elihu Katz and Paul Lazarsfeld in Personal Influence (1955) and the social media agenda and associated research enterprise of Facebook and Instagram. The essay begins with a discussion of ‘personal influence’ as the concept was first developed in the 1950s, outlining its historical context and initial limited application. It then shows how key ideas of Personal Influence can be seen as having been applied and embedded in the very fabric of social media itself. Yet Facebook represents a significant departure from both Katz and Lazarsfeld’s research agenda and from the market research and information regime of traditional media. Their audience research work of 1955 was avowedly public and transparent in its commitments. They were providing a market research product for advertising agencies, advertisers and media providers to re-purpose. In contrast, Facebook is private, proprietorial and opaque in its research provision. Facebook combines, under one roof, the roles of market research provider, media provider, and advertising agency. By prioritizing the collection and analysis of individual user profiles, Facebook has created a media enterprise that seamlessly integrates user-generated content, data collection, analysis, strategy, media provision and associated advertising machinery.

Item Type: Journal Article
Publisher: Routledge, part of the Taylor & Francis Group
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