Just a few years ago, engagement with social communities was an experiment that some bold individuals in bold organizations were conducting to boldly go where no one has gone before. Now, social or virtual communities are the fabric of day-to-day business. It is transforming the way information is disseminated outside and inside organizations as they connect with customers, partners, and industry players. But for some industries, it is disrupting or  destroying — or if you look at it another way — enriching information gathering.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the news business.

The question is then: Is the news business a victim or a beneficiary of the social media explosion?

That’s the question I and co-author Dr. Bill Gibbs of Duquesne University recently took up in a chapter in a new book on the implications of social networking, titled Handbook of Research on Methods and Techniques for Studying Virtual Communities: Paradigms and Phenomena.

The book, compiled and edited by Ben Kei Daniel of University of Saskatchewan, explores how over the last decade, virtual communities have evolved from massive experimental, educational, technological, business, and social environments to normal, day-to-day operations for a variety of organizations.

Chapters cover studies on various types of virtual communities, and in our chapter, we explore how global online communities now include hundreds of millions of members, able to communicate almost instantaneously.

Increasingly, traditional news organizations are finding they are being outpaced in coverage of world events by cadres of “citizen journalists” reporting in real time via social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. While there are valid concerns about the credibility of information being posted on social networking sites, there’s no question that contextual reports are being delivered much faster to global audiences than traditional outlets. In addition, recipients have a wide array of choices from which they can acquire this information.

The news providers that are on top of the game now offer interactive sources that engage people, enable them to build community, and to participate in the news. At the same time, the digital interfaces through which people access the news are continuously evolving, diverse, and oftentimes visually complex.

In the chapter, Bill and I explore trends and developments in news-oriented virtual communities. We review several data collection and analysis techniques such as content analysis, usability testing and eye-tracking and propose that these techniques and associated tools can aid the study of news communities. We examine the implications these techniques have for better understanding human behavior in virtual communities as well as for improving the design of these environments.

The book has an additional 43 chapters as well, intended as a guidebook for executives and corporate leaders concerned with the management of expertise, social capital, competence knowledge, and information and organizational development in different types of virtual communities and environments.


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