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Mixed Methods

Keep-calmThe Journal of Mixed Methods Research defines mixed methods as “research in which the investigator collects and analyses data, integrates the findings, and draws inferences using both qualitative and quantitative approaches or methods in a single study or program of inquiry”.

In many texts on mixed methods, this type of research is presented as a way to make peace between two “adversaries”: the supporters of quantitative vs. the supporters of qualitative research. The argument is that during the last century these “adversaries” have engaged in a so-called “paradigm war”. On one side are the quantitative purists who articulate assumptions about research that are in line with what we often label positivist philosophy: social observations should be treated as entities in much the same way that physical scientists treat physical phenomena and the observer is separate from the entities that are subject to observation (Johnson and Onwuegbuzie 2004)  . Here, any scientific inquiry should be objective, with the aim at making time- and context-free generalizations, where real causes of scientific outcomes can be deemed reliable and valid (Gulbrandsen, 2012, p. 48) . On the other side we have the qualitative purists who reject positivism and argue for a rage of alternatives, such as constructivism, idealism, relativism, humanism, hermeneutics, or postmodernism. Though the anti-positivists differ among themselves in many aspects, they all argue for the existence of multiple and constructed realities, as opposed to the singular reality of positivism. And as such, they all argue that the observer and the observed cannot be separated because the (subjective) observer is the only source of the ‘reality’ that is to be observed (Guba, 1990). Beyond this, they also share the stance that time- and context-free generalizations are neither desirable nor possible, that research is value-bound, hence making it impossible to differentiate causes and effects (Johnson and Onwuegbuzie 2004).

During the 1990’s a growing number of scholars started pointing out the inadequacy of the strict quantitative-qualitative division, arguing that the so-called “incompatibility thesis” (that qualitative and quantitative research paradigms cannot and should not be mixed) (Howe, 1988), is faulty. Instead, these scholars argue, there should be a third way, and they started promoting mixed method research as a new research paradigm that could point in this third direction. In particular, they argue that although the two paradigms often portray themselves as opposites, they actually share basic agreements on several points (Phillips and Burbules, 2000); they both use empirical data to address research questions, they both aim to minimize confirmation bias and invalidity, and they both attempt to provide justifiable claims about human activities and the environments in which they unfold. The middle road, then, according to Johnson and Onwuegbuzie (2004), is to acknowledge that what appears objective can vary across individuals because what we observe is affected by our background knowledge, theories and experiences. Observation is, in other words, not a direct window into “reality”, and will thus not provide final proof. BUT this does not mean that all is relative; rather, what we obtain is probabilistic evidence.

So, why use mixed methods? Well, in short, because it allows you to overcome shortcomings of the individual methods (qualitative and quantitative) and to break down the confines of traditional perspectives (Gulbrandsen, 2012, p. 48). First, and foremost, by mixing methods you will be more likely to avoid the limitations of purely quantitative or qualitative studies. Quantitative studies are often criticized for not including context and for not providing the participants with a voice, and qualitative studies are often discounted for potential researcher biases, smaller sample sizes, and lack of generalizability (Miller et al., 2011). Mixed methods can include context and participants’ voices and still be neutral and generalizable. Secondly, mixed methods research makes triangulation possible (i.e. seeking convergence and confirmation of results from different methods studying the same phenomenon), hence also allowing the investigation to be informed by the findings from one method when utilizing the other.

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How to use mixed methods? Well, there are two basic approaches: concurrent or sequential. The first implies that you conduct both the qualitative and the quantitative research simultaneously. The second implies that you first conduct one (e.g. quantitative) and then, based on the findings from the first, conduct the second (e.g. qualitative).

In a review of the field of mixed methods, Tashakkori and Creswell (2007, p. 208),  found that there are three dominant ways of doing mixed method research.

  1. Here researchers create separate quantitative and qualitative questions, followed by an explicit mixed methods question. For example, if a study involves concurrent quantitative and qualitative data collection, this type of mixed question could ask, ‘‘Do the quantitative results and the qualitative findings converge?’’. If a study is more sequential, the question might be ‘‘How do the follow-up qualitative findings help explain the initial quantitative results?’’ or ‘‘How do qualitative results explain (expand on) the experimental outcomes?’’
  2. Here researchers create an overarching mixed research question, which is then later broken down into separate quantitative and qualitative subquestions to answer in each strand or phase of the study. This is more frequent in concurrent studies than in sequential ones. Although this overarching question might be implicitly present, sometimes it is not explicitly stated. An example is Parmelee, Perkins, and Sayre’s (2007) study exploring ‘‘how and why the political ads of the 2004 presidential candidates failed to engage young adults’’. The authors followed this implicitly stated question with three specific subquestions: ‘‘How does the interaction between audience-level and media-based framing contribute to college students’ interpretations of the messages found in political advertising?’’, ‘‘To what extent do those interpretations match the framing found in the ads from the 2004 U.S. presidential election?’’ and ‘‘How can political ads be framed to better engage college students?’’. As another example, in a concurrent design, a mixed methods question might be ‘‘What are the effects of Treatment X on the behaviors and perceptions of Groups A and B?’’ Consequently, the component questions that are drawn from the overarching mixed question might be ‘‘Are Groups A and B different on Variables Y and Z?’’ (the quantitative strand) and ‘‘What are the perceptions and constructions of participants in groups A and B regarding treatment X?’’ (the qualitative strand).
  3. Here researchers create research questions for each phase of a study as the study evolves. If the first phase is a quantitative phase, the question would be framed as a quantitative question or hypothesis. If the second phase is qualitative, the question for that phase would be framed as a qualitative research question. This is found in sequential studies more than in concurrent studies.

Content marketing

“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” (Content Marketing Institute)

The term content marketing was coined by John Oppedahl in 1996 at the American Society for Newspaper Editors (Doyle, 1996), though it did not get a lot of attention or traction before the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) was founded in 2010 by Joe Pulizzi (see his book Epic Content Marketing). Today, we generally find content marketing happening on blogs and social media, in newsletters and infographics, via podcasts, print magazines and videos, in addition to webinars, eBooks and white papers. In other words, everywhere. Either as paid, owned and earned media.

There is not a lot of academic research on the topic, as it has long been considered old wine in new bottles (Basney, 2014). Meaning, that though the term is popular, and most often described as something new, communicating strategically through the active and deliberate use of content is something organizations have always done. In many ways, content marketing is closely related to immersive communication, as presented in chapter 6, meaning communication that is aimed at attracting viewers/readers/listeners through interesting and attention-grabbing substance, rather than just attractive packaging.

Native advertising

Native advertising is camouflaged advertising, meaning it is advertising, or strategic communication, that presents itself as something else. See for instance this infographic on oysters: though it purports to teach you about different oysters, it is (also) an ad for the beer Guinness.

Beyond advertisements-turned-infographics (or vice versa?), you have probably stumbled upon native advertising online, e.g. on news sites where you will find articles that appear to be written by a journalist, but actually were written and paid for by an organization. The point with native advertising is that the advertisement is camouflaged – its form, content and function matches that of the platform it appears on. The word “native” hence refers to the ad’s coherence with the content normally found on the platform on which it is published. Check out Native Advertising Works for more examples.

Native advertisement is not new per se. It shares many similarities to product placement (also called embedded marketing). But unlike product placement, where the goal is to place a product within an already existing content (think Aston Martin, Bollinger and Omega in James Bond movies), with native marketing the goal is to merge the product and content

In an article on Native advertisement, the American law professor Chris Jay Hoofnagle and the civil rights lawyer Eduard Meleshinsky, argue that the concept can be traced back to 1951. In particular, the publisher of Atlantic Monthly, Donald B. Snyder, who then “observed that products had become more complex and that the existing advertising jingles and slogans could not convey the messages that consumers needed to understand in a modern economy” (Hoofnagle and Meleshinsky, 2015). In the article, they quote Snyder for writing:

“To provide the facility for advertising to convey information, the Atlantic has developed a new form for the expression of business ideas. We call them Advertorials. They will be paid advertisements…They will involve the thoughtful participation of the reader; they are intended to give him pause—and in the pause, compelling facts about the way American business works. They are predicated upon the belief that the free competition of ideas has made this country great.” Following this announcement were five pages of advertorials paid for by the American Iron and Steel Institute. Each page was prominently labelled “An Atlantic Public Interest Advertisement.”

But it is not until more recently that this practice has become widespread. Why? Because of two trends: 1) people are less inclined to be persuaded by ads and commercials (many of us directly shun them), and 2) ad-blocking technologies available on our multiple devices have made it more difficult for organizations to reach us. Combined, these trends have forced companies to come up with other ways of grabbing our attention, and one way is to camouflage strategic communication as other types of communication, e.g. news stories and memes.

And it works! Research shows that we, the consumer/citizens, are more engaged with and persuaded by messages delivered as native advertising compared to other forms of advertising/commercials/strategic communication.

Although this is great for organizations, there are a number of ethical and regulatory issues connected to this practice. In particular, how native advertising is designed to disarm the consumer/citizen’s natural defence against advertising by blurring the lines between objective, third party produced content and content produced and paid for by organizations. Why could this be problematic? Because it makes it difficult for the consumer/citizen to identify who the writer, and hence source, of the information is. Making manipulation and propaganda uncontrolled tools for organizations to employ in their strategic communication. For more on this, check out Amar C. Bakshi’s interesting read on the question of ethics and regulation, in Journal of Media Law & Ethics

 

Fan culture

By Kjetil Sandvik

There is at least two ways of defining fan culture. Fan culture may be conceived of as the culture emerging from fan activities and the ways in which these activities generates various communities in which fans are playing out their love and affection for their fan object, communicating about it, sharing knowledge and thoughts about it with each other and so on and enunciating their fandom (Sandvoss, 2011) both inside of the community and to the outside world. On the other hand, fan culture may be conceived of as descriptive for contemporary culture as such:  a culture which sociological, political and economic characteristics to a certain degree are influenced by fan-behavioral logics. As suggested by Jenkins – from his seminal work ‘Textual Poachers: television fans and participatory culture’ (1992) and onwards – fan culture can be understood as a specific ‘participatory turn’ characterized by dedicated, active audience; they are consumers who are often also media producers who may be analyzed as a significant part of contemporary consumer culture. The study of the participatory and creative mode of media users in the perspective of fan culture have also been pioneered by sociologist Camille Bacon-Smith in ‘Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth’ (1992) and by media scholar John Fiske in ‘The Cultural Economy of Fandom’ (1992) – all three books founding works in academic research on fan culture.

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What is a fan then?  The word itself being short for fanatic hints that what distinguishes the fan from the average user of cultural products (music, movies, books, TV shows etc.) is the level of intensity and engagement. As such fans may be divided into e.g. simple, enthusiastic and advantageous enthusiastic fans (Emmanouloudis, 2015) depending on the amount of time and resources allocated to being a fan. A fan spends a substantial amount of time (and often also money) on the object of his or her fandom and the act of being a fan becomes a crucial part of his or her identity-work. The fan is not distanced or detached to whatever the object of whatever cultural product/phenomenon constituting the object of fandom may be (a specific sport, sports club or player, a specific band or musician, a specific movie or TV series and show, specific actors, reality stars, various types of franchises like games and story worlds: fans are engaged on a personal level not only delving into e.g. the music of a specific artist, but also into the personal characteristics and the private life of said artist thus striving for the sense of intimate relations by various acts like sending fan mails, birthday greeting and so on. Taking pride in knowing details, acquiring specific items (merchandise in all shapes and forms), dressing like the fan object and being part of a specific and exclusive club devotees are important parts of being a fan and when looking at e.g. contemporary pop icons like Lady Gaga, we can observe how facilitating a fan community (“Little Monsters”) and creating the sense of intimate attachment and inauguration becomes an important part of the artistic and strategic communication (Bennet, 2014).   As such, facilitating fan engagement is a matter of putting fans to work in establishing and enhancing Lady Gaga as a pop icon.

 

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This productive and creative characteristic of being a fan is significant to fan culture: as stated by Jenkins (1992) fans continuously build their own culture out of media products and by selectively “poaching” meanings and interpretations from favored media texts. It has bearings on how communicational structures are shaped and cultural content is being produced: “Media producers are consciously building into their texts opportunities for fan elaboration and collaboration – codes to be deciphered, enigmas to be resolved, loose ends to be woven together, teasers and spoilers for upcoming developments” (Jenkins 2003: 200).

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Facilitating possibilities for drilling into, exploring and engaging in new features is an important part of contemporary franchises from the average ‘behind the scenes’ of movies and TV series to the continuously expanding of story worlds like Harry Potter as we see it with Rowling’s continuously adding to the tale e.g. on Pottermore or like Star Wars with its proliferating and expanding structure of films, games etc. But we also see how the creativity of fans are put to work in creating new content and new products as part of the production logic. Gamers have enthusiastically for years contributed to the development of computer games in the role as bug fixers, modders and designers using existing game codes to create new games, a prominent example being the gamer-based creation of Counter-Strike on the basis of the Half-life game engine. And the same type of fan community based production can be observed in LEGO’s use of fans as developers in features like Cusoo and LEGO Ideas.

 

Picture4Dedicated fans do not just consume, they also produce: they remix content, create their own content in the shape of fan art, fan fiction and so on. Even though this co-creative or even independent artistic activity is not new, it has increased in scale and intensity with the advent of digital and online media enabling not only building online fan communities but also the production and spreading of media content (e.g., creating home-made videos for YouTube, or using games like World of Warcraft for creating their own ‘machinima’ films). As such the mediascape in which contemporary fan culture is embedded enables fans to conduct their creative fandom as distributors, remixers, as well as producers in their own right.

The sharing economy

Is the sharing economy changing our modes of consumption? And beyond that, does it herald a new epoch of how we relate to each other and to the world? Is it the beginning of a new and more sustainable economic order as e.g. Rachel Botsman has argued?  Or is it, at best, more of the same and, at worst, a less rather than more responsible form of economic exchange as, for instance, suggested by Ehsan Zaffar? Before seeking to answer these highly charged and normative questions, we should probably take a sobering step back and simply ask: what is the sharing economy?

sharing definitions

Well, you have probably already heard the term plenty of times and you are most likely familiar with many of its specific manifestations. Services like Airbnb and Uber have become globally familiar brand names, but a plethora of more local (or at least smaller) initiatives are also blooming under the sharing economy umbrella: car sharing, redistribution of used clothes, books and the like, knowledge sharing…it seems only our imagination sets the limits. If you can think it, you can share it. But how? The sharing economy operates on the principle of creating possibilities for consumers to either share products or collaborate in processes. Or, in Botsman’s definition, the sharing economy is “an economic system based on sharing underused assets or services, for free or for a fee, directly from individuals.”

While there are some quibbles about definitions – when is something ‘collaborative’, ‘sharing’ or ‘on-demand’? – the basic model of the for-profit participants in this system is to find some way of making money out of facilitating contact between those who have an underused asset and those who need to use it.

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In one sense, there is nothing new or particularly revolutionary about this. After all, libraries are not exactly a recent invention, flea markets have existed for centuries and in some local communities there are long-standing traditions of borrowing from each other, just as ‘housesitting’ was hardly invented by Airbnb. However, because of technological innovations that free peer-to-peer transactions from previous constraints of time and space, the scale and scope of sharing is now greater than ever. The sharing economy, we might say, is the barter society gone online. Thus, what is different is not the act of sharing, but the mode of doing so – and the challenges (as well as the opportunities) this creates for traditional businesses. As an example, traditional players of the transportation industry, e.g. car manufacturers, rental companies and delivery services, are being challenged by new actors who base their business on the sharing model. In response, a number of the traditional companies have adopted sharing initiatives of their own; e.g. BMW forms part of the DriveNow car sharing initiative, Avis has acquired the car sharing network ZipCar and DHL has created the MyWays app that connects people who do not have time to pick up their parcels at a service point with people who would like to earn some money by delivering a parcel to the recipient’s address of choice.

So, is this a new beginning for how we consume, a new economic order? Well, the sharing economy does present new forms of exchange, but these can be interpreted in a variety of ways. As Chris Martin (2016) shows, the sharing economy is currently framed in at least six ways: as (1) an economic opportunity; (2) a more sustainable form of consumption; (3) a pathway to a decentralised, equitable and sustainable economy; (4) creating unregulated marketplaces; (5) reinforcing the neoliberal paradigm; and, (6) an incoherent field of innovation.  Further, big business’ current appropriation of the sharing economy, consumers’ tendency to combine sharing with traditional consumption (and not with less consumption), the controversy caused by Uber and similar events show that there is nothing inherently sustainable in the sharing economy – instead, its effects depend on how organizations and consumers alike make use of the new opportunities it offers.

Globalisation as a disjunctive series of ‘scapes’

It is common to speak of globalization as a question of increased homo- or heterogeneity. Or as a mix of the two – so-called glocalization. This is the lens we adopted in Strategizing Communication as we believe it offers a good starting point for talking about strategic communication as a process of designing messages that can be read, interpreted and repurposed by different audiences. However, globalization is not just a mix of two disparate trends; rather, that view is an analytical simplification that may serve practical purposes, but does not tell the full story of how technological and economic developments as well as political, social and cultural forces shape and are shaped by globalization. The Indian-American professor of Media, Culture and Communication Arjun Appadurai offers a lens that may serve to understand the complexity of these dynamics better: that of seeing globalization as a disjunctive series of ‘scapes’.

Appadurai (1990) begins his conceptualization from the same idea of globalization as driven by tensions between homogenization and heterogenization, but goes on to suggest that the landscape of globalization cannot be fully mapped on this one spectrum, but instead consists of five distinct dimensions: ethnoscapes, technoscapes, finanscapes, mediascapes and ideoscapes. Note the plural. Each scape is actually a multitude of perspectives and the five can be combined in many different ways to form ‘imagined worlds’ – discrete perspectives of various actors: “nation-states, multinationals, diasporic communities, as well as sub-national groupings and movements (whether religious, political or economic). Indeed, the individual is the last locus of this perspectival set of landscapes…” (Appadurai, 1990, p. 296). Before continuing this line of reasoning, however, let us define the five scapes.

Ethnoscapes refer to the flows of people across the planet; the ways in which people move around – whether as refugees, migrants or tourists, to name but a few of the groups that today travel the planet. The ethnoscape is constantly shifting, rearranging bonds of kindship, feelings of belonging. “The warp of stability”, as Appadurai calls it, “is everywhere shot through with the woof of human motion, as more persons and groups deal with the realities of having to move, or the fantasies of wanting to move” (p. 297). The technoscape is “the global configuration of technology” (p. 298), the way in which various technologies are (unequally) distributed across the globe, but also provide the infrastructure for global connections and, further, may shift quickly across geographical, economic and other boundaries. Finanscapes denote the flows and figurations of global capital; the highly volatile and increasingly complicated mesh of financial transactions that seemingly exists apart from the realm of the so-called productive economy (the one in which some people produce, say, coffee so that other people can consume it) yet feeds off it (financialization begins with speculation in developments of the price of a good – say, coffee) and influences it profoundly (during the recent financial crisis some traders surely had to cut down on their consumption of luxury coffee, but it was people like the café owners and coffee farmers who had to close their businesses and leave their homes).

The two last scapes are built upon the first three. However, as ethnoscapes, technoscapes and finanscapes are both co-constitutive (they change in relation to each other) and disjunctive (they do not necessarily develop in similar direction and at similar speeds), they do not form a stable basis for the construction of mediascapes and ideoscapes. Rather, we are dealing with an ever shifting and shaking framework for the construction of images. In mediascapes images are distributed through the available information technologies in ever more complex ways to ever more diverse audiences. “What this means is that many audiences throughout the world experience the media themselves as a complicated and interconnected repertoire of print, celluloid, electronic screens, and billboards. The lines between the ‘realistic’ and the fictional landscapes they see are blurred…” (p. 299). Whereas mediascapes typically deal in ‘small stories’, ideoscapes build ‘grand narratives’; “…they are often directly political and frequently have to do with the ideologies of states and the counter ideologies of movements explicitly oriented to capturing state power or a piece of it” (p. 299).

It follows from the definitions of the five scapes and their interrelations that there can be no general theory of how the scapes are related. Instead, Appadurai offers us a terminology for exploring the relations between the five scapes in particular contexts. As an example, let us briefly apply the lens of scapes to the referendum on EU membership that was held in the UK on the 23rd of June, 2016. First, we can note how the ethno-, techno- and finanscapes of the UK in relation to the EU both worked with and against each other in the pre-referendum debate. The UK has, since its entry into the European Community in 1973, become increasingly technologically and financially integrated with the rest of Europe, yet the City of London has kept its distinct role as a global financial hub. Thus, it was possible to question whether and how exit from the EU would affect the UK economically. As for the ethnoscape, the free movement of labour within the EU has both changed the terms of immigration to the UK from European and other countries, setting the scene for a new and much more hostile tone in the UK’s immigration debate. No longer obligated to newly arrived people by the ties of a colonial past, the question of how to stop the constant inflow of people became a legitimate and popular one. Obviously there are many more factors and facets involved, but we can nevertheless see the contours of how this particular – and particularly strained – configuration created the basis for an ideoscape of national sovereignty, which was re-imagined in the popularized versions of protectionism and isolationalism in the UK’s mediascape. A mediascape that – even if not completely independent from European media – continues to be dominated by national resources and nationalistic narratives. The result: 52% voted leave and 48% remain. How Brexit will reconfigure the UK’s, the EU’s and the global scapes in relation to each other remains to be seen.