by Delysia Eminian

Stephanie Tikkanen is an assistant professor of communication studies here at Ohio University. She attended UC Santa Barbara to obtain her masters and PhD in communication, with an emphasis in interpersonal communication. She has been working for Ohio University for a little over a year now and has done great things for the communication studies department. She developed the class COMS 3200 or officially, Communication and New Technology, that has grown in size over the past year because so many students want to take it! She is also the faculty advisor the National Communication Association Student Club (NCASC).

And not only does she teach about computer mediated technology and all of the new media platforms that are available now; she also researches it in regards to interpersonal relationships. She has been published in a few different journals including: Journal of Communication, Journal of Language and Social Psychology, and Communication Research Reports. She believes in emphasizing her role equally as a researcher and a teacher. She is also an avid user of social media and you can connect with her on Twitter.

I have taken her as my professor for the Communication and New Technology class and I was very happy with what I learned from her class. I knew that she would be perfect to interview for this assignment based on everything that she taught me in the class.

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Q: What people/organizations do you follow to stay up-to-date on social media trends and why?

A: I follow a number of social-media related organizations on Twitter, such as @Mashable, @TechCrunch, @AllFacebook, and @PewResearchInternet. In addition, I follow a number of social media researchers, such as Barry Wellman, Danah Boyd, and Jessica Vitak, and industry professionals like Lauren Schultz or Mark Wysocki. I follow technology on content curation sites such as reddit.com/r/technology, or read articles on HigherEd Chronicle, The New York Times or The Atlantic. Finally, I often scour my own social media newsfeed for information about how others view/use social media.

Q: What companies/organizations do you think are “doing it right” when it comes to social media? Why?

A: Taco Bell is one of the best organizations I can think of. What I like about them is that they have a consistent voice, and they don’t deviate from it. Their posts really harness the power of social media in a positive way: they pay attention to the characteristics of the medium and tailor their posts to play up those strengths. For example, they were one of the first companies to use SnapChat for targeted advertising, and they send snaps at 3am (when people are craving Taco Bell). Timing is key!

Another would be ModCloth. They do a great job integrating a variety of media forms and creating a community of their customers. People can post outfits posts, answer questions, play in contests, and then all of the information customers provide is integrated into more effective advertising.

 Q: If you could create your own social media network what would it be like? What aspects would you use from other social networks?

A: Given my interests, I would think that any social networking site/app that I would create would probably revolve around the college classroom. I think it would be great to have an app that I could use to interact with my students. Some of the capabilities I’d want to borrow from other sites/apps might include microblogging features like Twitter; longer-form blogs like LiveJournal or blogger; picture/video sharing capabilities like Instagram; and some sort of tool for sample questions—maybe like TriviaCrack! I think it would be really fun to bring “gamification” into the classroom, especially with 100 students.

Q: How do you incorporate social media when you are teaching? Do you believe this engages students more than the traditional ways of teaching?

A: My primary use of social media in the classroom is through Twitter. When I transitioned COMS 3200 from a 30-person class to a 100-person class, I was very nervous about losing the element of classroom participation that had made the class so valuable. Twitter allows the students to participate in real time without the fear of talking in front of 100 people, and forges relationships between people in the class who may not have met due to seating choices. It’s a great tool for sharing information, as well: they can ask questions and I can have my answers linked to the hashtag like a built-in FAQ page for students to look up. I can tweet to them about upcoming events or articles they may find interesting, or even just share memes that are relevant and funny. I can also connect them easily with professionals I know in the field who can answer their questions better than I can, which capitalizes on the “social” aspect of social media.

Most importantly, however, I love that incorporating Twitter into the class gives me a better sense of who my students are as individuals, and allows them some (carefully curated) insight into my life, as well. I firmly believe that teaching is rooted in relationships, so when I can build those relationships—even in a class of 100—I can actually serve my students better than I would otherwise.

(Note: you can read some of Dr. Tikkanen’s students’ tweets here)

Q: What social media site do you believe will be the next big thing? What social media site do you believe will fall off the map soon? (like MySpace sort of did)

A: I hate to say it, but I think Facebook is losing momentum! It’s successful because it’s hit a critical mass of users. “Everyone” is on Facebook, so it remains popular because it’s entrenched. However, I think younger generations are losing interest for precisely that reason… if their parents on the site, it can’t possibly be cool.

I also hate to say this, but I think the “next big thing” are all of these anonymous services, like Whisper, YikYak, and Unseen. They’ve got the characteristics that appeal to younger users: visually-based, short text (if any), controversial topics, and plenty of “drama”—all without any reputational consequences. It’s an unfortunate trend for sure, but I think it’ll just continue to grow.

Q: What is one piece of advice you would give to a budding social media specialist?

A: READ ALL THE THINGS! The only way to succeed in a busy social media world is to stay up-to-date! You need to know what’s up-and-coming, and what trends there are. However, I recommend reading more than just popular press articles. There are a whole lot of awesome researchers out there whose work is totally underutilized by social media professionals. (My hope with COMS 3200 is to introduce you students/future SM pros to these, so that you can have a more theoretical understanding of how things work, instead of trying to figure out each new thing as it comes along!!)

Dr. Tikkanen, being an avid user, researcher and teacher of social media, certainly knows what she is talking about. I found the information that she shared really valuable because of this. I gained insights on what sites to follow to keep up with the ever changing technological world and to always read everything; not just the most popular articles that are out there. I also learned that she believes that Taco Bell is one of the companies doing social media right and because of that, I looked into their tweets and I now follow Taco Bell. I am very happy to have gained these insights about social media and I have learned quite a bit from out interview!