The Facebooked organisation: a critique of corporate social media in New Zealand

Gumbley, Sarah
Nelson, Frances
Johnson, Rosser
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

The research illustrates that people on Facebook communicate with organizations as though the organisations are people too. Furthermore, organisations induce this behaviour through promotional materials that persuaded the follower to engage with them as friends. I began my research as it appeared that organisations hid potentially ruthless profit motives behind a smiling face of friendship on social media networks, particularly on Facebook, which I used daily.

Facebook may be a relatively new technology, having been first developed only a decade ago, but it has dramatically changed the way the global society communicates. In New Zealand alone it is estimated half the population uses the tool. Due to this, Facebook is surrounded by a kind of hysteria: in one form or another Facebook makes the news on a near-daily basis, from the celebrification of its founder, to panics over privacy. The dramatic impact Facebook has had in such a short period of time means many remain curious, uninformed and often fearful of how this tool will impact the future. In the last few years, Facebook has added functionality that now enables businesses to have a presence in this forum, which has made it possible for customers to interact with businesses in an entirely new way. This has resulted in hype in the business world, over the untapped potential of this new marketing tool.

The aim of my research was to critically explore the relationships between “Facebooked” organisations and the private individuals who interact with the businesses online and with this purpose in mind, I established four research questions to guide the thesis. The first investigates the nature of Facebook interactions between corporations and followers, and the second investigates the multiple realities on the Facebook Pages of the three corporations. The third research question asks how corporations use their Facebook Pages to build follower identification, and the final, overarching research question asks—what is the nature of the ”Facebook effect”? My research uses three New Zealand corporations well-known for their social media use as case studies; ASB Bank New Zealand Limited, Vodafone New Zealand Ltd and Air New Zealand Limited. The research takes a critical perspective and is divided into two parts. The first uses thematic analysis to code and categorise both followers’ comments on the business Facebook Pages and the response to the comments from the corporations. The second part of the research reviews the promotional materials that feed into the Facebook Page and which encourage follower participation, by conducting both a Monin-style close reading (2004) and also a rhetorical analysis using Cheney’s (1983a) rhetorical identification typology.

The research indicates that followers are exhibiting extremes of emotion in their comments in a way that appears specific to the online forum of Facebook; individuals speak to the business as if it were a person and show attachment as though it were a friend. Within the Page, the corporation does not encourage such attachment, or respond in like fashion, however the promotional elements they use do so. Such campaigns gave visitors a promise of connection, of friendship and sharing. In my conclusion, my research found that Facebook, though created to achieve utopian ideals of genuine human connection, has, through its focus on profit generation, delivered dystopian results in terms of business-to-individual interaction.

Social media , Facebook , Thematic analysis , Organisational communication , Scriptive reading , Rhetorical analysis
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