Social Media Literacy: Essential for Creative Professionals

Creative professionals perform tasks difficult to scale or to automate and have been recognised in PwC (2018) report as pivotal to the future of work. My research of micro-influencers and  interviews with Australian Influencers revealed an intrinsic demand for creative professionals to have communication skills and knowledge in implementing and using SMP to establish social capital for the benefit of their career and is an attractive proposition for potential employers.  Yet individuals are not prepared for the challenges SMP presents (Lariscy et al. 2009; Macnamara 2010; McKinsey 2013; Novakovich et al. 2017).  Digital technologies are evolving and creating undeniable changes, as new segments emerge the competitive landscape for creative professionals is being redefined.  SMPs are reshaping the way creative professionals do business and interact with clients, networks and customers. The need to produce and curate an SMP identity has evolved and become an essential element of their daily lives but how do creative professionals stay relevant? In a 2018 report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development it is argued that

‘education can make the difference as to whether people embrace the challenges they are confronted with or whether they are defeated by them’ (OECD 2018).

The world is changing and will continue to change, old methods of sustaining a career as a creative professional are being superseded producing a fundamental need for a paradigm shift. According to Rosen (1983, page 48) digital disruption offers lower entry levels for creative professionals and argues that this has led to greater specialisation and division of labour requiring increased human capital investment. In the context of micro-influence scholars such as Abidin (2016) Duff (2016) and Senft (2013) refer to human capital investment as aspirational labour. An example is the fashion blogger as individuals invest hours into developing, implementing and constructing their SMP identities turning their personal lives into online businesses. A 2019 study of fashion bloggers by Brydges and Sjoholm (2019) highlights the changing spaces and temporalities of aspirational labour online.

Novakovich et al. (2017) highlights a profound lack of understanding regarding the potential SMP has in shaping a professionals journey and the role educators have in closing the gap. Educational scholarship recognises digital literacy as an essential skill and signifies an intrinsic need for scholastic discourse to evolve (Coldwell-Neilson and Cain 2019; Coldwell-Neilson 2017). Recent industry reports examining the impact of rapid technology change and new business models on employment argue the importance of digital literacy as a basic skill (literacy) for those entering the workforce  (Hajkowicz et al. 2016; Cunningham et al. 2016; Karanasios et al. 2019; Grand-Clement 2017; Business Council Australia 2018; Pearson et al. 2016; Adams Becker, S., et al. 2017).

The 2016 report Skills and capabilities for Australian enterprise innovation (Cunningham et al. 2016) investigates how skills are learned “to drive and sustain the development of new products and services that address innovation challenges and capture new markets and consumers”.  A report by Bakhshi et al. (2017) The future of skills: Employment in 2030 found a strong relationship between higher-order cognitive skills and future occupational demand. Lucas and Smith  (2018) found to cultivate digital skills in Australian education, capabilities need to remain a priority in education policy and planning. A 2019 report by Karanasios et al., (2019) for NCVER studied and reviewed digital skills frameworks acknowledges and addresses the gap for Australian workers. The report identified the present focus on improving digital skills is on “primary-secondary education or societal level rather than within the current workforce”.  We need to maintain support for and from well equipped educators, and with the provision of resources and guidance from curricula, frameworks and policies. 

Hase and Kenyon (2007) suggest educators need to change misconceptions and recognise the benefits SMP have to offer suggesting new pedagogical approaches that views “the learner as the major agent in their own learning”. Patsarika (2014) adds to the argument advocating for change in educational discourses from the student as client to students as participants in their learning.  Patsarika (2014)  implications of neoliberalism, has led to education becoming more mobile and moving towards the virtual classroom.  In 2007, Bruns (2007) identified the paradigm shift in user-generated content and knowledge sharing arguing traditional teacher centred learning may no longer have a future. He argues educational institutions must engage in produsage predicting the establishment of produage-based educational institutions.

Social Media takes many shapes and forms which raises a number of problems and issues that to date have not been clearly considered by educational institutions. Social media practices are voluntary, self-generated, skills are acquired informally, largely unregulated and characterised by play and experimentation (Barton and Lee 2012, page 283). Individuals use social media skills of their own volition in ways that suit them for their own purposes. In a study investigating students social media practices and identity for professional practice, Novakovick (2017) reported that in general students lacked agency on social networks and identified a gap knowledge and skills for professional social networking. It is also concerning to note that a Stanford University study (2016) found a lack of critical thinking and technical skills needed. 

Framing social media as literacy is an approach that can help to alleviate some of these problems for educators (Pozzi 2016) but creates an unprecedented and problematic educational environment when combined with current imposed rules, regulations, criteria and procedures of our institutions (Pozzi 2016).  Further, most skills and knowledge required for social media use are tacit, procedural and/or metacognitive and are best learned in a workplace environment rather than the decontextualise classroom (Bridgstock 2014).  My doctoral project establishes social media as an essential literacy for the 21st century and uses vernacular literacies and tacit knowledge concepts to help conceptualise some of the theoretical issues associated with social media capabilities.  During my interviews with Australian micro-influencers vernacular literacies and tacit knowledge were dominant in the processes and strategies of the participants. Literature supports this trend and suggests that future ready students exercise learner agency (OECD 2018) they prefer to learn informally, via communities as well as through reflective practice (2014; Grand-Clement 2017; Coldwell-Neilson and Cain 2019).

The question now is how can educators support creative practitioners to employ social media as a new literacy in a professional capacity?  The busy modern day professional who is self-determined will prioritise their time towards potential opportunities for career growth. They recognise that updating knowledge and skills is a prerequisite for a progressive career path.  The options for gaining skills and knowledge are endless, confusing and not always trustworthy. How does the creative professional choose what skills and knowledge they require? How can they be guaranteed return on investment to justify time away from potential earning? Who are the trusted providers that offer quality learning experiences with course content established for real world demands? Digital technologies have impacted how professionals can engage with new opportunities for learning so quickly that educational providers are still catching up, making the professional accountable for their learning experience and preferred mode of learning (Oliver 2019; Williams 2019). How can educators empower students to evaluate and determine their individual learning preferences?

What are your thoughts on the questions I pose here?  More answers to come.

This blog is part of a series supporting my doctoral research.  I explore the nuance application of micro-credentials for professional development as part of my Doctoral project at Queensland University of Technology.

Your feedback or contribution to the topic is very welcome. What is your experience with micro-credentials? Are you a course developer? or been a participant?

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