Updrafts and social media – catch the metaphor and rise

I seem to have been particularly immersed in social media the last few days. And I am struck by the literalism which bedevils it. All this keyword searching.  As if the words themselves were the key when all they are is the manifestations of conceptual molecules or memes. The danger with focussing on the visible is that the same keyword can show up in different memes but with a very different connotation. This is a nightmare for a social media consultant but bread and butter to a qualitative researcher who never focussed on the words but on the concepts and metaphors that they signify.

If you imagine that there are a limited number of ways for talking about anything. The key is to understand how the metaphors are used for a given topic. This is what Rosie Campbell in her MRS paper this year calls Totem discourse – totem poles which the words arrange themselves around.  If you want a lot of people to get involved then you have to see which totem attract the greatest number and how they express themselves. Keywords aren't the answer – its the underlying metaphors. I'm going to switch metaphors on you as we go. Hang gliders use anticlines – updraft columns of air to gain altitude- a cliff will have several of them. Some are better and faster than others. Others can be treacherous. Without the anticline the hanglider starts to drop towards the ground.  We have to find the anticlines which create lift – that enable people to soar higher. Keywords are like leaves – they show you where the anticline is but they can never be the anticline.

I'm going to be asked how on earth we do this. Probably by using observation of the culture and listening to the words deployed in particular contexts to determine the key metaphors – which are quite stable by the way and shouldn't change their shape that fast. Then focus groups to map the metaphors in detail. So we buil a lexicon of language. Which will mean that our patterns of key word association become metaphorical in their connections and not literal.  That's my take – and in the next few months I hope to put the theory to the test. Watch this space – I'll tell you how I get on.



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