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Arkansas State University

Value of Research in Media

Arkansas State University’s Online Master of Science in Media Management (MSMM) is a true interdisciplinary program. MSMM degree candidates benefit from exposure to a variety of different perspectives on communications and mass media. The program’s core curriculum alone includes courses offered by A-State’s departments of Creative Media Production, Journalism, Mass Communications and Strategic Communications.

CMAC 6053, Quantitative Research Methods in Mass Communication, is a required course for all MSMM students. This course provides the program’s aspiring media management professionals with a solid grounding in the scientific method as it applies to research in the social sciences — theory (surveyed in MCOM 6043, Theory of Mass Communication) becomes practice. Through the review of case studies and hands-on experimentation with the actual methodologies, tools, and techniques employed by experts in the field, students form and test hypotheses. They also gain valuable experience collecting, analyzing and reporting the data generated by their own research projects.

What are the chief ways media research is applied? How do media managers rely upon research to make strategic decisions about crafting content, allocating assets and ensuring the effectiveness of their company’s messaging? Research in mass media typically concentrates on one of three areas of interest.

The Medium

The medium is the carrier for the message being transmitted. Newspapers, radio and television are typically grouped under the rubric of “traditional media,” but each channel operates differently. In the digital age, new or emerging technologies are dramatically changing the overall media landscape. Research into the medium thus seeks to gain a better understanding of what defines each medium. Researchers focusing on this aspect of mass media need to ask — and answer — many questions:

  • What are the conditions and who are the parties contributing to the creation of this medium?
  • What are the medium’s core functionalities?
  • What services does it provide?
  • What differentiates this medium from other media?
  • What are the medium’s access points?

Media managers, whether working in traditional or emerging media, design their content and build their campaigns for specific channels. To do so successfully, managers need to take each channel or medium’s unique characteristics into account. Twitter’s 140-character restriction may make it ideal for disseminating attention-grabbing, breaking news headlines. But, to tell the complete story, a formally produced and edited television news package is probably more appropriate. However, as Twitter expands and updates its own technological platform — for example, by integrating live video streaming functionality into its mobile app — the medium itself evolves. Media managers who fail to invest in research into how individual media channels work run the risk of using them inappropriately.

User and Usage Patterns

Mass media researchers also try to capture important demographic information about media audiences. They seek to document critical user behaviors. In short, research in this area helps media managers to know who is using a particular media channel and how they are using it. Rating services such as Nielsen (for television and radio) and comScore (for digital media) track media interactions and package data to their clients for further analysis.

User and usage pattern research is invaluable to media managers. They use this information to segment their audiences and target their messages. For example, a recent Nielsen study found that radio advertising can produce a much higher return on investment (ROI) than advertising via other media. According to Advertising Age magazine, “Brands averaged a sales lift of more than $6 for every $1 spent on radio ads.” Why? Further research is necessary, but Leslie Wood, the chief research officer on this Nielsen report, believes that individual listeners are very loyal to their preferred radio stations, a fact that many media buyers were not taking into account.

Media Influence and Impact

If research can establish who is using a specific medium, and how, the question that naturally follows is: What are the consequences of this media usage? What are the individual physical, psychological, social, and cultural effects of our use of mass media?

For example, quantitative research in this area has sought to validate classic hypotheses on how media messaging functions. One theory is that mass media communications adhere to a “hypodermic needle” model. Individuals are the primary recipients of information disseminated through mass media, and their intake or consumption of that information is individualized as well. Just as with an inoculation, the media message has a direct effect on the person receiving it. This theory, also known as the one-step model, has since been challenged by another, the two-step flow of communication. This model proposes that opinion leaders mediate between individuals and the mass media. Opinion leaders are the direct recipients of mass media messaging, and they, in turn, choose what to communicate to their audiences, when, and to what effect.

Other models have since been proposed as well, all to explain why some mass media communications are able to inspire changes of opinion or in behavior by large segments of the population and some are not. And the debate is not settled. A 2016 study by scholars from both the United States and Chile into the role digital media plays in political protest found that “long-standing communications models, such as the 1955 two-step flow model, are still valid, while direct one-step flows and more complex network flows are also present.”

Applied Research in Media Management

Marketing professionals conduct similar research into influence and impact whenever they collect data about responses to their campaigns. Consider email marketing, which continues to command a sizable portion of most business marketing budgets. Every email marketing platform provides its users with basic data about the number of emails opened and the number of users who click on links embedded in the email, effectively responding to the message’s call to action (CTA). With this information and even more robust feedback, marketing managers refine their messages and shift their resources to maximize each new campaign’s appeal to its audience’s interests.

A great deal of research in this area is also shaping the way media managers engage with their audiences on emerging media. What do Snapchat’s largely college-age users expect from that media channel, and why are they more likely to make it their social media platform of choice over other options?

To answer these questions, researchers at Cornell University’s Social Media Lab interviewed a representative sample of Snapchat users. This population indicated that Snapchat was more personal than other social networks, and that their connections on Snapchat felt more genuine. Overall, these Snapchat users said they valued “being able to have an interaction where they can be their true selves without worrying about the repercussions of their exchanges.” These researchers are not investigating how the Snapchat functionality, largely responsible for establishing this intimate conversational tone (its auto-delete feature), might be adapted to other applications. This study has the potential to drive future enhancements to the medium itself, as well as for initiatives relevant to professionals in digital advertising, social media management, internal communications and public relations.

A-State’s online Master of Science in Media Management program equips you with the research skills you need to become a leader in the media industry.

Learn more about the A-State online MSMM program.


Fortune: Twitter Is Making It Easier and Easier to Broadcast Live Video

Nielsen: The Science Behind What’s Next

comScore: Media

AdvertisingAge: What Medium Scores Highest ROI? It May Be Radio

UC Davis: One-Step, Two-Step, Network-Step?

EmailMarketingDaily: Email Marketing to Grow in 2017, Study Says

Cornell CIS: Cornell Research Study Shows How Snapchat Is Changing the Way We Share Information

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