Social Media and Immaterial Labor: Examining Twitter’s Role in Business Marketing

Last Updated: 31 Mar 2023
Pages: 32 Views: 19
Table of contents


Nowadays the main trend on the net is the rissing numbers of Social media Appilications, which all have a common factor. They all depend largely on the users-generated content in simle terms the users of the application. Users create the websites. The process of creating and adding content is a way of working which Italian autonomists call immaterial labor. An example of a social media site that is filled by ‘immaterial labor’, is Twitter

Not only individuals use social media websites such as Twitter, companies also are active on Twitter. The site is increasingly used as a marketing tool, companies see the value of sending tweets to followers, twitter is becoming very important in companies marketing mix.

Order custom essay Social Media and Immaterial Labor: Examining Twitter’s Role in Business Marketing with free plagiarism report

feat icon 450+ experts on 30 subjects feat icon Starting from 3 hours delivery
Get Essay Help

There are books which addresses the ways you can reach potential customers on Twitter and there are even courses learning companies using Twitter effecitelve and as effecient as possible. Yet there is no clear one way process for the companies to use or to follow. Actually use of twitter by companies can not be described in one particular method. The purpose of this dessertetion is to examibe the certain ways Twitter can be used by businesses and how enterprises could rely on immaterial labor of their “followers”


Social media websites are in a rising trend. Each year a new website/application will be lauched on the internet.

Tamar Weinberg describes Social Media in his book The New Community RulesMarketring on the social web as ‘anything where users can participate, create and share content’[1]‘ such as profile sites like Twitter and Facebook and collaborative sites such as Wikipedia and many other blogs.

The rising number of social media Initiatives on the web, are resulting in rising numbers in user generated content. Many of the Social Media sites are largely filled by content supplied by the users. This – the delivery of content – is an example of immaterial labor.

Immaterial labor is performing labor which has not to be the right idea of working, but yet there is an certain value generated. An simple example of immaterial labor is posting a message on a social media website. You create a certain value in form of information regairing a certain subject. Other users may or may not use youre provided information.

Twitter is a popular appilication of social media. This site is filled by its users. People with a twitter account are able to to post short messages about anything. The message should be decent and cant harm others in anyway. Twitter is very strict with this. A person with twitter account can post messages about thire current situation, what are they doing now, what they are thinking and they can also alert other twitter users . Reply from other twitter users is common aswell, this is called re-tweet in twitter terms.

Many companies discover the power of Twitter. Since its foundation in the Netherlands alone there are hundreds of companies already using twitter, companies such as Holland international, America express and many more. Companies which are using twitter are actively approaching potential customers each in their own way, because twittering is a relatively new form of information transfer, there are few standardized methods on how it can be done. Thus many companies devise their own ways using Twitter into their marketing strategy. In some approaches trying to fit twitter into the marketing strategy the immaterial labor of other users have a big impact on the company and its marketing strategy.

The purpose of this dessertetion is to examine the ways Twitter is currently being used by companies.


In which ways companys use twitter to spreak their messages?

How are companys using the willingness of there followers to perform immaterial labour.

Before the analysis a further explaination of immaterial labor is neccesarry.

the theory of Lazzarato and Terra Nova about immaterial albour will be discussed in theoretical framework aswell as the terms social factory and free labour will be the main themes in theoretical framework. After a clasification of the case study the different ways twitter used by companys will be analyssed and disccussed

Finally, an formulation or the writers own criticism of the idea of free labor, by stating that the emphasis is strongly on the exploitation of immaterial labor

Research Methodology

This dissertation will be based mainly on the qualitative analysis.

In which ways did twitter change the ideas about marketing.

Marketing op internet

Internet is still not yet fully integrated marketing tool by many companies. The reason is because Internet and the digital world in relative terms are fairly new, developments are followed up quickly, making it very difficult for marketers to perform on a certain development, something new seems interesting until a new features is added. The Internet is a momentary medium, you can’t predict it, what today is a must for companies can be changed rapidly. Through this turbulent nature of the Internet, some companies are not really convinced to invest in this relative new media. Instead of this they try to use the so called old media like television, radio, newspapers etc.. This gives them a certain guarantee.

Yet there are already companies that see the value of the Internet as a marketing tool. There are many advantages.

Advertising on the Internet: the range is large and the costs are relatively low. Moreover, if something is advertised on the Internet companys can precisely track how many people see a particular ad, who clicks on it and many more features. The possibilities are endless. With the rise of Social Media. Profile web sites such as Facebook and Twitter increase the possibilities for companies to invest in Internet even more. For example, companies can be in touch with individuals on the social network, with almost no costs involved.

Marketing in Twitter

In a full page e-article in the Handelscourant ( Dutsch business newspaper) of april 2nd, 2011 an interview with businessman Jelle Van der Doorn: “Companies that are not use Twitter are doomed. ” In this article Van der Doorn explains, with the arrival of Twitter the trend on social media is developing very rapidily. In one of the many handbooks that have been written about Internet marketing Twitter is explained as follows:

Twitter is best described as a micro blogging service. The principle of Twitter is letting know what you are currently doing. This is done using a text message that can consist of up to 140 characters. Such a message is called a Tweet in Twitter-terms. People who follow you see the Tweets which you write. Interestingly Tweets are often adopted by other people twittering creating a modern fuss/hype that often creates more widespread than the traditional media.

Who, exactly, is using Twitter these daysA gadget-addicted tech geekA twenty-something born-to-be-wiredSomeone who has nothing better to do all day than post mind-numbering tweetsOf course not! These days Twitter crosses a wide swath of people from all walks of life.[2]

This “fuss/hype” will prove to be relevant to companies wanting spread the message to as many people as possible. A detailed expalnation about this topic will be done in the case study fouded in theoretical framework.

While Twitter was created for individuals to socialise, Twitter appears to be very interesting for companies aswell. Especially as a platform for marketing, since Twitter is increasingly viewed by companies as an interesting marketing tool. There are conferences about Twitter, there are courses organized and there are books with tips on how to best use Twitter for your business. A recent publication on this issue from Hallis Thomases first book, she removes the prejudice about tweeter and explains why companies need to use twitter/

Who, exactly, is using Twitter these daysA gadget-addicted tech geekA twenty-something born-to-be-wiredSomeone who has nothing better to do all day than post mind-numbering tweetsOf course not! These days Twitter crosses a wide swath of people from all walks of life.[3]

What Thomases could not know when writing her book is the fact that on April 15, 2010 an anouncement would be done by official Twitter Congress announcing that at that time there were 105 million Twitter users and 300,000 users joining twitter every month.

Also interesting to mention is the fact that had a traffic of 180 million unique visitors/viewers each month. The number of users are still increasing.

Thomases then provides that Twitter is still in development:
Twitter’s full versatility has not even been tapped out yet. It seems like every few weeks, another innovative use of Twitter comes to light.[4]

Literature review

Immaterial labour

Producing Tweets on Twitter is a form of work described as immaterial labor by Italian autonomists. Sociologist and Social Theorist Maurizio Lazzarato gives as a definition of immaterial labor: labor producing informational and cultural conent of the commodity.

Theorist Maurizio Lazzaroti makes a distinction between the informational and cultural content. As explained in these terms, he indicates that the informational content is related to the workflow of the workers.

Nowadays, in the modern world, the labor are increasingly following the automated work processes trend meaning machines replace human labor. More ‘work ‘ is done on or by the computer and there is less hand work. Examples of occupations in this manner include journalist, bank employees, and many more.

What these professions have in common is that they produce nothing physical. Both the form of work and the final product is intangible. The cultural content is related to the nature of the work. Lazzarato describes the cultural content of immaterial labor as a collection of activities that are not immediately seen as ‘work’, but are actually are. An example is creating a public opinion, or measuring cultural standards.

A characteristic of immaterial labor in both the informational content and the cultural contemt is the increasing importance of the individual subjectivity of the worker in employment. This in contrast to employment in the period of Fordism, where a strict separation between people who believed and those who performed was highly measurable. For example if you were a employee working in factory, you just had to produce and not think.

Nowadays labor is more focused on factory without walls Tronti describes this term as the social factory. He means that the whole society has become a kind of factory. The process of production is not only done in factories, but “production ” is decentralized. Products are not only mad in factory.

[…]the whole of society becomes an articulation of power; in other words, the whole of society exists as a function of the factory and the factory extends its exclusive domination over the whole of society.[5]

The information flow on the Internet can be used to understand what is meant by Social Factory. With the rise of the Internet and the digital economy, labor is decentralized. People do not longer work in one place. Society and production facility become one, making the difference between work and leasure activity very low.

People use their free time to work. During working times they can do things as a consumer buyinm products from internet.

The boundary between work and non-work is no longer clear. People can be employees, the producers, while being a consumer at the same time. A clear example is freelance. They work during their free time, or they have free time during their work, the difference between ‘work’ and ‘non-work “has largely faded.

Another characteristic of immaterial labor described by the Italian autonomists is the idea that consumption no longer leads to destruction. Earlier, during Fordism, the life cycle of produced goods was simple. Something was produced and was then consumed. During the process of consuming the product was – and some products more slowly than others – destroyed. Today, consumption lead to a new form of production. Lazzarato writes:

The particularity of the commodity produced through immaterial labor […] consists in the fact that it is not destroyed in the act of consumption, but rather it enlarges, transforms, and creates the “ideological” and cultural environment of the consumer. This commodity does not produce the physical capacity of labor power; instead, it transforms the person who uses it. Immaterial labor produces first and foremost a “social relationship”.[6]

The consumption of something does not automatically means the end product. If you consume information as a consumer this leads to the production of new information. Examples of cases involving consumer consumption which leads to production of new information can be seen on popular websites that use popularity ratings. On the video site YouTube, for example, you can track how many people have looked at some clips. After viewing a certain clip the view rating will rise in this way youtube can produce best viewd clips day/week/month/year. So when you view a clip( consumption) you produce information ( +1 in viewed ). With this information websites such as Youtube, Twitter and many more can make money by offering this most viewed clips as a potential market for a promotion tools. A compnay knows exactly how many people will see the advert if they play a advert before this popular clip. The popular the clip(youtube example) the more a company has to pay in order to promote the products.

Companies are not the only ones who are broadcasting on Twitter. Company are partly dependent on other Twitter users. These other twitters will retweet information to the other users in positive or negative way, They also can ask question regaring certain products/services.

Twitter users can also simultaneously produce and consume information. Through Retweet (RTs) making a new Tweet from a ‘old’ Tweet. For example company A offers new kind of holiday packages Tweeter A consume the information and Retweets on the old tweet regarding the package holiday by mentioning other compnays offering same/better services( Producing new information while consuming the old one) Consumption on twitter leads to production.

Describing Lazzarato’s theory of immaterial labor in previous chapter, producing content for the Internet – such as Tweets on Twitter – can be seen as immaterial labor. However, it can also be seen as what Terranova appoint in her article: ‘Free Labor’. This type of work is characterized by two things, first, the work with no money in return( free as costless), and secondly its not an forced work, people do it because they like it (‘free’ as volentary). Especially in the early days of the internet, this form of labor was very popular. People were building communities and sites filled with certain content. Now the proportions are slightly different

In the overdeveloped countries, the end of the factory has spelled out the obsolescence of the old working class, but it has also produced generations of workers who have been repeatedly addressed as active consumers of meaningful commodities. Free labor is the moment where this knowledgeable consumption of culture is translated into productive activities that are pleasurably embraced and at the same time often shamelessly exploited.[7]

Content produced by individuals on the Internet, have been shamelessly exploited by large media companies. These include using content of their visitors to get more people on their website.Having more visitors, means more revenue from advertising.

Indirectly the work of indivuals using free labor will be used to make money. Video Site is an example of a website which works this way. The site consists of movies made ??by individuals. But the only ones who are making money are the owners of YouTube, Google. Later in this dessertetion an further analyse of operating principle exploitation of “free labor” wil be discsusses.

Finding and discusions

To explore ways Twitter is used by companies for marketing and selling purposes and to analyze how they make use of the immaterial labor of individual tweeters, a more detailed description of number of ways twitter is use by company will be described in this chapter.

This will be grouped in the ways company use twitter and in each sub section a feed back will be created to notion of immaterial labour.

Firstly there is a clear distinction between two major ways Twitter is used. Some forms of Twitter use are clear, but its usually one direction, others are seen as a dialogue, two sided. Companies that use Twitter as a one-way marketing tools are most similar to old media, which only broadcast.Tweets are broadcasted or Tweets are read, the information transfer is one way here. Other companies are more interactive. They respond to tweets of others, mix with poeple in online conversations and answer questions.

Twitter als one-way marketinginstrument

Company use Twitter in the same way as they are using the “old media” like television, radio and print: as one-way instrument. It is intended to deliver a certain message through the media to the end consumer. Companies hope to get the attention of customers, because attention can lead to revenue. The concept of attention is defined in management terms as;

? […] focused mental engagement on a particular item of information. Items come into our awareness, we attend to a particular item, and then we decide whether to act’.[8]

Eventually companys hope offcourse that customer will recognise the product and decide to act on it and in many cases buy the product. With the concept of audience commodity Smythe explains that people are actually working, while not being at work, they are employed by the advertisers. On television, on the streets and now the Internet, they are constantly exposed to information and ads. It also deals with audience: ‘because audience power is produced, sold, purchased and consumed, it commands a price and is a commodity’.[9]

As everyone now easily own contents and information on the Internet because of the easy use of putting information online, there is more information than you can pay attention to as an individual. Attention has become scarce, demand is greater than supply. This is the reason for companys to employ special people who can highlight the companies products/advertisement on the Internet.

all kinds of different platforms are used here: websites, advertisements, virals and social media.

According to media scholar Andrew Keen the era of social media and in general the rise of Twitter has been charctarised by attention economy, “Twitter’s ascent marks the end of the Web 2.0 period (1999-2009) and the beginning of […] what i would call the “attention economy”. “He argues this view by stating that Twitter is all about attention, people want to be followed by many people as possible and like it when their message are viewed by many twitter users.

Many Company use twitter to ask the opinion of the audience, trough the broadcast model ( from 1 sender to many recievers). Example of twitter account using this method are; John Lewis, Social party, bbc channel and many more. Examples of Tweets used by these companys are;

As a MemberoftheJohn lewis you will get10% discountonourcosmetics! Besidessavingyourpointsformore fun stuffsoon‘

‘Reminder: TonightonChannel 2, 22:50 pm TheBattle ofBrussels. Dexterat 23:00hoursonchannel. 3andat 23:20hoursCannesFilmJournalon channel. 1!

What really highlights this tweets is the use of the so called old patron of broadcasting. Message ahs been transmitted by 1 sender and has been received by many receiver, there is no further interaction.

Twitter as a source of news/ people opinion

Twitter can be used as a medium to broadcast a certain message, similar to the ‘old’ model of broadcastting like television. But Twitter can also work in other ways; for instance, it can also be used as a source for other media. This is shown by the example of the BBC broadcast following the egypt situation on 15/03/2011. In this broadcast the preliminary results are reported, there was reporting from the country, and the results were analyzed. So it was a “traditional” report analysation. BBC also used a seperarte part of the broadcast by reading some interestting tweets, in a so called BBC Cube ineternet. Internet Editors talks about certain interesting tweets twittered by other people rergarding the situation in egypt.

What was new however, is that there is a cube ‘internet’ was broadcasted. Internet Editor Jerome Johnson talked about the tweets send by twitter user regrarding egyptian revolts.

Johnson and BBC use tweeter as a medium to get the people opinions about certain objects and information. Italian autonomists would describe this as Twitters general intellect.

When the workers are freed from spending all their time at the assembly line, new forms of subjectivity and knowledge arises – the general intellect – creating […] ‘mass intellectuality’, a “repository of knowledges indivisible from living subjects and from their linguistic co–operation”[10]

The idea of ??general intellect is originally originated from Marx, who predicted the development towards a capitalist system where the subjectivity of the worker and his knowledge would increasingly be a major aspect.

The development of fixed capital indicates to what degree general social knowledge has become a direct force of production, and to what degree, hence, the conditions of the process of social life itself have come under the control of the general intellect and been transformed in accordance with it.[11]

BBC is not the only news channel using twitter in broadcast session. In a news report of CNN tweeter plays a important role for a very long time now. Both on the website of CNN as in the news bulletins on TV CNN refers to Tweets. On television the internet editor reports the news, while he treats a specific item on its display, tweets are being sended by the general twitters regarding this subject the CNN internet editor trys to highlight and report couple of interesting tweets sended by twitter users.

A good example of such an item is in Haiti after the earthquake in January 2010. Because of tweeter many local haiti people could describe the situation in haiti in tweeter sending tweets to BBC as a video link, or text comments.

According earthquake expert Earle Twitter is a ideal social medium to collectively share experiences with each other. Increasingly tweets are being reported before major news channels gets the informations regarding a certain event. Also in the case of Egyptian revolt, Tweeter was the first internet medium to highlight this issue. Many tweets were sended by eye witnesses to BBC, CNN and any other news channels explaining the current situation in egypt.

CNN took advantage of that by implementing this idea to the main CNN website now yiu can read tweets on cnn website in a so called eyewitnesses reports, this is a great idea for people who dont have a twitter account.

CNN is monitoring tweets and other messages from people in Egypt and reports from those who said they have been in touch with friends and family. CNN has not been able to able to [sic] verify this material.[12]

Example of a Tweets sended by a anonymous tweeetwer user to CNN :

Felt that, loud and clear. We’re in Cap Haitien. House (really the whole world) shook for about 30 seconds” — From Twitter user firesideint (Luke Renner) at 5:20 p.m. ET

Just experienced a MAJOR earthquake here in Port au Prince – walls were falling down. – we are ALL fine – pray for those in the slums” — From Twitter user troylivesay in Port-au-Prince, Haiti at 5:24 p.m. ET

The remarkable thing is that CNN uses Twitter as a source of eyewitness testimonys rather than a platform with views of the people, as did the BBC during the broadcast on the Egyptian revolt. A feature that CNN and the BBC have in common is usage of immaterial labor of the individual tweeters.

Twitter users tweeting message at home in their free time and on their own initiative, create value for the news channels, without actually felling being a employee and perfomring a certain task. This fits the description that Lazzarato gives on immaterial labor, the idea that the immaterial labor does not feels like “real “work.

Terranova would argue with the fact that CNN is exploiting the information gained from tweeter users, because CNN uses the information gained from tweeter in theire news report without actually rewarding in monetary terms or in any other ways the author.

Information Broadcasting is a way for CNN to make money, because they get more viewers if they provide good news coverage. The information they get from Twitter, they use that for the same viewers. CNN is creating value from the information on Twitter, without providing the original author something in return.

Compared with traditional journalism is that in this new form of journalism, opinions and knowledge of the people – in short, the wisdom of the crowd -plays a a greater role before the rise of Twitter.

Before the rise of tweeter the opinions of ‘normal people’ only were dealt within television programs which were easily accessible. In news reports the opinions were only given by correspondents, reporters and social elite.

Non only news channels gained valuable information on tweeter, the faaous free newspaper Metro actually encourage people using tweeter and sending interest tweets to the editors.

Metro mentions Twitter in their section ‘Tweet Week’: ‘the modern readers’ letters section. Tweets about the metro and replys regarding certain inetersting questions are put here.

In this way of using twitter it is clear that the idea of immaterial labor is characterized by the notion that production does not lead to destruction, but to new consumption. Especially in the example of the metro this is really highlighted. The first act of consumption, reading a magazine leads to the production of tweets containing their views on a particular article.

The editors of the Metro are consuming – reading – and react on this by publicing a certain section on this. Finally the readers consumer it again by reading the section of the magazine.

Twitter to create a hype

In the two previous ways of using Twitter, the message was always one sided: companies use twitter as a form of advertising on the Web, the message is send to large group of people or companiies use messages from individual Twitter users for themselves, opinions or news value that can be used by other media.

But Twitter can also be used in complex ways. Companies can offer both their (advertising) message to send to their followers, and immediately ensure that Twitter users spread the certain message to others in different ways such as re-tweets or face to face advertising.

When a company wants to distribute Tweets they want to be ensured that their message gets to as many people as possible. To circulate the company name and message as much as possible, the companies are largely dependent on the willingness of individual twitter users to perform immaterial labor. This immaterial labor takes form of re-tweets, company A send information to the followers, the followers re-tweet( resend) the message to other tweeter users. This is form of a immaterial labour.

For some companies, the purpose of their activities on Twitter is to create a hype/buzz around their companys name or product. Creating a hype or a buzz is a powerfull marketing way to advertise. Instead of trying to send a certain message to each potential customers many customers use a hype marketing, by trying to achieve a situation when customers promote the companys products by sending messages to each other. Research shows that 78% of consumers believe other consumers when it comes to companies and products, while only 14% of consumers find advertising reliable. Hyping or buzzing is explained by as Thomas Jr. as buzzing. ‘[…] the amplification of initial marketing efforts by third parties through their passive or active influence’ .[13]

“Buzz or hype is a form of face to face or worrd to word advertising. According to Grewal this is an important source of information for consumers. Face to face influence how people think about a product. It also appeared that word-of-mouth advertising has more impact than information which is printed, and generally considered as the most reliable form of advertising.

An example of a company that has unleashed a so-called buzz, is the Donald Duck magazine. Since early February 2010, they created fictitious accounts on Twitter for some Duck city residents, like Donald Duck, Scrooge McDuck and Mickey Mouse Twitter. Through these accounts, they put out story lines and let them Duck city Residents interact between each other. Meanwhile the figures are followed by thousands of people. According to editor Jim van der Weele the participation of Donald Duck on Twitter a great success and many of their messages are beein re-tweeted.

Also newsworthy messages can spread rapidly on Twitter using the immaterial labor of tweeters. A recent example is from Green lands 28 September, 2011. Then there was the official Twitter account of the Green lands festival reported the following:

The requalir tickets to the grean lands festival has been sold out, however the combo tickets are still available, visit for further information [14]

A day later, there was a mistake made ??at the ticket sales, according to the following tweet.


This tweet was re-tweeted by nearly 100 people, who all had their own followers.

The effect was noticeable within one day the remaining 10,000 tickets were sold out. Because of twitter Green lands tweet was spread to huge potential customers base.

Because of all of those tweeters – voluntarily and on their own initiative – the message was sent by Lowlands of their followers, they made ??sure that many tickets were sold. To some extent, they created their value so geretweet Lowlands. This can be seen as a form of exploitation from Lowlands seen. The organization used the “free labor”of their followers to make money on ticket sales. They all reported benefit from the willingness of their followers to do work, in this case the tweeting of information to their followers.

According to the popularity of adding feature ‘# fail’ in Twitter. A company can be discussed by individuals in tweeter in positive or negative way. If people are unhappy with a company, Twitter is a popular medium to discuss those complaints.

Such an addition, which is called hashtag, are been used by tweeter users when they are not happy with a certain information.

On the night of 25th January 2011 when the egyptian revolt took place. Many tweeter users where unhappy with the information provided by certain news channel. People found that this news channel did not provied accurate news, and let it know toeach other. There were many negative reports about this news channel in Twitter. Due to the immaterial labor performed by tweeter users and, even those who criticize others’ re-tweet, this certain newschannel recived a bad reputaion in Twitter and was described as poorly news channel. There was a negative buzz about the broadcasting and provided information.

Tthese three examples shows you can not control, direct or change the ‘buzz’ and ‘being buzzed ” as a company. The buzz can be an unforeseen side effect for companies.

Companies using twitters users network

A famous addition in tweeter is the “Please RT. This stands for ‘Please Retweet. This means that those who send the Tweet ask all the readers to re-tweet the message to theire followers.

This can be a very easy way to get your message read by many people. Author and media expert Erwin Blom experienced this when he lauched his new book”Handbook Communities’ in twitter with posting comment asking his followers to retweet his message about his new book. On his site he writes what happened with his message:

I have a small base of 6,000 followers. Within that group the message was re-sent sent by many other people. This so-called re-tweets made ?it ?sure that my message did not only reched the people who follow me, but it also reached a majority of my followers followers.

In recent 8days [sic] a small number of 959 tweets was placed regarding the Handbook communities. Through Tweetreach I have calculated that I reached a audience of 117,497 people[sic] with no marketing budget, no traditional media, simply through the power of the network. With a Tweet and mouth to mouth advertising, more than one hundred thousand people have been reached!

Word-of-mouth advertising that Barnes is talking about, or so called word to mouse exists only because of the immaterial labor tweeter users perform. Some of the 6000 followers of Blom performd labor by re-tweeting his message to there followers. Those people obviously do not feel this as ‘work’, they did almost nothing. Yet they created value for the writer, and also indirectly for the publisher and bookstores.

But there is another aspect that emerges here, by using Twitter Blom generated value from the network of people. Because of the people who re-tweet post to all their own networks of friends, colleagues and acquaintances, the information can spread widely. If people would not have such network, the message would not reach many people had so the message would had little value. This network of acquaintances Bourdieu described as “social capital”:

“The total existing of potential resources arising from the possession of a more or less institutionalized sustainable network of relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition […] that each of its members is a so called spine in the collective capital.

Using Twitter you generate value from the contacts people have between each other their social capital is utilized. Hardt and Negri suggest that instead of the assembly line in the factory now the network has become the organizational model of production.

Another interesting fact of using users twitter network, shows us that it actually pays off to have a large social capital, in this case in the form of many followers. Reporter GeenStijl TV Rutger Castricum tweeted on february 18, 2011:

Buy youre tickets from trnsavia, GREAT DEALS

A few minutes later a re- tweet from Rutger,

Haha, my holiday pack to ibiza is free, just before my first message transavia called me to put

tweet Buy youre tickets from trnsavia, GREAT DEALS on my porifle page and re twet to all my followers, in exchange they prmoised me free holiday to ibiza, GREAT.

At that time Rutger Castricum had 8617 followers, the Transavia advertising was already seen by rutgers 8617 followers.

Airline Transavia knows popular people will have a large amount of followers thus there social capital is fairly high.

Transavia used his popularity in their advertising campagne. As the second Tweet show, they sought contact with Rutger Castricum and asked him to post the first message on Twitter. Transavia asked rutger castrcum to perfom immaterial labor.

Rutger Castricum did not think putting a tweet as “performing labour”, but still he perfomed labour which adds value to transavia.

ListenRead phoneticallyBesides, in this case Castricum had a reward in a from of – a free flight – from transavia. But this is very uncommon in twitter world. Allmost all the immaterial labour perform on twitter is with no reward in any forms.

Generally people are tweeting without asking anything in return. This fits the description of Terra Nova ‘Free Labor’. At the moment when people produce something, such as information or knowledge, it can be exploited by large companies, who basically earn money by immaterial labor supplied by individuals. Terranova explains this as follows:

If knowledge is inherently collective, it is even more so in the case of the postmodern cultural economy: music, fashion, and information are all produced collectively but are selectively compensated.[16]

Companys are the actual earners earning money from immatrial labor perfomred on the net. People themselves often get nothing in return. This may be one reason why companies are active on Twitter. Firstly, there are many individuals who can help others with a certain message to get, and secondly it costs a company no money, they use the “free labor” of tweeters.

Twitter as helpdesk

Many people use Twitter as a guide or help desk. All the random questions of all kinds of subjects can be found on twitter. The reason why twitter is such a good source media is because , among others twitter has a very large amount of people using it. It appears that there is always someone who knows the answer to a certain question. Basically this is the idea of “wisdom of the crowd, ” or collective intelligence. In science, there is a disagreement about the usefulness and quality of collective intelligence. According to Surowiecki, the mass has a greater intelligence compared to isolated individuals. With more people you have a greater degree of knowledge. Twitter is an ideal medium for information, because with the increased mass there is a great knwldege to be found.

A famous feature in Tweeter is the co salled daretoask. People who have a question, put in the # daretoask in their Tweet question. people wanting to answer a certain question can search with the # daretoask option. In this way, Twitter can be seen as a place where demand and supply of information meets each other. The reason why this certain way of twittering has become so popular is that it is very easy to tweet your question. You type in the question, you press ‘send’ and within a few minutes you can expect some asnwers from other twitter users. Answering questions is immaterial labor, as it happens in people’s leisure time. It does not feel like work, but despite that there is something produced, people produce information for each other.

Some companies have recognised the simpliltiy of twitters option as a question and answer for consumers . This is reflected in accounts of companies like T-Mobile, UPC and KLM. The Twitter Employees of these companies provide – paid – immaterial labour and webcare. According to Social Media expert Blom, webcare can shortly be described as “Listen. Monitor what’s being said about you and respond, explain, help ‘.

When in december 2011 the coldest winter in recent years hits Netherlands and in other parts of Europe allot of travellers stranded at airports around the world and it was chaos at airports. KLM received many questions over the phone and could not initially provide good service. The company decided to deploy social media, and it started to help people through Twitter and Face book. On their Twitter account they answered questions, provided information and tried to help people by getting them a replacement flight. The employees of KLM web care performed immaterial labor on Twitter by putting information on Twitter and interact with their customers.

After the situation was stable again, People started twittering positive tweets about KLM and their service.

KLM basically did not use the immaterial labor of those other tweeters, rather it was an unforeseen consequence of their service. But the principle remains the same. When a company provides a good service this can be twittered by individual tweeters. The immaterial labour they perform provide a positive buzz and name recognition, and so it added value to the company

Other forms of twitter use

As described in prvious chapter Apart from the five main ways twitter can be used by companies.

Twitter can also be used in many other ways. The main reason why this dessertetion focuses on the main five reason as described above is becausse of the extensive use of the intangible work of individual tweeters in above mentioned forms of twitter use by companies.

For some companies selling is not the priorety. Slightly more than half of European companies keep an record about the brand image over past years, to effectively measure this many companys choose to use twitter, 45 percent of EU companies are using social media to improve interaction between the company and the customer. And with the rising number of talk shows using twitter as a enetertaiment source, its important to remark briefly the other ways of twiiter use by companies.


Famous celebrities were largely the reason for the popularity of Twitter worldwide. When a celebrity twitters a interesting information all the major talk shows and or magazines will use this in there broadcast and or magazine as a entertainment source for potential customers.


There are also politicians who twitter, some even very fanatic. The leader of Groen links ( Dutch politician party) , Femke Halsema, is very well known politici who use twitter. She has about 50,000 followers Femke Halseme does not use tweitter only discusiing Politics but she is also using it for private life. Its a new trend for politicians people to talk about there personal life in twitter.

Twitter Actions

Companies like Dell and United Airlines have such a large number of followers that they offer special promotions on twitter. United Airlines promotes several airtickets to different destination only for the United airlines followers on twitter, they do this to get more followers, which will mean a well known image in future. One of the tweets United airlines wrote;

‘Canada Tware! Floridians… looking to get out of the sunHead up north with our Canada Tware! See details @’[17]

The word tware is a combination between Twitter and Fare. Meanwhile it has become a familiar term in Twitter world. Computer manufacturer Dell claims to earned over 6.5 million U.S. dollars in 2009 with twares.

From Free Labor to Voluntary Immaterial Labor

Much has been written about the exploitation of labor by companies in today’s digital economy.

In the article “Loser Generated Content: From Participation to Exploitation” Petersen gives a list of examples of the different ways social media websites make money based on the immaterial labor of their users. Also writers like Terra Nova and Scholz emphasize that everything at work is performed on social media sites operated by large companies. Terra Nova does that with her notion of Free Labor and Scholtz suggest that:

[…] forty percent of all web traffic is concentrated on ten websites […] Most of these sites owe their popularity to the wealth of content generated by the visiting net publics that spend significant amounts of time on these very, very few sites thus creating wealth for a handful of corporate owners.[18]

this a very pessimistic way of economic thinking which is too much focused on the commercial activities of the companies making money on immaterial labor on the Web. It may well be that money is for individuals who work, but the approach of theorists described above one-sided view. A Marxist Analysis of Free Labor on the Internet as Schultz describes, implies that ther is a underlying plan behind Twitter for companies to earn money. Petersen also implicitly says that when he talks about the emergence of Web 2.0 “in ITS early commercial stage, the Internet Proved bad at selling commodities, but really good at creating opportunities hype and economic bubbles.

Something else was needed though, and subtler forms of creating surplus evolved in Web 2.0’.[19] In the case of Twitter it seems unlikely that there is such a “preconceived plan” because individuals are rather using twitter than companies. Only recently companies have discovered the power of Twitter, and only recently they use it for their marketing.

Petersen concluded in his article by saying that we need to find a new theory of work. A theory on one side exploitting and includes the idea of free labor, and on the other side it also takes into the consedaration that people can experience the joy of contributing to certain sites. both factors are important in research into contemporary social media.

However, doing qualitative research on twitter and twitter users, then it is more efficient not to involve exploitation side. The emphasis in the Schultz, Petersen and Terra Nova analysis is they focus too much on the capitalist system behind collaborative initiatives on the Internet. To research the motives of people who are active on Twitter, it is relevant to talk about an form of work that has nothing to do with money.

In that kind of research or analysis its irrelevant who makes money from the labor perfomred by people on a certain website, that is rather a conseguqnece that a cause. Most people are not twitterin because they want to make money: Twitter is completely independent of the capitalist system of profit and earn money for individuals. In Empire Hardt and Negri say that “[]t he cooperative aspect of immaterial labor […] from the outside [is] imposed or organized, as in earlier forms of work was. […] This fact has reservations about the old notion which labor power as “variable capital ” is considered, ie, as a force that is activated and made ??coherent only by capital. “This, they indicate that the initiative for example to twittering comes from people themselves. It has nothing to do with the question whether companies persuade people to do work for them.

People are twittering because they like it or find it useful to get in touch with each other. In my opinion the term Free Labor can be deleted free labour implies an economic relationship between the employer and the employee. If you perform ??Free Labor, you work for free for companies who make money out of youre free labour. Therfore in my opinion lazzaratos theory about Immaterial Labour, would be more accurate if its called voluntary immaterial labour. Twittering by individuals is totally voluntary, it has in terms of individual twitter nothing to do with economic relations. Voluntary Immaterial labor is seen as a form of immaterial labor in which there is no need to think about which individuals and businesses to earn money somewhere. The immaterial labor perfomed by twitter users is done because they like it as a time killer or because it helps their social life in some way.

According to Wilson and Musick work that has be done voluntarily – voluntary work – is characterized with three things. First, it is a productive act, something is produced. This may be a physical product, but can be knowledge or care aswell. Therefore human capital is required: knowledge, skills and experience. Secondly, volunteering is always been a certain degree of something collective. With Several people a goal is aimed. Therefore the social capital of voluntary immaterial labour of importantce. Finally, voluntary work is where people often assume to show their ethical side.

They want to do something good, and also show it to other people. Cultural capital have s certain importance in this case. This term comes from Bourdieu. He describes that any act of consumption is associated with showing your taste. In everything you consume you indicate what your preferences are. This also applies when you consume youre free time. By showing how you consume your free time, you give actually describe what kind of person you are. Wuthnow suggests that when someone does something voluntarily, he or she also immediately shows one of his/hers charactaristics for example as someone who does something voluntarily. “This allows the volunteer to see a sympathetic person. Doing Something voluntary in this case can contributae to someone status and prestige.

In this way, Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital help in finding the reason why people are twittering. These people do not naively stupid, ignorant that they are operated by companies, but using Bourdieu’s term is to argue that people are twittering their identity to propagate. That they want to show that they are good at the time, for example, or that they are engaged.

In this way, Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital can help in finding the reason why people are twittering. These people do not twitter because of stupidity, now knowing that they are exploited by companies, but using Bourdieu’s term it is clear that people are twittering to improve their identity. For example to show that they do care.

In this analysis it is important to distinguish between the side of the business and the fact that content on the Internet has been exploited on the onehand and the reasons for poeple twittertinf on the other hand. These are two completely different aspects of Twitter, and can not reflect on the motives of someone to twitter with an constantly thoughtin the mind as a Marxist voice is telling you about “shameless exploitation”.

You cant only associate twitter with volunatry immaterial labour, many social webiste such as Facebook, MSN and many more can be associated with volunatry immaterial labour. When a facebook users post a comment on his friends home page, this has nothing to do with the economical relationship, not between the two users and also not between the user and the company, its volunatry imaterial labour.

This dessretetion is not a result from a naive view of the commercial world. Its completeley logical that companies wants to make money from volunatry immaterial labout performed on twitter by users. I just believe that contuniously retain to the Marxist notion of Free Labor, sientist and researchers cannot researcg and analyse to the motivations of thosewho perfrom immaterial labour.

Twitter is used in many different ways by different companys in their marketing campaigns there is no general way how Twitter can be used for a company, it seems that each company must figure out which way works best for them. What many companies have in common though is the fact that they are partially dependent on the willingness of their followers to perform immaterial labor. As is sometimes asked to re-tweet a message, by sending it to each other and sometimes tweeters deliver information or content to media companies.

Alot is written by Italian autonomists about immatrial labour, this includes labor which is characterized by the idea that the worker dont see the work as a job, it does not feel like labour.

The reason for this is because nothing physical has been produced, however it is more the production of information and the cultural aspects. The main characteristis of immaterial labor is the increasing difficulty to distinguish work time and leisure. Terranova describes free labour as perfomring labour while not getting a reward in financial and or any other terms. Inherent to Free Labor, the assumption is that companies earn money by the labour that has been performed.

In my opinion it is not always necessary to approach labour in this way. In fact, when you’re constantly aware of the fact that others make money from your work, it possibly reduce the enjoyment people can have while performing an voluntary work on the internet. I therefore recommends to discuss voluntary labor, when research has been done into the user side of Twitter. This term is not about capitalist relations between workers and companies and it instantly shows the reason why people do participate in Social Media platforms, because they themselves want to do this. Apart from that I do think that the notion of free labor may be retained. In other cases it is still relevant is that labor is exploited.

For a further investigation it may be interesting to examine whatever the reasons are people twittering. To investigate this, my idea of voluntary immaterial labor can useful. With an investigation in that direction it can alsodive more content to this term, to cllasify different forms of voluntary Immaterial labor. It is also interesting to see in further research how twitter can be sued by compnays in detailed way. Does it really generate money, such as computer maker Dell claimsAnd what way I have described above works best for businessin business this can be an interesting issue.


[1] Graham, Paula. ‘Web 2.0 and why?’. Fossbox. Slide 5. 18-5-2010

[2] Thomases, Hollis. Twitter Marketing: an hour a day. Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing, 2010: p. 39.

[3] Thomases, Hollis. Twitter Marketing: an hour a day. Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing, 2010: p. 39.

[4] Thomases 2010: p. 87.

[5] In: Cote, M. ‘The Italian Foucault: Subjectivity, Valorization, and Communication’. Politics and Culture, 2003, issue 3. 13-4-2010 .

[6] Lazzarato 1996: p. 4.

[7] Terranova 2000: p. 37.

[8] Davenport, T.H., J.C. Beck. The attention economy: Understanding the new currency of business. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2002: p. 20.

[9] Smythe, Dallas W. ‘On the Audience Commodity and its Work’, in M.G. Durham and D.M. Kellner (red.) Media and Cultural Studies. Key Works. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001: p. 256.

[10] Petersen, Soren Mork. ‘Loser Generated Content: From Participation to Exploitation’. First Monday, Vol. 13, Nr. 3 (3-3-2008). 21-4-2010 (Italics van de auteur, citaat komt van Dyer-Witheford, Nick. ‘Cyber–negri: General intellect and immaterial labor,’ In: T.S. Murphy and A.K. Mustapha, red. Resistance in practice: The philosophy of Antonio Negri. London: Pluto Press, 2005: p. 142)

[11] In: Virno, Paolo. ‘General Intellect’. Vert. Arianna Bove. Generation Online, 2001. 22-4-2010

[12] ‘Haiti Earthquake. What we’re hearing’. 13-1-2010. CNN. 16-3-2010

[13] Thomas Jr., Greg. ‘Building the buzz in the hive mind’. Journal of Consumer Behaviour. 2004, Vol. 4 Issue 1, p 64. 17-5-2010

[14] bron:

[15] bron:

[16] Terranova 2000: p. 42.

[17] Bron:

[18] Scholtz, Trebor. ‘What the MySpace generation should know about working for free’. 3-4-2007. 25-4-2010

[19] Petersen, 2010.

Cite this Page

Social Media and Immaterial Labor: Examining Twitter’s Role in Business Marketing. (2019, Mar 20). Retrieved from

Don't let plagiarism ruin your grade

Run a free check or have your essay done for you

plagiarism ruin image

We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

Save time and let our verified experts help you.

Hire writer