Baby, We Were Born to Tweet:
Bruce Springsteen Fans & Twitter

Bill Wolff, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, Saint Joseph's University
Native Jersey Boy & Springsteen Fan: 12 Concerts and Counting. . . .

Goals of the Research

The goals of this study are three-fold: First, to learn more about the Springsteen fan community on Twitter. Second, to learn specifically about why Springsteen fans tweet the way they do. Third, to come to a better understanding of why people are Springsteen fans. They will be met using a combination of research methods: netnography (Kozinets, 2010), case study, active interviewing (Gubrium & Holstein, 2003; Holstein & Gubrium, 2003), and an online survey.

Background

The study of fan cultures has a rich interdisciplinary scholarly history (Jenkins, 1992, 2006, 2007; Hills, 2002; Gray et. al., 2007). The fan communities studied have ranged from Star Trek to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to World of Warcraft players. Much scholarship has been written about Springsteen fans (Cavicchi, 1998; Hills, 2002; Randall, 2011) and, recently, interdisciplinary work has appeared considering his cultural legacy (Carman, 2000; Harde & Streight, 2010; Sawyers, 2004; Smith, 2002). In his ethnography of Springsteen concertgoers during the 1992 – 1993 World Tour, Cavicchi (1998) has described the complex and intimate relationship that fans have with Springsteen the human being, with Springsteen’s music, and with one-another. Fandom, according to Cavicchi, is a community-driven activity with an expansive “social category, referring to a mode of participation with a long history in various cultural categories . . .” (p. 4). These categories include “writing and reading fanzines, participating in computer lists, attending concerts, [and] sharing Bruce stories . . .” (p. 194). The latest cultural space for fans of all media is Twitter. In Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture, Jenkins (2006) wrote about the convergence of fan activities new media writing spaces. Recently, he argued that scholars of new media communities seem “to be traversing the same terrain fan studies traveled decades ago in response to the perceived passivity of mass media consumers” (p. 358).

Using Twitter’s open application programming interface (API) search capabilities, scholars from diverse fields have been using mixed methods approaches to studying individuals and communities on Twitter. For example, Gerbaudo (2012) has studied how activists engage Twitter (and other social media) to organize and create a new kind of protest culture. Zappavigna (2011) has studied a “corpus of 45,000 tweets collected in the 24 hours after the announcement of Barak Obama’s victory” to learn how language is being used to help build community. With the rise of studies in online spaces so, too, have research methodologies evolved to consider the complexities of issues relating to engagement with online communities, public / private information, and permissions to cite work (Kozinets, 2012; Markham & Baym, 2009; McKee & Porter, 2009). The name of this new methodology, netnography, can be defined as Kozinets (2010) places in the subheading of his book of that title: “doing ethnographic research online.” The Association of Internet Researchers has created a document, “Ethical Decision-Making and Internet Research” and associated wiki, helps guide a researcher through the complexity of context-specific choices that researchers must make when conducting research in online spaces (see http://ethics.aoir.org/). This research will be conducted using the AoIR documents as a guide.

Procedures

Using online survey, online ethnographic (netnographic), case study, and active interviewing methods, as well as grounded theory analysis, the study will involve 4 overlapping phases:

  1. A netnographic study of Springsteen fans on Twitter.
  2. Conduct an online 7-question survey of Springsteen fans.
  3. Conduct follow-up interviews with fans using active interviewing methodologies.
  4. Use grounded theory to analyze interview transcripts.

Parts 1 and 2 will continue until one month after the final show of the Wrecking Ball tour is completed (current tour schedule indicates that last show will be September 21, 2013). Parts 3 and 4 will continue through August 2014.

About Bill Wolff

Bill Wolff is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies University in Philadelphia, where he teaches courses in the areas of social media, non-profit communications, and visual rhetoric. Prior to joining SJU, he was an Associate Professor of Writing Arts at Rowan University. He has a PhD in Computers and English Studies from The University of Texas at Austin, an MA in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Cincinnati, and a BA in English (honors) from Union College, Schenectady, NY. Bill is the recipient of a 2013 Delaware Division of the Arts Emerging Artist Fellowship for Photography. He lives in Media, PA, with his wife, Wendy, and sons, Hydan and Seeger. Find him on Twitter @billwolff.