Studying social media as semiotic technology: A social semiotic multimodal framework

Søren Vigild Poulsen, Gunhild Kvåle

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


How do we study social media technology? While social semiotics provides an extensive toolkit for analysing multimodal texts and semiotic practices, the study of social media as semiotic technology poses a significant challenge to existing research methodologies. In this article, we present a social semiotic framework that allows us to describe in analytical details the multimodal meaning potentials offered by digital social media technology and connect these to multimodal text-making and semiotic practices while underscoring the role of technology. Our framework is organized around seven interrelated and inherently informed dimensions: (1) multimodality, (2) practice, (3) the social, (4) medium, (5) the material, (6) the historical, and (7) the critical. This framework could pertain to most types of semiotic technologies, but will here be developed for accounting for social media technologies, and its viability will be illustrated with examples from Instagram. By developing this framework, we aim at elaborating the theoretical basis and analytical tools of social semiotics, and thereby contributing to bringing forward increased understanding of how social media technology enables making, enacting and managing meaning.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Semiotics
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)700-717
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Instagram
  • Semiotic technology
  • multimodality
  • social media
  • social practice
  • software

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