The Internet has revolutionized human communication. And the most popular way in recent times has been social networking. However, social networking is not a new phenomenon. Sites like Hi-5, Friendster have existed from the turn of the millennium. In the early 2000s, Myspace proved to be the most popular social networking site. But, in those good old days, eight-ten years ago, there was nothing called "social media". Orkut, Myspace, Hi-5 etc. were merely social networking sites where you met your friends. It was confined mostly to teenagers and the younger population (a fraction of the population). Moreover, these sites were mostly looked down upon by elders and nobody really bothered about them. The term called "social media" was non-existent.
Enter "Facebook". Facebook turned this concept on its head and gave people something new. As it opened up to the public, more people wanted to be in it. It spread its reach beyond the youth. Slowly, from around 2008, the older population started to embrace it in the hope of finding old and forgotten friends. As more and more people joined and Facebook started generating revenue through advertising, businesses saw the opportunity. It was the birth of social media as we know today.
Businesses saw the numbers and with the roll-out of fan pages, a unique opportunity was recognized. Companies started to build their presence on social networking sites likes Facebook and Twitter. "Like" and "Follow" became the new buzzwords. Competition ensued to get the greatest number of likes and followers. More social networking sites followed and as people joined more of them, companies too kept pace. Liking, following and circling are common terms today. But what caused this madness to get likes and followers? Ok, but what if you have a million followers?
On the surface, it may look futile, but you have to read between the lines.
Social media shows your personality. It is not about creating a fake profile online anymore. Businesses, schools, teachers, parents, relatives and family are all watching you. Social media is all about creating content and engaging in conversations with your followers, friends or whatever. It is about creating an image of yourself that you are such and such a person with so and so interests. It is a good way to illustrate how you can interact with various kinds of people. These days, employers are using social networking sites to peruse through the profile of potential employees. So, a small slip can prove costly!
There is another angle to this too. Social media is a powerful tool to meet people from various countries across the world. It is a great way to learn about the different cultures of the world from the people themselves. We realize the vast diversity of population on this planet. Of course, there is the possibility that you meet malicious people online but by going through the tweets and wall posts of people, it is possible in most cases (not all) to ascertain whether they are genuine or not.
Social media is more recently being used to predict results of elections and even predict who will win sports tournaments. Companies use social media to reach out to fans, conduct contests and drive engagement. It is used by businesses to gauge the responses of people when they release a new product. For example, when Apple released the iPhone 4S, there were many complaints of poor battery life. This made Apple work on a software update to fix that issue. Whether the update worked or not is another debate, but the point here is that the company noticed.
The Arab Spring is a good example of how social media can bring out the power of the people and topple governments. The revolutions in Egypt, Syria and Libya were all started on social networking sites before it went on the streets. In India too, social media played a large role in the anti-corruption movement spearheaded by Anna Hazare.
Today, more and more companies are including social media specialists in their IT teams. They speak the voice of the company online and thus, are responsible for the image and reputation of the company. They are pretty much like "online PR managers". Social media specialists are becoming increasingly important and vital in today's connected world.
As always, skeptics are in full force here too. They are harshly critical and say it is a complete waste of time. Well, it is up to the individual how he uses social networking sites. Just as the television or the computer can be used for good or bad, same applies with social media as well. Moreover, there is enough statistics to show the power of social media. It can't be taken lightly anymore. Social media is here to stay.
I have spoken enough. It is time for you, the reader to voice your opinions and concerns. Sound off in the comments below.