Social media is much more than a trend. It’s become an essential part of the fabric of modern society. It’s hard to overestimate how much of an impact social media now has on our world. This is true on many levels, such as the way we socialize, the way we gain access to information and the way we do business. Let’s take a closer look at some of the ways that social media profoundly affects many aspects of society.
The Internet and Social Media
It’s interesting to conduct a brief review of the history of social media. It actually began with BBSes or Bulletin Board Systems, followed by popular services such as CompuServ, America Online and Prodigy.
All of these provided ways for people who weren’t necessarily techies a way to connect with each other online. CompuServ, for example, did not invent email but created the first platform where electronic mail was used on a massive scale. America Online, better known as AOL, became the first truly gigantic social networking site. In many ways, AOL in the 1990s was a precursor to MySpace and, later, Facebook.
What all of these services, including early BBSes, CompuServ, AOL and MySpace had in common was the ability to make the internet more accessible to everyday people. They also provided user-friendly interfaces and features, such as groups, mailing lists, instant messaging and the ability to create user profiles. Without these social media sites, the internet was just a vast digital wilderness where it was difficult to find anyone with whom you could talk. Yet these early social media sites were only the tip of the iceberg when it came to having a huge impact on society.
The Contemporary Social Media Era
The new era of social media began with the introduction of MySpace in 2003 and has continued fairly seamlessly as services such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and, more recently Instagram and Snapchat have entered the scene.
The reign of MySpace as the dominant social site was relatively short and only lasted a few years. At one point during its reign between 2005 and 2008, it surpassed Google as the world’s most visited site. Although MySpace quickly faded out of the limelight, this was a pivotal moment in the history of social media.
MySpace revealed that people have an urgent need to connect socially online and to have easy access to many social features. Facebook merely improved upon this model, creating a more efficient and user-friendly platform. According to former MySpace CEO Mike Jones, one of the main reasons so many people flocked to Facebook was because the new platform was closer to actual social interactions. For one thing, people used their real names on Facebook while on MySpace, most people used handles.
Changing How People Socialize
The most obvious way that social media has changed the fabric of society is in the way people socialize.
- Connecting with people from the past. One important function of Facebook is that it’s now easy to reconnect with people from your past. This includes old friends, classmates, co-workers and romantic partners. This isn’t always a positive thing, such as when married people carry on communications with old flames. Another way to look at it is that social media has made if much harder for people to leave their pasts behind.
- Removes distances. Between social media sites and tools such as Skype and other video chatting platforms, people can now communicate across vast distances. This has been true for a while, between phones and email. However, social media is what makes it possible to communicate in real time with those who may live hundreds of miles away or even across the world.
- Mobile phones and social media. The growth of social media overlaps with the popularity of mobile phones. As more and more people access the internet via phones, it’s getting even faster to communicate on social networks. Because most people carry their phones everywhere, it’s quickly becoming possible to socialize all the time. This is another feature of social media that has negative as well as positive implications. For example, too much socializing can interfere with studying or work.
Another major area where social media has had a huge impact is in the world of business. Many of the same factors that make social media so significant in the social sphere also make it transformative for business.
- Reach customers anytime. Businesses can reach their followers on social media at any time by posting updates on Twitter, Facebook and other sites. As image-based social media sites such as Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat grow, brands are finding ways to get their audience’s attention with compelling pictures and memes.
- More interactivity. Social media makes it possible to get fast feedback from customers and prospects. Businesses can pose questions, hold contests and receive replies moments after posting something. By using a social media reporting tool, it’s easy for a business to gauge the effectiveness of different strategies.
- Faster purchases. Social media is only starting to incorporate features that make it possible for customers to buy products instantly. The popular shopping cart platform Shopify, for example, can now be integrated with Pinterest so people can see a picture of something they like and buy it quickly. More such integrations are sure to come soon.
Social Media Has Changed the World
There are many important ways that social media is influencing the culture in general. In addition to the areas already discussed, the realms of politics, entertainment and sports have been transformed by social media culture. It’s become commonplace to hear about how a politician, celebrity of athlete has been embroiled in a major controversy after making a thoughtless tweet. This kind of instant reaction to an offhanded comment would never have been possible until very recently. Social media is making the world a smaller and more intimate place. Paradoxically, it’s also a cause of much conflict, confusion and distraction. For all its influence, social media is a fairly recent phenomenon. Only time will tell what its true long-term effects will be.