This is a question we all need to ponder over. Social media has become such an integral part of our lives that if one day it suddenly disappears it will create a great void. Social networking has contributed largely to make our lives less complex and more interactive.
You may be unaware, but as a matter of fact you are part of social media right now, this very minute! How? By sitting in front of your computer screen and reading this web post.
The phrase “Social media” is used often in daily speech. However, when it comes to explaining the term not all of us are able to find the right words. Many associate it with sites such as Facebook, MySpace etc. While the allusion is right, they do not define social media in a fitting manner as they are only one of the many forms of social media.
What then is social media?
Social Media is a broad concept. In simple language it is described as user generated content available on the internet. Social media is a system of interaction or communication wherein users (people like you and me) create, share and exchange information over networks or virtual communities. The underlying principle states that any person with a computer, an internet connection and an idea can create a piece of work and share it with the rest of the world. Social media acts as a platform where one can express their creativity in whatever manner they wish to.
Forms of Social Media
Social media is an improvement on the traditional forms of communication. The different forms are associated with the use of the internet. The forms differ from each other based on their nature- there are professional, education, social, informative and interactive forms of social media.
Blogs are the online equivalents for our secret diaries and journals. Blogs are an internet space where one can express their opinions, experiences, share explanations, lectures or anecdotes on myriad topics. Writers can create their own blogs or choose to write for other blogs on the same theme or topic. In addition to content, blogs include advertisements, podcasts, video uploads and photo-uploads. Banner advertising and pay-per-click campaigns have made blogs an easy and genuine method to make money online.
Perhaps the most popular form of social media after social networking sites is photo and video sharing groups. If you do not know what a video sharing site is and how it works, YouTube and Flickr should give you a clear picture. One can create videos and upload them to video sharing sites for public viewing. Affordably priced digital cameras and good quality cell phone cameras have not only made video-making easier but have also fueled the popularity of video sharing sites. One can upload photos as well. As a viewer, one can view videos linked to the specific tags you type in at search engines. Such video sharing sites offer add one features to users such as creating profiles, accounts and commenting.
This branch of interactive social media needs no special introduction. Social networking platforms or social networking sites help connect and engage like-minded individuals irrespective of the physical distance or the geographical barriers. Social networking sites allow members to engage in a variety of activities which include sharing photos, videos, links, comment, create unique profiles, update statuses on moods and feelings, add friends, get updates on events, chat with friends and families, play games, buy tickets, join groups and create communities.
Facebook®, LinkedIn® and MySpace® are the best examples of social networking sites. MySpace and Facebook have a large crowd of young followers. LinkedIn on the other hand functions as a business network. Members set up professional job profiles to be viewed by others. In recent times, owing to its fame, Facebook has also attained the status of a business network.
Twitter is a common example of micro-blogging. Micro-blogging lives up to its name. Micro-blogs are short updates that can be viewed by those who have opted to receive them. Twitter for instance allows members to post updates not more than 140 characters in length. However, there is no limit on the content of these updates. The updates could be quotes, links and updates on one’s mood, opinions and/ or thought-provoking questions. More than the common people, celebrities take to the micro-blogging platform Twitter.
Social sites that share news are both informative and interactive. There are two main types of social news sites. News channels like BBC and CNN have their official websites where they display the top stories in addition to live footage. The main difference between the channels and the websites is the latter invites discussions.
There are also sites like Reddit and Digg. Although based on the same theme of compiling and sharing news, they differ in their method of work. People can post news items or the links to news items. Readers of these news items can vote on stories. The votes are a very crucial aspect on social news sites. The stories with the highest number of votes are entitled to more time on the front page.
StumbleUpon and DeliciousTM… We assume you must have at least heard of if not used these social media sites. Bookmarking sites help you to bookmark, organize, manage and share favorite sites and other resource material available online.
Online discussion forums are online communities where members discuss and debate on topics of interest. Usually members post questions or queries and expect other members to answer.
Now that we’ve looked at the main forms of social media, it’s time to veer towards the role social media plays in our life. Here’s how the use of social media has altered our lives for the better.
The Impact of Social Media on our Lives
The internet with the help of social media has opened up new vistas for businesses. If applied properly, it can do a lot to help your business grow. Every business has a website today. It may not have fancy designs or advanced features, but it exists.
There are several benefits of social media. First, it gives your business the required exposure. It helps make your business a more recognizable brand. Ask yourself. Would you purchase a product that belongs to a well-known brand or a product of a brand that you’ve never heard of? I can guarantee majority of you will vote for the first. The very fact that you have a good brand name or that you are recommended by many will pique interest in your business. Social media increases traffic to your website. Many a times, a large chunk of the increased traffic has the potential of converting into customers.
Social media in business is not only about increasing the visibility of your business to could-be customers. It also opens up the door for collaborations. It enables you to build professional connections with other entrepreneurs in your industry. Such connections can help you capitalize on your strengths. You can also learn from their expertise. Certain link requests and associations with guest blogs can have a positive impact on Search Engine Optimization for your website.
Real time interactions through social media can give your customer service department the much needed edge in today’s highly competitive business environment. The different forms of social media enable you to attend and offer solutions to customers in the least amount of time.
If you are a self made man, you can use your expertise to help others. You can generate content to train and guide others in the various aspects of operating and managing a business.
Social media websites take for example Facebook have memberships running into billions. For this same reason business houses use such social platforms to market and sell their products.
Consumer behavior has also undergone drastic change over the past few decades with the advent of the internet. Earlier, the only way a consumer could realize the use and effectiveness of a product was by purchasing it. Today, consumers rely heavily on social media when it comes to making purchases.
They look up product information on the company website. They supplement their research with reviews and feedback from other real users; those who have tried the products. In this manner, they can decide if the product they are considering suits their requirements and if it will give them the best value for their money.
Along with this, consumers will choose to buy only those products and services that have a good name on the social networking scene. Thus, Social media can make or break the image of a business. Corporate houses should not only aim at increasing social presence but also strive to offer good services to customers; those that will keep them happy and encourage them to come back for more. Happy customers will also recommend you to others.
Business houses conduct special consumer surveys to learn of the expectation of their consumers. Customer comments and conversations between customers can drop subtle hints of what customers expect from your business in terms of the products and services you offer. Thus, it can help your business grow and ensures that you fulfill customer expectations at every stage.
The entry of social media in this industry has brought in several advantages to corporate houses and consumers. Take for example you’re planning a holiday to the City of Love –Paris. How do you go about the process? It is simple, pull out your keyboard and punch in “Holiday in Paris”. You will get entries more than you want to see.
Travel websites are a great help too. One name we recommend it TripAdvisor. It assists travelers and customers to gather the required travel information. It also comes across as a forum allowing customers to describe their holiday experiences, give feedback and opinions. Websites as such help one to plan their holidays meticulously with information on flights and other modes of transport, restaurants to eat at, hotels to stay at, places that are a must visit and also information on rules and regulations of the place.
Besides, if you’re thinking of a holiday but are confused on the place you should visit, travel websites offer the best recommendations. Find recommendations for the best beach holidays, best honeymoon destinations and vacations you can take as a family.
Social media also helps boost local tourism. It has put never heard of tourist places on the global map. Like earlier the popularity of tourist places spread by word of mouth, social media has now taken up the responsibility to do the same. The various forms of social media also enable customers to get into contact with restaurants and hotels and make the necessary reservations prior to their visit.
Like its name suggests, social media has stepped up socialization by improving our systems of communication. The different forms of social media have removed the barriers of space and time in communications. They help us stay connected with our near and dear ones virtually irrespective of the physical distances separating us.
Social media keeps us updated on every happening in the lives of friends and family. Earlier letters were written to inform others about the joyful or sorrowful happenings in each other’s lives. By the time the letters were delivered, the news was old. The telephone soon replaced mail. It increased the convenience and costs of communication. The telephone became archaic with the advent of the internet. Emails were the new thing. And today, we hardly use emails unless for business purposes.
Facebook is the newest craze. If you’ve won a competition, post it as your status and let the world celebrate with you. If you’re feeling low, post again and seek consolation from your friends. If you’re on vacation, don’t only update your status, Upload dozens of photographs and let others turn green with envy seeing you have the time of your life. You may be in the United States and your relative in Australia. Nevertheless, you can have a live conversation with her, see what she’s cooking and also recommend changes to her interior décor(if it’s a close relative). All enabled by social media.
Social media helps people make new friends. They can connect with larger groups and discover individuals who share their interests.
The power and reach of social media has also been used to deliver effective and impressive video election campaigns. Election campaigns right from local elections to the presidential elections use social media platforms.
There are several advantages of using social media in political arena. One it is cost saving. Second, social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter allow one to reach out to a large number of people at the same time. A very small proportion of the population today bothers to read newspapers and other forms of print media. They are hooked to social networking via which they not only receive news and event updates but can also initiate mass protests and campaigns. Additionally, through social media political parties are able to secure the support of a diverse group of people.
One of the best examples of the use of social media in politics particularly election campaigns is the US presidential elections of 2008. Many political critics believe that the Democratic Party garnered popularity on the strength of its public relations strategy. The then presidential candidate Barak Obama exploited social media tools to engage the people and gather support. The social networking strategies rendered him the most approachable.
Social media can also be used to decide government policies. The media platforms introduce political agendas and get people’s opinion on such subjects.
Newsrooms and journalism has seen the implementation of social media at grass-root levels. The different forms of social media has greatly influence the method of collecting and generating news pieces. Information gathering has become more accurate, quick and easy. Social has also modified the manner in which job responsibilities in a newsroom. It provides for full fledged interaction between the social media managers and viewers. Facebook and Twitter are the mostly widely social media platforms in journalism.
Social medial finds great application in the hospitality industry and assists both customers and hotel owners. Hotel managers and directors can use social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to monitor hotel reputation. Based on the customer ratings hotel owners can learn of their best features and devise ways to increase customer satisfaction in future. Managers and directors can offer apologies to unhappy customers and rectify problems.
Customer feedback is also important as positive feedback will attract more customers to your hotel while negative feedback will drive potential customers away.
Thus, social media has brought the world closer. It has made the once impossible, possible. It is popular. It is highly accessible. The varied forms of social media are used to a great extent and their use continues to grow rapidly with each passing day. But, there is also another fact we cannot deny – it has the power to corrupt. Hence, we should use social media wisely.
We should use it to our benefit without getting overly dependent on it. In this way, we will be prepared to face the worst should social media suddenly vanish from the surface of the earth one day!
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