The Importance of Social Media
By Greg Wehner – May 24, 2020
The communication landscape is constantly changing. In a 43-year-old’s lifetime, he or she has seen communication change numerous times. In the late 70s, television and radio were popular means for advertisers to get word out about products during commercial breaks. People “reached out and touched someone” through telephone calls, which for a while consisted of a base plugged into the wall with a handset plugged into a base that had a rotary dial on the face. If the person was not home and they wanted to make a call, they would head over to the local convenience store or street corner with a pay phone and drop a dime in the slot for a few minutes of time to speak to someone.
That all changed drastically with touchtone phones, mobile phones, the arrival of the internet and then social media – all inventions that gained footing between the 80s and early 2000s.
The internet was the biggest change of them all. It was the wild wild west for a while. The timeline started out as sending messages back and forth in an instant messenger, then came the ability to play games over a connection. Add to this the ability to do the same over a mobile phone, on the fly as one was heading to a soccer game or to school – maybe even during school.
Computers, mobile phones and the internet all gave rise to social media, which was another major changing of landscape. With social media, old friends could connect after so many years and advertisers could reach larger crowds than previously on television and radio sets. Social media comes into play when it comes to political campaigns, news consumption and even class reunions.
Clay Shirky did a Ted Talk titled, “How Social Media Can Make History,” and in it, he said, “Now that media is increasing social, innovation can happen anywhere that people can take for granted the idea that we are all in this together. We are starting to see a media landscape where innovation is happening everywhere and moving from one spot to another.”
With mobile phones, people have social media everywhere at their fingertips.
Take, for example, a fictional character named Sally Supermarket, who was created by Eric Qualman in a paper on socialnomics (Qualman.)
Sally went to the supermarket, waited in a 10-minute line, and during her wait, looked on social media to check in with her friends. During those 10 minutes, she found one friend was leaving for D.C., another loved mandarin oranges, another was pregnant, and her daughter got an A on an exam. This all led to Sally quickly leaving the line to purchase additional items from the store to help her friends and family celebrate. Sally benefitted and the supermarket benefitted.
Qualman said in 2017 that social media, over the course of three years, became the “most popular activity on the web,” even replacing pornography (Qualman.)
“People are willing to keep open running diaries as a way to stay connected and accepted,” he said. “In his Hierarchy of Needs study, Abraham Maslow indicates that after the basic needs of survival and security, humanity’s greatest need is to feel accepted.”
This acceptance is fueled by human interest in one another. When someone goes on a trip and share pictures and experiences on Facebook or Instagram, friends may like what they see and eventually decide to book a trip of their own.
Jayne Verhaaren wrote an article for The Daily Universe in 2017 called, “Social Media Inspires Travel Envy,” and in it, she said an analysis conducted by Adobe Digital Insights predicted that revenue from the travel industry would increase by $4.72 billion by 2017. In addition to the prediction, the analysis also found there to be an average of 14 million mentions of travel on social media, showing that social media is having a big impact on the travel industry that favors it economically.
But a person’s need to feel accepted through social media has its limitations because they are going to find that they do not always see eye-to-eye with everyone else.
A Pew Research survey of adults found that social media presents challenges when it comes to discussions of politics.
“Users can encounter statements they might consider highly contentious or extremely offensive – even when they make no effort to actively seek out this material,” an article on the survey published in 2016 stated (Pew Research.)
It went on to say arguments on social media over politics can result in “flame wars or partisan bickering (Pew Research.)”
Daily Facebook feeds are inundated with friends posting about what they may or may not like about President Donald Trump, or more recently, how the re-opening of America needs to happen as soon as possible because the entire COVID-19 outbreak is a conspiracy.
Comments on either topic are sure to create a reaction from either side.
Whether you agree or not, the surest part of social media was addressed by Shirky during his ted speech.
“The internet is the first medium in history that has native support for groups and conversation at the same time,” he said.
In the U.S., censorship has been limited in the social media realm, overall, when compared to China. Shirky said China censors its citizens when it comes to the internet, as all content is filtered through the government.
But in the U.S., social media offers a spot for people to communicate on issues and try to make a change in how the country is run.
Shirky talked about how President Barrack Obama changed his mind on an issue that he heavily campaigned against, and even though he changed his mind, he reached out to his supporters and let them know that he was now in favor of the issue at hand. But rather than shut down on the people, Obama used the internet to convene. Whether you like Obama or not, he certainly used social media to his benefit and knew how to use it to communicate with citizens.
Social media has an important place in society. It provides another platform for politicians to speak to the people they represent, and it provides a platform for advertisers to get word out about their products.
In Keith A. Quesenberry’s book, Social Media Strategy, he said, “ Social media is all about creating and sharing information and ideas, whether it’s Wikipedia entries or Facebook updates about favorite football teams, fabulous cheesecakes, and what famous people wore at an awards show.”
Social media’s rise shifted content to a user-centric model where the end user is taken into consideration when it comes to what to publish online.
Quesenberry said social media and internet platforms allow for metrics to be tracked, making advertising more effective. In the 90s, I can remember searching for cars in the newspaper. Then when automotive websites started to break out, dealers turned their attention to the internet to post specials and inventory because the results of what they were paying for was trackable.
Things have changed even more, though. With sites like Amazon, manufacturers can sell their products to the masses, and when someone has a bad experience and shares it in the comments and ratings about the product, the manufacturer can reach out to the consumer and try to right the situation. This is one of the major benefits to social media, but it can also be a negative if manufacturers do not feel the need to reach back out to the consumer.
Social media has changed the playing field and those who sit back and ignore the change may find themselves in a deep hole they may never dig out of.
Qualman, E. (2011). Social Economics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business. New Jersey, Wiley.
Quesenberry, K.A. (2019). Social Media Strategy. Maryland: Rowmann & Littlefield Publishing Group.
Shirky, C. (2012). How Social Media Can Make History. Retrieved May 24. 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASZJE15E0SY
Verhaaren, J. (2017) Social Media Inspires Travel Envy – The Daily Universe. Retrieved May 24, 2020, from https://universe.byu.edu/2017/07/20/final-story-social-media-changes-travel1/