When social networking started out, its purpose was just that: to act as a tool to enable users to socially network and interact with their friends online. Over the years, however, with the ‘social media revolution’, the uses of social networking have greatly expanded.
The number of social networking platforms that have sprung up is overwhelming and these are providing offerings that a few years ago, would have certainly exceeded what many people could imagination. Beyond supplementing traditional websites social networking has let to a ‘revolution’ within traditional media itself to such an extent that radio; magazines; mobile providers; newspapers; banks; PR and communications; advertising agencies; and a plethora of others, are offering social media links in addition to their traditional offerings, podcasts and blogs.
The underpinning assumption behind these strategies is that enabling and empowering an audience to communicate with a business easily and directly, will facilitate better business; change existing practices for the better, and faster; lead to better returns on investment if a business is perceived to ‘hear’ consumers’ questions and respond in time; and lead to product innovation where consumers are encouraged to participate in design processes.
But audiences aren’t limited to merely posting their comments, but have also become news generators and contributors. With constraints such as journalists’ inability to be ‘everywhere where news happens at the same time’, and the easy access to information-capturing equipment – yes, our cell phones – anyone with one can capture a news event as it happens, and share it with millions a few minutes later.
Social media has altered traditional media to such an extent that the exclusion of user-generated content or contributions, seems to be almost unthinkable. It has turned a six-billion-strong world into a global village.
The scope for participation has also changed communication forever, and matters of global public interest are gathering the attention of millions, sometimes resulting in the snowball effect. The new ways of participation are also changing the way communities approach their leaders: holding them accountable; exposing corrupt practices or brutality; and enforcing media freedom.
The rise of so much more information means that search is converging and re-inventing itself constantly in order to satisfy the needs of the highly segmented user profiles and niche audiences – is there an end in sight?