Social Media – A Step Forward

By Tejaswini Vavilala 

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Social media powered by social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumbler and Pintrest has become an extremely successful and powerful paradigm to bring people closer. We routinely encounter many Facebook tales where a mother met a son after several years, people taking to twitter to revolt against their governments in countries like Egypt and Syria or a celebrity announcing the release of a new album or a song on YouTube before it’s announced in traditional broadcast or print media. Social media can no longer be ignored and has to be taken into consideration to engage people who are becoming more involved and active by the day. Over the years social media has been seen in different forms and has different applications.

In his article “Social media as the next Web” (http://www.briansolis.com/2012/12/social-media-as-the-next-web-2/), Brian Solis makes a convincing argument that social media is evolving the traditional definition and understanding of the web to include “a system of people in addition to HTML formatted documents”. He emphasis on the fact that social media is the future of communication. He contends that the personal nature of social media and the amount of time spent by an average person consuming and participating in social networks on the Internet creating an “EGOsystem” centered around the individual. Mr. Solis supports his assertions with data compiled by Neilsen and NM Incite which indicate an explosive growth of interest in social media by the average internet user. 

While Facebook is the dominant center of the social media and networking universe on the Internet, other social networking sites such as Twitter, Pintrest, Google+ and LinkedIn saw very high rates of growth during 2011 and 2012. The evidence points to the fact that online user behavior converges to forming communities that share similar interests. Brian uses the data to show that the future of social media consumption is headed towards mobile phones and apps. It started with PC and then shifted to laptops and then to mobiles and tablets. Between the years 2011 and 2012, the number of users visiting a mature social networking site like Facebook dropped by 4% on PCs while increased by over 80% on both mobile apps and Mobile web. Similar trends can be spotted on all the other major social networking sites including Twitter, Pintrest. To quote from the article, “consumers access social media from PCs mostly at 94% (down from 97% in 2011), mobile phones at 46% (up from 37%) and tablets at 16% (up from 3%).”
All this while the amount of time spent on social media sites actually increasing 24% which implies that uses are more engaged on social media sites than ever before. 

The advent of social media and the influence of the regular internet user was recognized and explained in a powerful article written by Jay Rosen, a professor of Journalism at NYU in the blog PressThink all the way back in 2006 (http://archive.pressthink.org/2006/06/27/ppl_frmr.html). The author links a number of articles found on the web to support his claims and makes a strong case for internet users of social media. Mr. Rosen, takes on the “Big Media” (a reference to traditional print and broadcast media outlets) and explains how the rise of social media has given power to the hands of the “The people formerly known as the audience” (a reference to traditional audiences of Big Media). The author mentions that the audience who were once on the receiving end have put their step forward and are experiencing the change. He argues that the advent of blogs has ensured that publishing is no longer in control of those who own printing presses and that podcasting now allows any person to setup a radio station and reach out to the world. He also notes that even video is now shot, edited or distributed by anyone with a video camera and an internet connection and audiences are being built by those who were formerly considered audiences themselves. News, the author observes, is no longer what is told to us, but what we choose to see or read and from our own choice of sources. The flow of information is now horizontal, peer to peer instead of a top down structure advocated by media agencies for decades before social media. 

Linking to a number of influential figures online and from traditional media agencies, the author attempted to describe this generation of enlightened internet users. Considering himself to be a part of this audience, Mr. Rosen quotes Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, to describe this group as “The Active Audience (“who doesn’t want to just sit there but to take part, debate, create, communicate, share.”)” He says that the new generation of social media users are “more real, less fictional, more able, less predictable” and this these users have evolved to not just want the media when they are ready, but also demand media that is of better quality, without advertisements, and if necessary produce media when necessary or just to have fun. He asserts that the big media agencies no longer own audience’s “eyeballs” and that there is a ” new balance of power between you (Big Media) and us (Active Audience).”

The newest formula of social media is who connects with whom, how, where and when. The sheer power of major social media networks lies in the fact that they are among the most heavily trafficked sites on the internet, so an issue to the network or the way it operates affects millions of people. Social networks being hotbeds for personalized experiences, allow advertising companies to display targeted advertisements to its users. However, from time to time it has been noted that privacy concerns and lack of proper information management schemes have left many users vulnerable to identity theft. Social media has been marketer’s favorite in the past decade and still is. 

The question that arises is what makes social media vulnerable? In an era when the story of communication has grown leaps and bounds, the apprehension of privacy of information still persists. The easy access, attractiveness, the effects of the freedom of speech and other features make social networking addictive. One tends to express their interests, private details, and pictures on what the ‘world market’. The thought of uploading all these pictures and videos with the assumption that they are private is a myth these days. Social media provides great tools but the privacy concerns are numerous. What comes with privacy is safety. With the increase in malpractices and identification frauds, it’s important for social networks to provide disclosure options for these details. 
Privacy breaches, both intentional and unintentional have become common and what was considered a safe haven for online activity has now become a privacy nightmare. The latest issue that caused a stir was that of Instagram’s.

In the article, “Users flee Instagram after privacy outcry” (http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2012/12/28/users-flee-instagram-after-privacy-outcry/) , the effects of a gaffe by Instagram are detailed. The article talks about the reaction of the outbreak of the news. Instagram is a social networking site that has been extremely popular amongst amateur photographers who can easily apply interesting filters to their pictures and “photoshop” then without much effort. As one of the most popular sites on the Internet, Instagram was acquired by Facebook in September 2012 and was working on Facebook’s terms. Their proposal to publicize and sell the images of its members to the advertiser came as a shook to the Instagram community. With its sudden shift in privacy policy, they had to forgo over 4 million users. At a time when Instagram had 575 likes per second, people uploaded more than 3 images at a time and at a total of 5000 images per day, Instagram thought of changing privacy policy resulted in major loss.
People took to other social networks such as Twitter and started spreading the message to their fellow Instagram users and to spread awareness using #boycottinstagram. To quell this mass exodus of users, Kevin Systrom, the CEO of Instagram himself had to assuage user concerns and revert the privacy policy. 

Not only did Instagram lose a number of users, even major celebrities like Justin Beiber and Kim Kardashian showed their concern over these events and rallied up support from their followers. The power of social networking was in full display as a bunch of motivated users ensured that their public outcry and collective action ensured that the company listened to the needs of its users. I feel social media has put its foot forward in almost all walks of life if it still hasn’t touched an area, it sure will in the near future. What makes it unique that its connectivity. More and more people are joining popular sites every year. New innovations are taking place every now and then that interests and please audiences. It surely is the first step for promotional activities. As the three articles imply, as long as people ensure that proper measures are taken to protect their privacy, social media can be an extremely powerful and useful tool.

 

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