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The Continuing Evolution of Social Media

Hi, Erika here!

My little sister Tessa and me last Christmas

I would consider myself to be pretty hip. I keep up with the latest celebrity news. I know who the cutest guy from One Direction is (according to my little sisters it’s a pretty close tie between Louis and Zayn) and I follow the latest social media trends, but sometimes I have these moments when my little sisters are zipping through online chats and sharing videos from one source to another as easy as cutting a hot knife through butter, that I begin to feel really old.

My little sister Desiree and me last Christmas

 

I think about trying to explain to my Mom why she should ditch the landline for mobile and I find her giving me reasons that are comparable to my reasons for why kids shouldn’t be on Facebook. She’s stuck in her ways, I’m stuck in mine, but the reality is that social media is everywhere—neither one of us should be fighting it and neither should you. Social media is evolving, but how much has it changed and how will it continue to evolve in the years to come?

Social media has steadily increased from a blip on the radar to an essential part of business strategies. The increasing mobility and access to social media sources makes it pretty safe to say that social media is no longer just a trend—it is an integral part of business and popular culture. So let’s take a look at how it all began and where it’s going.

AOL: While yes, there had been BBS and CompuServe, America Online (AOL) brought the “Internet” into everyone’s homes in 1993 and made “networking” possible. It was the original site that allowed people to personalize their profiles, update their statuses in the form of “away messages,” personalize their account with color and font choices, and it included member searching capabilities. I remember sleepovers with friends looking for Justin Timberlake (we never found him) or seeing who had the coolest away message. You could even customize your online mood by choosing a smiley, grumpy, goofy, flirty, etc. icon.

Classmates.com: In 1995, the first true social network was created by Randy Conrads. He was looking for ways to let people reconnect with that high school prom date or that best friend you lost touch with over the years. It was the first time this sort of network had been put into motion although due to issues with fees, it has lost a lot (if not all) momentum in the social media scene.

Friendster: Basing much of its basic set-up on classmates.com, Friendster was a social networking site that focused on making new friends and meeting new people, unlike Classmates which focused mainly on people you already knew. It recently has re-launched as a social gaming site.

LinkedIn: In 2003, two very different sites would launch, but LinkedIn decided that with all of the online social networking going on, they would focus primarily on business “connections” rather than personal networking. To this day, the site’s primary goal is helping business professionals to network and endorse one another.

MySpace: The second 2003 launch and without a doubt, a precursor to Facebook, MySpace was mainly focused on music and video sharing. It felt more hip and gave the users more options than any other site available. The personalization factor helped people feel more comfortable and it became a resource to connect with artists, friends and more.

Facebook: The game changer. Founded in 2004 and originally available only for Harvard students, it went public in 2006 and has since brought in nearly one billion users. Its success has set precedents that no other social network has been able to surpass. They are constantly changing their site (maybe too much if you ask users) to better fit the evolving trends in social media and the requests of users when it comes to privacy policies and page layout. The trust built with users helps people feel free to be themselves by sharing their status, current location and even personal photos.

YouTube: The next phase in the evolution came from three former PayPal employees. They decided to share videos online and with the use of HTML5 and Adobe Flash Video they enabled their members to share their own personal videos. This revolutionized sharing and in a world where people are constantly being overloaded with information, the instant gratification factor that YouTube brings to consumers is refreshing.

Twitter: In 2006, the world rapidly became familiar with “Tweeting.” Celebrities quickly endorsed the idea of sharing photos and mini status updates in the form of a Tweet. In 140 characters or less you were able to constantly update your followers and keep up with the people you followed. This social media outlet became a great resource for news outlets, and contests, and sharing more frequently.

Pinterest: While it is still young, since 2010 Pinterest has set records in growth. Last year alone they grew by 145%, not to mention that they generate more referral traffic to website than YouTube, Google +, and LinkedIn combined. Not bad for a company less than three years old with a mere 16 employees.

So where is technology going?

  • Mobile access is becoming a requirement, not an option as social media continues to evolve.
  • The iPhone and Android systems have completely changed accessibility, which means everything, good or bad, can go viral in an instant—you want to make sure that you are not only prepared to act quickly, but that you have a way to respond to consumers in the way they understand it best.
  • Social television is taking off thanks largely to Twitter. Fans can now watch television with their favorite actors/celebrities by Tweeting using a hash-tag to carry on conversations as the show is playing via their mobile device.
  • Facebook and Twitter are looking into ways to present advertisements through their mobile sites. This requires a larger social media budget for most companies and makes proving results very important. The C-suite wants to see what they’re getting out of the money they’re spending.
  • Social customer service—if you have an e-commerce site, link it to your social networks and take the time to answer questions posted. Transparency is more important than ever. You are no longer selling a product—you are building relationship and trust with your consumers.

It’s a lot of information, but social media is a complicated business. It has grown exponentially from its humble beginnings into a full-on revolution in the way people communicate and do business. Hopefully, this week’s Witty Wisdom will help you navigate your way through the different social networks out there and find a way to join the conversation.

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