Understanding Social Media

Social Media: What is it?

One of the biggest “buzzes” in the internet right now is Social Media. But what is this phenomenon known as social media? It’s simple really.

When the Internet was in its infancy, web pages were pretty much static. That is, they didn’t change. The code on the page was hard coded and everyone who came to visit saw the same thing. The media of the day decried that the Internet would just drive us each into our own worlds, drive us away from each other.

Then people began to see how databases could be harnessed to provide live data and even to interact with each other. Larger businesses began to provide database connectivity to share information with their customers and visitors. People found this to be very useful and started to get more “into” it.

Then the Internet left its infancy. I would say it is still in its adolescence but at this time it is changing and growing in all kinds of unexpected ways. The naysayers often say a new technology is going to drive us away from each other but there is a deep need in every human to connect with others.

Social Media web sites provide this kind of connection. MySpace was the first social oriented web site to grab the attention of pretty much the whole Internet. While it still is an important site that is used by a wide variety of people, it is viewed by many to be the site where garage bands and their groupies meet. This, by the way is inaccurate as the average age of users in the mid 30’s.

A site that has really captured the attention of people young and old is Facebook. Facebook started as a way for college students to connect and get to know one another but rapidly moved from college to high school to anyone over the age of 13. It is now used by people all over to engage in both fun and business. This election season there were all kinds of groups created by people who favor one candidate over another, one issue over another or one cause over another.

I even spent the better part of an hour this afternoon catching up with an old friend who created a Facebook account and happened to be on Facebook at the same time I was – yes there is a chat feature on Facebook that lets people communicate in real time. I’ve also connected with an old flame from college – just to touch base mind you, and reconnected with some high school friends.

But Facebook is more than a social network. It is also a way to find partners, employees, work and customers. As a technology professional, I belong to a couple of networks through Facebook that are specifically for technology and entrepreneurs. One of the nicest parts about the web is that we aren’t limited by geography. I can connect with people in Asia, Europe, California, across town or just down the street.

Another very useful social networking site is LinkedIn. LinkedIn is designed for business. Business people sign up for an account and can connect with other business people. The LinkedIn concept is based on the premise that if I have, for example, 30 contacts in my network and each of my contacts also has around 30 people in their network, I suddenly have access to 900 people and that is just within one degree or one contact away. Move out two or three more degrees and you find yourself with 1000s of people within your network and it only takes an invitation or introduction to find the person you want to contact.

As social media has grown up, Facebook has morphed into an application that lets you do business, have fun, or get involved. And LinkedIn has grown into an application that lets you connect with classmates from long ago (or right now) and get involved in affinity groups not having anything to do with business.

Businesses and individuals alike should look into how they can leverage social media networks to improve their business or expand their prospects.

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