A decade ago, the phrase social media was virtually unheard of, even among media cognoscenti. Today, it has literally changed the world – powering revolutions, changing Governmental policies, raising awareness of important issues, and giving everyone an equal and democratic voice. The people and companies who have embraced social media have seen their lives changed by it, but others have fallen behind, daunted by the sheer pace of developments.
To bridge this gap before it becomes a yawning chasm, many institutions throughout the UK are now offering social media courses, aimed at teaching the basics and letting even the most technology-averse individuals enter this brave new world, or update their business skills accordingly.
What is social media?
Social media basically involves exchanging information online. At its simplest, that can be two people having a typed conversation through a website, but social media is far more flexible than this. It allows anyone to share with the wider world images, videos, their own user-generated content, or links to online resources like websites or news stories.
Where is this phenomenon happening?
Although there are numerous social media platforms, from discussion forums to online gaming communities, a few giants have emerged:
1. Facebook. This is effectively an online socialising network, with over 150 billion connections between people who know each other, companies and their customers, or public figures and fans. Rather than ringing a hundred people up to tell them you’ve bought a new car, or sending a thousand messages to customers about a new sales promotion, you can let everyone see the same image or snippet of news – instantly.
2. Twitter. This is a pared-down rival to Facebook. Twitter forces people to be concise – every message must be 140 characters or less – but its immediacy and simplicity as a method of sharing text, images, videos and general information has given it an unparalleled influence over global events and business behaviour alike.
3. YouTube and Vine. These websites allow people to upload or view videos, of almost any (non-obscene) nature, and for almost any (non-violent) purpose. Companies can promote their products, individuals can display their abilities, friends can share highlights of events in their lives, and artists can gain greater exposure for their work.
4. LinkedIn. Basically Facebook for professionals, this is the world’s leading showcase for employees and employers. Combining private conversations with public status updates and detailed profiles, it allows people to network, develop contacts and enhance their career prospects, in a thriving yet well-regulated environment.
5. Wikipedia. This interactive encyclopaedia is one of the world’s five biggest websites, offering free information on almost any conceivable subject. Entries can be edited by anyone, and it’s the biggest example of collaborative online work ever seen.
How does social media work?
Until recently, social media was governed by websites viewed on computers, but the seismic explosion in mobile technology is driving a relentless shift towards portable applications hosted wirelessly on like smartphones and tablet devices. Typically, you create a basic profile for yourself, before interacting with other people – friends, colleagues, anyone with shared interests or simply the general populace – by exchanging information, thoughts and materials. It’s an electronic amalgamation of all our traditional communication methods (writing, speaking, drawing, performing, etc), but with instant access and response times.
Why is it relevant to me?
Social media is the biggest revolution in the history of communications. It has already taken over the world, and its influence increases with every passing day:
· News organisations increasingly rely on social media to tell them what’s happening. Revolutions from Moldova to Tunisia have been powered by Twitter and Facebook, with broadcasters often basing their evening news reports on social media updates.
· Companies now live or die by their social media reputations, with customer service and communications increasingly handled via Twitter and Facebook. It’s imperative for firms to have at least one staff member who has an understanding of social media.
· Almost every public figure has a social media presence – the Pope has over three million Twitter followers. Anyone can establish their own presence within minutes.
· Social media is increasingly driving business development, with 260 million LinkedIn profiles in over 200 countries worldwide. Alongside LinkedIn, recruitment is also increasingly being organised through corporate Facebook or Twitter accounts.
· If you’re under the age of 30, the majority of your socialising and events planning will take place via social media, and it’s become the default method for keeping in touch with friends and family members who don’t live within easy walking distance.
Who really cares?
In a word, everyone. Including you – that’s why you’re reading this page!
The benefits of studying a social media course really can’t be overstated. This is not a flash-in-the-pan fad – it’s the future of communications, transforming how people interact and behave, and making traditional communication methods like letters or phone calls seem increasingly obsolete. Social media is changing the world in unimaginable ways, and it’s only going to become more important. Being left behind really isn’t an option any more, which makes a social media course invaluable for anyone who doesn’t know a tweet from a like, or people who aren’t sure how to develop their company’s online presence.
By Neil Cumins