What is Social Media?
In the age of the internet, social media is a common term that most people have come across. It has infiltrated our lives and changed our everyday routines and business strategies. Still, there are people out there who don’t truly understand social media. So – what is social media? Where did it come from, where is it going? Here’s our rundown on what social media is and its history.
The Definition of Social Media
Social media, in its most redundant form, is using the internet to be social. The term is extremely hard to pin down to one definition, as different internet uses class different channels as ‘social media.’
While some equate social media with “social networking [sites] (a.k.a. Facebook, Twitter, etc.),” others define it in the broad sense of “web-based communication tools that enable people to interact with each other by sharing and consuming information.”
According to TechTarget, social media is “a collective term for websites and applications which focus on communication, community-based input, interaction, content-sharing and collaboration.” They continue, “Forums, microblogging, social networking, social bookmarking, social curation, and wikis are among the different types of social media.”
A common theme here is ‘connectivity’ – indicated by the “social” part of the term. In its beginnings, social media connected individuals to discuss their interests online; “’the first documented social media platform was the computerised Bulletin Board System’ created in 1978, allowing computer hobbyists to discuss information and news.” Now, not only can individual people connect online, businesses can connect with consumers or clients, especially in the B2C sphere as shopping becomes more integrated with social media apps and sites.
Social media evolves and changes with every new feature and site/app available. It’s hard to pin one single definition to something that changes so often and is different for everyone, so social media as a broad term is fitting.
When Did Social Media Begin?
Social media hasn’t always been a quick tool to share content and connect. It didn’t start with apps and smartphones or big social media sites. Social media began during the 1970s when the internet emerged. Thus, social media originated with computers, with the aforementioned bulletin board site for computer hobbyists.
During the 1990s, people began getting personal computers and blogging began to rise. Individuals could express how they felt to people on their network. The invention of online chatrooms made it easier for friends to communicate and paved the way for the first social media site SixDegrees.com, which let users log on, add a profile picture, and connect with others. This site was based on the idea that everyone is only separated by ‘six degrees,’ allowing you to see your degrees of separation between other users.
What Social Media Platforms Are There?
There are endless amounts of social media platforms – some forgotten, some brand new, and some that look like they’re here to stay.
Data from July 2021 shows that the top 10 biggest social media platforms, in terms of monthly active users (MAU), are:
- Facebook 85 billion
- YouTube 29 billion
- WhatsApp 2 billion
- Instagram 38 billion
- Facebook Messenger 3 billion
- Weixin/WeChat 24 billion
- TikTok 732 million
- QQ 606 million
- Douyin (TikTok in China) 600 million
- Telegram 550 million
Social media apps and websites are being created seemingly all the time. We’ve picked a few of our favourites to talk about here, but this is by no means an exhaustive list…
Facebook, the reigning king of social media, connects individuals all over the world and is continuously looking for ways to evolve and improve. Facebook owns WhatsApp, Instagram, and – of course – Facebook Messenger, all within the top 5 social media apps/sites in terms of MAUs.
Speaking of Instagram, this highly visual platform is a unique platform offering so much to businesses and individuals alike. Since its beginnings in 2010, Instagram has evolved into the ‘fun’ social media platform that allows users to connect through photos and videos rather than just text. The inability to share links within post captions keeps users on the site/app – it’s no wonder there are 1.38 billion MAUs on Instagram.
Twitter, although not featured in the top 10 list, is still a huge social media network, with 353 million MAUs. The fast-paced nature of the site, with a 280 character limit per post (Tweet), lends itself to Twitter’s reputation of hosting ongoing dialogue and discussion between users. Celebrities, businesses, content creators, influencers, industry experts, and your ‘average Joe’ all come together on Twitter to engage and interact.
LinkedIn is “the world’s largest professional network with 774+ million members” worldwide. LinkedIn is the perfect companion for businesses that want to connect with other companies, individuals who want to further their careers, and those searching for a new job. Setting it apart from the other major social networks, LinkedIn is primarily focused on business and news, although we’re seeing a trend recently of more personal posts on the platform, representing the human side of business.
A new kid on the block, TikTok, took the social media world by storm as it soared to popularity at the end of 2019/beginning of 2020 and rapidly grew during the pandemic. TikTok revolves around short-form video set to music or ‘sounds,’ usually from other users but sometimes original. TikTok is known for its incredibly tuned algorithm that has propelled many users to fame on the platform, even if they didn’t have many followers to begin with. The results of this algorithm are shown on the For You page, the main page of the app which shows the user targeted videos (organic and sponsored) based on three main features: previous interactions, video information, and the user’s device and account settings.
Why is Social Media Important?
Social media is important for many of us, from individuals to global corporations. With social media, you can make friends, connect with people internationally, join groups, and find people with similar interests to you. Social media keeps you up to date with current events, global news, and celebrity lives. It offers you different people’s opinions and opens your mind up to worlds you never knew existed.
The Benefits Social Media Marketing Can Have on Your Business
Social media has changed the way we do business forever. Social media allows companies to reach consumers who would benefit from their product or service, as well as retain current customers.
Social media marketing is equally as beneficial to businesses as it is to individuals looking for communication. Social media has changed the way brands advertise, sell, and increase brand awareness. It is now essential for businesses in most industries to run active social media pages, so they can connect to current and potential customers. Companies also have a larger audience base available to reach, they are no longer restricted to a local area. Online-only companies are also on the rise – for them, a digital presence is the only avenue for sales and connecting with customers.
People trust a business with an active social media page, who post about their team, product information and good, quality content. Social media is often a place people will go to engage with a brand and give feedback on a product or service they’ve received. Consequently, it becomes a stage, in which businesses can build brand awareness, establish themselves as a thought leader, view competitors and humanise their brand.
As specialists in social media management, we know the importance of social media for your business. If you’re looking for more information on social media or need one of your social pages optimised or updated, please get in touch.
Editor’s Note: This article was published in June 2019 and has been updated for accuracy and relevance in August 2021.