Today social media has become just as prolific, if not more so than even email and in a much shorter timespan. Despite how the first platforms may have come about, not only have they now grown into big businesses but they have also become an equally big part of our everyday lives. Just look at the number of registered users across the different networks – that includes individuals, companies and brands. Also note the myriad of uses, from literally just hanging out, to learning and teaching, to selling products and services of all shapes and sizes. Let’s not even go into the spinoff industries and businesses that have come about as a direct result. The world has bought into the social media phenomenon, here are a few reasons why you too should take it a little bit more seriously as well.
Ubiquity of social media – These days you find a lot of social media like functionalities being used in other areas. For example an in-house training or communications portal will ask you to set up a profile with a picture of yourself. There is also likely to be a chat function that allows you to have private conversations with colleagues around the world, similar to Twitter’s direct message or Facebook’s messenger. You’re probably able to post questions related to a particular course module, for example, and comment on what other people have posted. For global organisations, this is a great way to get colleagues from all over the world to connect, especially when they are not directly working together. For smaller organisation, the appeal may lie in the efficiency of white labelling a training package in order to enable employees to improve on their skills or provide training on the company’s new products/services. Bottom line, even if you’re ’not a social media person’, you are likely to come in to contact with social media type elements in different aspects of your professional or private life; it would be useful to be able to have a global understanding of that type of landscape in order to successfully make your way around.
Digital footprint – Whether we realise it or not, most of us now have a digital footprint left all over the internet, which includes stuff that we and other people have put out there, including on social media. I recently watched a video where a grandmother’s reaction to a present she received was recorded by the grandson and subsequently posted on YouTube. It went viral and she was totally oblivious. You may not be active, but it doesn’t stop others from mentioning you or tagging you in pictures. It could be friends/family or that interview that you were featured in. Privacy and security as well as personal branding and reputation are all reason enough for you to keep an eye, not just on your own activities but also on what others are doing online that may affect you, directly or indirectly.
Conversations and communities – The myriad of popular hashtags across the various social media networks should give you an idea of the variety of conversations that are happening all at once across the internet. It can be something topical, related to current events like #landexpropriation or more evergreen like #lifelessons, #foodforthought and #motivationmonday. Add to that the many sub-communities that tend to form around these popular conversations or even through the kind of groups typically found on Facebook and LinkedIn. All of these present an opportunity to participate and be active in a much broader space where you can share opinions, gain insight and learn from people on the other side of the country, just as easily as if they were right next to you. A Facebook group that I know many people have found to be very useful, for example, centres around child maintenance – people are able to seek advice, share their experience and generally get support. Human beings are, after all, very social animals and social media is a very useful way to amplify those experiences.
Personal branding and professional reputation– The advent of social media has taken the concept of personal branding and professional reputation to a whole new level. Just by looking at your posts on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter along with the profile information that you have added, including your picture, people can immediately form an impression of you. Even if you kept the information and posts to a minimum, it stills leaves an impression. Since I actively started studying social media several years ago, the number of job opportunities I know see being posted via LinkedIn has grown exponentially. If for no other reason, your social media activity can be used to validate who and what you say you are. It is important to be conscientious about what is out there about you, without being inauthentic. You will also need to make informed choices, not just about the information that you share but also which of your profiles you want to open up to the public at large and which you prefer to keep private.
Customer services tool – On numerous occasions, I have had to resort to Twitter or Facebook in order to get help from various organisations where I have received a far better and faster service then through using more traditional means of communication, including my physical presence in their establishment. This ranges from local restaurants where the waitstaff were just not up to par to big national brands who could not resolve my issues despite numerous calls to their call centre. With just one tweet my issue was resolved within a matter of hours or days. It is fast becoming a norm for businesses to take various, if not all, aspects of their offerings online and a big part of that is their customer service.
For old and young – Some people might still argue that social media is for young people, they’re the ones who understand it since they’ve grown up with it. Maybe so, but there are also plenty opportunities and reasons for older people to hop on board and be active as well. Are you professional who is is looking to turn your hobby into a side hustle for the extra income? Simply set up a website where people can book your services and/or buy your product and use social media to promote it, driving traffic back to your site. Sometimes a fully fledged website is not even necessary when a shop on Facebook can suffice. The same could work for someone heading into retirement and is looking to consult or a parent who wants to stay home with the kids.
A parallel universe– This is especially to parents, guardians and teachers. For millennials and beyond, social media is a norm; it is highly unlikely that they will never be exposed. We’ve all heard the horror stories of how kids are bullied, lured by paedophiles or just do stupid, childish things for the world to see. Forever. We are vigilant about teaching them about stranger danger, locking doors, safe sex. Are we equally vigilant about watching, guiding and teaching them about how to conduct themselves online? But if we don’t even understand the lay of that land, how then to we help younger generations to navigate it?