What is Social Media?

Social media is computer-based technology which facilitates the sharing of ideas, thoughts, and information through the building of virtual networks and communities. By design, social media is internet-based and gives users quick electronic communication of content. Content includes personal information, documents, videos, and photos. Users engage with social media via computer, tablet or smartphone via web-based software or web application, often utilizing it for messaging.

Social media originated as a way to interact with friends and family but was later adopted by businesses which wanted to take advantage of a popular new communication method to reach out to customers. The power of social media is the ability to connect and share information with anyone on Earth, or with many people simultaneously.

Globally, there are roughly 1.96 billion social media users will, most likely, rise to 2.5 billion by the end of 2018. Some sources estimate the number of users to be even higher. Social media is an ever-changing and ever-evolving web-based platform.

According to the Pew Research Center, social media users tend to be younger. Ninety-percent of people between the ages of 18 and 29 used at least one form of social media. Further, these users tend to be better educated and relatively wealthy, or earning over $75,000 per year.

Fast Facts

  • Social media is interactive and Web 2.0 based
  • Features user-generated profiles
  • Content is generated by users
  • An estimated 81% of Americans used social media as of 2017
  • Over one-fifth of an individual's online time is spent on social media
  • The United States and China lead the list of social media usage.

The Many Forms of Social Media

Social media may take the form of a variety of tech-enabled activities. These activities include photo sharing, blogging, social gaming, social networks, video sharing, business networks, virtual worlds, reviews and much more. Even governments and politicians utilize social media to engage with constituents and voters.

For individuals, social media is used to keep in touch with friends and extended family. Some people will use various social media applications to network career opportunities, find people across the globe with like interests, and share their thought, feelings, insight, and emotions. Those who engage in these activities are part of a virtual social network.

For businesses, social media is an indispensable tool. Companies use the platform to find and engage with customers, drive sales through advertising and promotion, gauge consumer trends, and offering customer service or support.

Social media's role in helping businesses is significant. It facilitates communication with customers, enabling the melding of social interactions on e-commerce sites. Its ability to collect information helps focus marketing efforts and market research. It helps in promoting products and services, as it enables the distribution of targeted, timely, and exclusive sales and coupons to would-be customers. Further, social media can help in building customer relationships through loyalty programs linked to social media.

Real World Example

While social media has its positive side, many point to the platform and call out negative features, likening its overuse to an addiction. Some contest it contributes to inattentiveness, stress, and jealousy. The National Center for Biotechnology Information links heavy social media use to depression. Also, many times, social media may be a conduit for misleading information and falsehoods.

The 2016 American presidential election has well-documented accounts of the impact of the ability to spread false information through the platform. Such a phenomenon leverages the power of social media, allowing anyone to reach an audience of millions with content that lacks oversight or fact-checking.

The figures for the most popular social media websites as of January 2018 are as follows:

  1. Facebook (2.167 billion users as of January 2018)
  2. YouTube (1.5B)
  3. WhatsApp (1.3B)
  4. Facebook Messenger (1.3B)
  5. WeChat (980M)
  6. QQ (843M)
  7. Instagram (800M)
  8. Tumblr (794M)
  9. QZone (568M)
  10. Sina Weibo (376M)
  11. Twitter (330M)
  12. Baidu Tieba (300M)
  13. Skype (300M)
  14. LinkedIn (260M)
  15. Viber (260M)
  16. Snapchat (255M)
  17. Reddit (250M)
  18. LINE (203M)
  19. Pinterest (200M)
  20. YY (117M)