By Dave Avran
I’M sure there are as many answers to this question as there are people using social media. That number would even slant towards the negative if we also ask people who are against using social media.
But social media has provided people with more access to information than they’ve ever had before. Not only more but quicker access. Anyone with a mobile device can search for virtually any information they need at any time.
“The amount of digital information increases tenfold every five years. There are now many more people who interact with information. Between 1990 and 2005 more than 1 billion people worldwide entered the middle class. As they get richer they become more literate, which fuels information growth.” (From The Economist).
So what is the answer? Is social media basically good, or does it have a negative impact on society? My answer would be social media is what you make of it. Like so many other things in life, both online and off, you get what you put into it.
Social media connects people. I grew up in Perak, went to university in Perth and settled down in Selangor. Going online gives me a chance to connect, in real-time, with more people than I could via a single phone call. I was also able to stay in touch with friends I went to school with (including kindergarten) via status updates, and peruse photos that help make me feel as though I am still a part of their lives.
People are more and more mobile, moving for jobs, living far from their families, so technology that helps bridge the social gap created by our modern global economy is useful. We build and maintain relationships on social media. Social networks began as a means of connecting with friends. How many of us actively seek out old friends from high school, or even grammar school, and are able to reconnect?
Human beings are inherently social creatures. We need other people to truly thrive. Social media connects us with people we may never meet in person, yet we’re still able to develop a strong relationship with these people.
It has truly democratised media, and given everyone a medium through which to be heard. Small businesses and large businesses now have the same opportunities to speak with people – giving small business, in particular, many more opportunities.
It used to be only the companies that were able to purchase ads getting their message out; now any company can take the time to jump into a conversation on any social network. Consumers are also now more able to really see who they’re paying their money to. With more access to each company and its employees, and more ways to share such insights – both positive and negative – companies need to be much more careful in what they say and do, because everything is now public and easier to access.
Brands are now able to tailor their products and services to what people really need and are looking for. Social networking helps narrow the gap between a company and their current and potential consumers. The more a brand interacts with their consumers on social networks, the more they’re able to learn how to target consumers with the right products and services.
Social media also provides access to learn almost anything via videos and how-to guides on the Internet, changing the way we learn. News content is now available much faster due to social media.
There are negative effects, though. There’s both real and fake information to be found via social content. There will always be people looking to capitalise on any media distribution method, and there’ll be those who’ll believe anything they read and not look any further into finding out if what they’re reading is an Internet hoax.
This is an unfortunate side-effect of wider connection – it also opens the system up to those who would exploit it to push their own agendas. Social media platforms are seriously looking to police this, but it’ll always play a part.
Social media can have a negative impact on productivity. People will use social media when they’re supposed to be doing other things. This is nothing new, nor can it solely be blamed on social media. Before the Internet, people still wasted time while at work.
If you hire a slacker, you’re going to get a slacker, whether you take their Internet away or not.