The Evolution, Power, and Reach of Social Media
As time goes by, social media, or technical avenues by which people can interact remotely over the Internet, becomes more and more a part of everyday life. Social networking sites have become so incredibly popular in the ways that they have changed the public lexicon and the way we communicate with friends and family, make new friends, and even do business. It is helpful then, to have an in-depth understanding of what social media is, where it came from, and how you can use it to promote your website, services or products and increase revenue for your business in general.
What is Social Media?
Social media are media by which users can interact with one another remotely using publishing techniques, via an Internet connection. You can connect to any of the social media sites through regular computers and laptops, as well as through a growing number of highly advanced mobile devices. The only thing you need to have is Internet access!
The basic impetus behind social media is to allow businesses, friends, and family members to communicate and interact with one another, no matter where the parties are physically. It also allows for people to seek out like minded individuals who share common values, interests, professions, or hobbies, providing an excellent opportunity for people to make new friends. When it comes to promoting your business, social media sites are an excellent way to expand your customer base, drive more targeted traffic to your website and promote your service or product worldwide.
Social media sites are highly complex sites as they must offer the functionality that allows all users to create content to be posted, as well as hosted, on their site. This involves complex programming techniques that most of us never think about when we log on to see what our friends or business associates are up to.
Social Media: A Brief History
The precursor of the current day social media, with relation to the Internet, came into being way back in the 1970s. Referred to as BBS (or Bulletin Board Systems), these slow – and to us, seemingly archaic – systems involved a messaging system, were one user at a time could log on and post messages. Other users could then log on and post responses. These messages were not stored on a centralized server, but rather on the individual user’s computer hard drive, making this a vastly slower, more complex, and space consuming way of interacting. But this was the first way that individuals could communicate, interactively, over the Internet, and without technologies like these, the media we have today would not be possible.
Following the BBS came online services that created chat room functions that, for a fee, would allow multiple users to log on to the same location and using a text based system, communicate in close to real time with one another. With this technology came the invention of the targeted chat room, whereby users with common interests could meet up and converse together. Many of these programs were unreasonably expensive, which put them out of reach to the average consumer, but one company – I’m sure many have heard of – AOL, managed to stand the test of time and has evolved from the early days of chat rooms along with the rest of the World Wide Web.
After the boon of the chat room came two things that we not only still utilize, but are also much more in line with modern social media, and these are IRC (Internet Relay Chat) and the IM (instant message).
IRC, or Internet relay chat, was designed all the way back in 1988 as a method by which files and communication could be shared between friends and family over the Internet. It offered an instant messaging style feature, but its downfall was being designed for the open source UNIX system, which was not the primary operating system used by most computer owners – this has severely limited its reach, but other programs came along to fill in the gaps.
IM’s or instant messaging clients came about in the early 1990s and were the first mass used instant messaging programs. These programs allowed you to essentially create a chat room between yourself and another user whereby you could have private conversations online. You were able to create a “Buddy List” of other users and chat with them via this client. Popular IM systems included AOL and Yahoo!
The next path in the evolution of social media was the forum. A forum is a hosted website where members (you usually had to register, which was often free) could post content and other users could comment, provide links, and sometimes even attach documents or other files.
Six Degrees was one of the original social networking sites, created in 1997. Here users could create a profile, find and connect with friends and family, post bulletin board style messages and communicate with those on their friends lists. Shortly following Six Degrees, which went defunct in 2001, was Friendster. Friendster, launched in 2002 was the true precursor to the social networking sites that followed. On Friendster, you could find and connect with friends, family, or simply those with similar interests, and you could share files and other media over the site. Users are able to share a large variety of content, making this a highly popular site even to this day, particularly by users in Asia.
From Friendster, we reached the MySpace era. MySpace came into being around 2003, and has continued to increase in popularity (though it cannot compete with Facebook, described in detail below). On MySpace, users can create a custom profile whereby they can change their “moods”, provide basic “About Me” information, create blog posts, maintain friend connections, make comments, and even upload media content to share with their friends on MySpace. And finally, came the Big Kahuna of social media sites, Facebook – perhaps the most popular and successful social networking site to date.
Launched in 2004, Facebook was originally open to college students only, as a way to keep track of friends, share status messages, have detailed profiles, and keep in touch. Soon enough though, Facebook expanded and was available for anyone to use it and it has fast become the most popular social networking site online. With Facebook, you can create fully detailed profiles, share pictures, links, and other media, connect with friends and family, and now even play games with the burgeoning number of apps offered. You can also create a Facebook page for your business or a website and advertise it via well-established ad system.
Blogs, Social Networking and Social Bookmarking Sites - The holy trinity of Social Media
Social media is used in a huge variety of contexts. Most people think of social media sites as merely being places to post personal content, connect with old friends, and search for new ones. As more and more families live farther apart, as friends move, or classmates fall between the woodwork, these sites are excellent ways to keep in touch and reconnect. Many people have found these sites to be really effective to their making long-term, really good friends who share like interests, even if they are half way across the world.
But social media sites really are much more than that. These powerful sites have had the potential to start trends, take businesses off the ground and massively increase their popularity, and have even been an avenue through which many have found highly competitive employment options.
Blogs, short for web logs, are personalized pages that are hosted by an outside source, whereby individuals, businesses, etc. can create a free, personalized, updateable, customizable website. On these sites, you can link to friends’ blogs, business partners’ sites, produce content, and use all sorts of different plug-ins to create a truly unique page that provides all the functionality you need. You can post content as much as you want on any subject your heart desires.
Blogs are an excellent way for a business or individual to increase their reach and their potential client or visitor base in a way that was not possible just a few years ago. Some blogs reach literally thousands of visitors each day, and many people are finding way to make blogging a social – yet profitable endeavor.
You can, for example, host a blog whereby you write targeted content about a particular business, product or service. You can host targeted ads on your site that generate revenue, either every time a user clicks on the hosted ad, or perhaps simply views it (in the case of a brief video or commercial). Blogs have become a highly effective way of communicating with potential customers as they have the ability for visitors to leave comments asking questions or requesting more information.
You can create and host your basic blog for free at one of the most popular sites today WordPress.com. There are also other blog hosting sites out there like Blogger, which provide free blogging platforms that can be customized to the extent that you wish. Blogger is a highly popular blogging platform as you can start a blog easily, with a few clicks of a mouse, and even use a preloaded, professional quality template to get started fast. With plenty of places for backlinks, ads and monetization, Blogger is another great way to increase your reach online using increasingly popular social media sites.
On the other hand, if you are more up for buying your own domain name and hosting and creating your website by yourself or with a bit of professional help, WordPress.com offers WordPress, an open source blogging CMS, which will give you a lot more abilities for customization. There is also a large number of different plug-ins available for your WordPress blog that will allow you to simultaneously post content to any number of different social networking or social bookmarking sites you are associated with. This not only gives you the opportunity to expand your reach online, but is done almost automatically with these free services.
Social networking sites are sites that allow a large number of users to interact. These are sites that are hosted for the express purpose of bringing people together and facilitating interactive communication and online participation. But how can these sites help improve the amount of traffic and revenue you receive on your website?
For example, you can create a “Fan Page” or “Business Page” on sites like Facebook. Here you can provide in-depth information to potential visitors. People can “like” your site, and a news feed of this new “like” is posted on the individual’s Facebook profile page. Perhaps they like your site, go to your link, and their friends, seeing the like on their friend’s page may do the same. With millions of users on Facebook, it is easy to see how just a few “friends” and “likes” related to your page could increase exponentially as people’s friends, and friends of friends, see information about your blog or website on their friends’ home page. One cannot deny the amount of reach social networking sites like Facebook have, and with most of these services being incredibly powerful, customizable, and free to join, why not use it to your advantage to increase the reach of your business online.
We all know how important visibility and accessibility are to a successful online business or money making scheme and with all these powerful, popular social media at our disposal, our impetus for taking advantage of these opportunities has never been greater. There are so many ways that social media sites can drive relevant, targeted, and massive amount of traffic to our blog taking it from blah, to a money making machine.
Just think of the ways you can get your business out there. We all know how important search engines are, and how important our page being high in search engine results is to the success of our business. Therefore think about social media in terms of how you can use these massively popular tools to help increase your page rank, online visibility, potential customers and overall internet popularity.
Social media sites like Twitter where you can create status messages and invite and follow other users is another excellent, free way to get your blog or website known. With highly advanced mobile devices with applications that allow for people to reach their Twitter and Facebook account on the go, even more people are using these sites to communicate, find information about their interests, meet new people, and so on. Having an account with Twitter, whereby you produce status updates relating to new content or something special about your website will allow you yet another avenue to increase the traffic and profitability of your efforts.
With basic profile sites such as LinkedIN, you can post the details of your blog and also increase your traffic from merely having a presence on a lot of these sites. An active presence and participation within social media sites is most definitely a highly effective way to generate more traffic, clicks, interest, and thus expand the reach of your business, product, or service, all using highly popular, free services. What could be better than that?
Social Bookmarking Sites
Social bookmarking sites are sites that allow users to bookmark their favorite web content – whether it be blog posts, recipes, YouTube videos, etc., in one place. These bookmarks can then be shared with other users.
Generally, when tagging content on a social bookmarking site, a brief description of the web content or website tagged will allow you to communicate the basic concept of the content or site before users visit the site themselves.
You can choose a number of different security settings whereby your bookmarked content can be shared with few or many.
Examples of the most popular social bookmarking sites include Digg, StumbleUpon, and Delicious.
On these sites you can link to your favorite content or media and share it with your friends, family, business associates or everybody on that social bookmarking site – and perhaps even beyond.
You can use this as a tool to increase traffic to your site by participating in a number of these social bookmarking sites and bookmarking your content, every time it updates, and keeping your privacy settings universal. If you are lucky, you can build up contacts where you can have a mutually beneficial relationship with another business, service, or site by providing a sort of link sharing exchange, whereby you post one another’s content updates under your social bookmarks for all to see.
Where Does Social Media Reside and What Are the Most Popular Sites?
Social media sites reside all over the web and take a huge number of forms. Basically, there are social media sites designed for specific purposes or a certain level of functionality from basic, to highly complex and customizable. Social media, or social networking and social bookmarking sites are highly popular and it would take too long to mention all of them in one short piece, but we will cover the most popular sites and what it is that they “do”.
Perhaps the most commonly known of all the social networking sites, Facebook has a reach that is hard to beat. With hundreds of millions of users from all over the world, users can create customized profiles, add friends, communicate via “wall posts” or even via an instant messaging type of application. Find causes, products, services, that you like and join their page and share your preferences with all your friends. From here you can also play games, share pictures, take quizzes, and participate in any number of online applications. It is perfect for promoting your business and expanding your customer base.
While no longer as popular as Facebook, MySpace still holds the hearts of millions. This social networking site is, in many ways, similar to Facebook, offering the functionality to connect and communicate with friends, display status messages, create a detailed profile, share content, and chat with an instant messaging client. But MySpace differentiates itself as having more of a “journal” type function which adds a blog-like interface that Facebook lacks. It is perfect for music bands, artists and personal promotion.
Twitter is a basic status posting site. Here you can post short status updates (you are limited to 150 characters per Tweet) as well as follow other Tweeters, and allow them to follow you. Reply to status messages, retweet things that are of interest to you, and all the followers of your Twitter account will be able to keep up with your life’s goings on and things that are of interest to you. Twitter is perfect for promoting your business and sharing website content. The more followers you have the more traffic you will be able to drive towards your site.
This is a business oriented social networking site that allows users to make professional connections via the site. Here one can post essentially their resume or curriculum vitae for other business professionals to see. Businesses can post job opportunities and professionals can connect with those businesses directly to inquire about said job listings.
Flickr is a photo hosting repository that allows you a certain amount of free space to host your photos online. With a large variety of security settings, you can determine who can or cannot see your photos and individuals are also allowed to comment on your photos or link to them on Twitter, Facebook, or one of the other popular social media sites.
This is an ever increasing body of how-to information as well as basic question and answer pieces created by members of the Quora community. It is editable by any member of the site so the information provided on Quora is ever-evolving and improving as time goes on.
Digg is a site where users can share content they find of interest from all over the web. Here users collectively determine the relative “value” of a site by “digging” it. The more Diggs your site has, the more popular it has been determined to be by the users. Find a site you like? Digg it and see what other users think. If it is determined to be popular enough by Diggers, then it will make it to the front page of the site.
Delicious is a social bookmarking site, where by users can share bookmarks to their favorite sites and even look at the favorite bookmarks of other users. With a tagging and search feature, you can find others who bookmark things of interest to you, and provide targeted tags so users can find your bookmarks.
YouTube is a video hosting site that allows users to upload videos. Here you can post funny home movies, your band playing, or even a promotional video for your business. YouTube is incredibly popular and even has a searchable function that allows you to find exactly what you are looking for, fast. People just love videos, and therefore YouTube is a great tool to drive more traffic to your site and gain more popularity.
The Future of Social Media
It seems at times that the reach of social media has the potential to be endless. Once more the domain of predominately individuals, businesses are starting to see the power of the social networking sites and are thus working to create their own presence amongst individuals on these sites to help increase their reach.
As the bevy of social networking sites has continued to proliferate, they allow people with same interests to create their own niche groups as almost “sub social networks” within the site. With Facebook, for example, if you run an ad hosted blog focused on gardening tools, you can add “gardening” to your interests and connect with a huge number of people who share that common interest. You can see how you can start to make huge numbers of connections using just this simple technique.
With more and more files sharing and link sharing options on these sites, you can “like”, link to, and even email certain content to friends that you find on these sites. With more opportunities to share information, online businesses and bloggers for profit have ample opportunity to get the company, product, service, or site out there for hundreds of thousands to see. They can share information instantly by uploading a link to updated content, posting a link to a YouTube commercial, or integrate a large number of other social media with Facebook to further enhance your reach.
Many offices are now requiring their employees to be part of certain social networking sites as way to boost their reach. Policies about social networking participation are becoming more and more common in offices. With ever increasing amounts of mobile technology, for example Smart Phones, applications that provide access to popular social media from the palm of your hand are now a real, everyday occurrence. This allows the business man, on the go, to update his Twitter status with a few touches of his Smart Phone to instantly keep his business associates abreast of his activities.
Social media has certainly come a long way from the days of the one-user-at-a-time hard drive hosted “web bulletin board” and the tools available for free, at all of our disposal are truly powerful and very impressive. Their power to influence is hard to deny and the scope of that influence is massive. Hundreds of millions of individuals are “linked in” to one social media site or another. Many people are checking their favorite social media sites as the first thing they do before they start their day! This is how pervasive these sites have become in our lives. They changed the way we live, communicate, and even do business.
With the huge variety of social media sites out there, it is easy to use these services to their advantage to generate revenue and/or drive traffic to pre-existing or newly created website. With so many different places to turn to help promote and get the word out about your product, service, or site, it is vitally important that you take advantage of these truly powerful opportunities to really increase the traffic your website sees.
Just think about the reach of these sites, and imagine how that could positively affect the amount of traffic your website sees and the more relevant users you can drive your way. It is easy to see that this is a promotional opportunity that must be tapped. The influence and importance of these sites is not expected to go into decline anytime in the foreseeable future, so jump on the bandwagon and see for yourself the potential social media has when it comes to increasing the popularity of your site, service, product, or business.