This is the first of two articles about the positives and negatives of social media.
In a recent podcast, The Future of Social Media: What’s Normal Anyway?, Communications faculty member Nicole Rothenay spoke with me about the great benefits along with some unfortunate negatives that social media have had on society. The skills, competencies, and knowledge expressed in this article and the podcast are directly in line with the fully online degrees of Associate of Arts in Communication and the Bachelor of Arts in Communication. In addition, specific courses, such as COMM211 Social Media and Society, COMM255 Digital Tools and Media in Society, and MKTG308 Social Media Marketing provide more in-depth learning about the complex topics that center around social media.
Social Media Dominance in Contemporary Culture
Social media dominates contemporary culture. Although this statement is dramatic, the ability to connect people with one another has changed many aspects of the world today.
As authors Danah M. Boyd and Nicole B. Ellison write in their article, Social Network Sites: Definition, History and Scholarship, “We define social network sites as web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system.”
From the early social media sites of sixdegrees.com in 1997, Friendster in 2002, LinkedIn and Myspace in 2003, YouTube in 2005, and Facebook (for everyone) and Twitter in 2006, social media sites have matured. Today, social media sites and platforms can meet the needs of billions of users or of just a few depending on what people want and the reach they desire.
Social Media Has A Truly Astounding Global Reach
The top social media sites in the world have a truly astounding reach. According to Statista, the following were the largest social media sites by number of active users in 2021:
- Facebook: 2.74 billion
- YouTube: 2.29 billion
- WhatsApp: 2 billion
- Facebook Messenger: 1.3 billion
- Instagram: 1.22 billion
- TikTok: 689 million
- Snapchat: 498 million
- Pinterest: 442 million
- Reddit: 430 million
- Twitter: 353 million
If you look just at the number of active users, the top three have an astounding percentage of the world’s users. The world population in 2020 was around 7.8 billion people, according to the CIA World Factbook. This means that Facebook reaches around 35% of the world, YouTube 29% and WhatsApp around 25%. Speaking from a marketing perspective, this expansive reach was unimaginable in all of human history and was probably not dreamed of when these sites were started.
After the top few social media sites, there are others such as Snapchat, Reddit and Twitter that, because of various limiting factors, only have hundreds of millions of followers. For this article, only the main English-language apps were included. But there are other social media sites in the world that have billions and hundreds of millions of users such as WeChat, QQ, Douyin and others.
One of the great benefits of social media is the ability for anyone to instantly communicate. Today, 25 years after the first social media sites were launched, we take for granted their communication reach. Anyone can post on Facebook, write a tweet, or upload an image on Instagram or a video on YouTube and reach hundreds of millions of people. If you were to post on Facebook, you could theoretically reach up to 35% of the world’s population.
The communication possibilities have created countless positives that include but are not limited to:
- Greater marketing potential for small businesses
- Greater communication reach for individuals
- Broad and far-reaching networking opportunities
- Greater customer engagement possibilities for established brands
- Direct communication channels for governmental organizations
- The ability to target marketing because of the use of social media analytics
- The ability to ask for creative ideas and/or direct customer feedback
- Organizations can creatively brand themselves
- Organizations can stay informed on the competition
- Partnering with influencers and others who can help with marketing
- Expanded reputation and crisis management
At this point in the history of social media, most people never even think about the communication breakthroughs that occurred from 1997 to 2010. For many adults, we forget a time when we had to read newspapers to get informed. We forget when we had to use a landline to call people and pay for long-distance calls.
We forget when, even in the recent past, when events occurred halfway across the world and it took days or even a week to reach us. When it comes to communication, we now take everything for granted. And for the generation that came of age with social media, they know nothing but a world of instant communication.
Advocacy and Social Media
Advocacy can mean many things to different people. In the context of this article, advocacy means anything someone feels strongly about and makes it known on social media. Here are just a few ways to advocate for an idea or position:
- Reposting or liking articles from major news sources
- Following important thinkers or writers to support their ideas
- Connecting with others who think like you do
- Financially support important thinkers or writers using services like Patreon, Ko-fi, Buy Me Coffee or Kickstarter
- Engaging in dialogue on social media platforms to support a cause
- Writing articles and/or create videos to advocate for a cause
With so many sites and platforms, you just have to find which one best meets your needs and will connect you with a group of like-minded people.
Family and Friends Are Able to Be Closer Than Ever Now
Another positive aspect of social media is that families and friends are able to be closer than ever. Even though for many, more distant family connections are not as important as closer family ties, the fact that we can stay current with people in our social circles is important.
Being able to stay connected with old friends and people with whom you used to be close has helped many people feel reconnected. In addition, being able to know how more distant family members are doing by connecting with them lets families stay closer than ever before.
With so many ways social media positively connect people, it is hard to imagine any downside. However, in the second article in this two-part series, we will go over some of the unfortunate negatives of social media.