Monday, 28 October 2013

Why is social media so huge?

Image: Social Media Examiner
Social media is huge. There's no way to deny that. The turn of the 21st century will probably go down in history as the time when social media began taking over the world. Now, social networking as a concept is nothing new. Back in the day there were many social networks pre-Facebook. I'm sure many of you reading this remember Myspace and Friendster. At the time, those networks were huge in their own way. But the growth of social media today, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+, is unlike anything ever seen before. Hundreds of millions of people use these social networks monthly, and the amount of traffic these sites get is just astounding. So what's the deal? Why is social media suddenly so huge today? Well it's probably a combination of a few key factors, which I plan to discuss in this post.

The broadening scope of social media
Different social networks for
different purposes. Image: AllTwitter
Previously, the idea of a social network was limited to a Facebook-style concept. A service would be provided, which would give users the opportunity to create personal profiles and create networks with one another, keeping in touch by sharing photos, expressing themselves via status updates, telling friends and family where they are and what they're doing etc. An all-around service where you can do everything with everyone. It was a powerful tool but for some, perhaps a little too powerful. Social media was then broken down into it's key components. Instead of a social network which could do everything, we began to see social networks that were more specific, doing one thing and one thing only. Twitter is basically the "status update" part of a social network, Instagram and Tumblr are the "photo sharing" part, Foursquare is the "check-in" part and so on. Not only was social media broken down into core components, but it was also expanded to offer more than just a platform for you to connect with friends. Video-based social networks like YouTube and DailyMotion provide aspiring film makers a platform for them to show their skills, something which would be impossible to do outside of social media without a budget. Spotify can also be considered a form of social media, based around music. Steam is also a social network, with gaming being the core of the network. With specialised social networks for various areas of interest now widely available, the growth of social media as a whole is just unstoppable.   

Adoption of social media by famous institutions and individuals
Lets face it. We use social media as a vanity tool. We like to think that what we say matters, and that our friends want to know where we are, what we do, and what we look like on a daily basis. Truth be told, we are just boring individuals who lead dull lives. But, updates from our favourite brands, retail outlets, musicians and actors are probably something worth keeping up to date with. Even social media updates from government institutions are something worthwhile. Now personally, I don't care what celebrities are eating, where they are or who they hang out with, but I can understand how cool it must be for die hard fans to see live updates directly from their favourite celebrities, with no PR in between. That to me is why Twitter is so huge. It's a medium for fans to directly get in touch and literally follow what their favourite celebrities are up to. Popular brands get huge following on social media for their promotions, service providers get followers as it's easier to connect with customer support via social media than a feedback form on the website, government departments get followers so citizens are kept up to date with official announcements and what have you. This is a pretty big boost for social media today, support which wasn't given to the likes of Myspace or Friendster. 
Top 5 Twitter accounts according to Twitter Counter
The power of mobile technology
I bet some of you thought of this right from the beginning. Mobile technology is most probably the single greatest contributing factor to the growth of social media today. In the past, we were restricted to our desktops and laptops for social media. Smartphones weren't as commonplace as they are now. But with global smartphone and tablet sales reaching record breaking numbers, it wouldn't be surprising to see a huge amount of social media traffic coming from mobile devices instead of desktops. Certain social networks are even mobile-based like Twitter and Instagram. Those services are meant to be used on the go and with your mobile device, and not when you are stuck in the office or lazing around at home on your desktop. With public WiFi becoming more common and mobile data speeds increasing, browsing social media on your mobile device is even easier than before, back during GPRS and EDGE times. This ability to remain always connected to the internet is a huge factor in social media usage, one which would probably affect social media the most if it were to suddenly not exist. 
Every mobile device probably has social media apps. Image: Apps Tech News  
Nothing lasts forever. Neither did Myspace nor Friendster. But I cannot see how today's social networks like Facebook, Google+, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram will fall. They are just too huge, to deeply integrated into our daily lives. There are a lot of things going for these social networks, and unless something ginormously incredibly huge happens, they will be here for years yet.