Social Media in all of its various forms has taken the internet by storm; most people, however limited their web knowledge, will have heard of at least some of the hundreds of sites adored by masses of internet users. You’ll probably be familiar with names such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Twitter even if you are not entirely sure what they are or what they are used for.
At its simplest, Social Media is a term that describes media that is shared by social interaction using web-based technologies. The creation and exchange of user-generated content; information and knowledge not just consumed by the users of the sites but also produced by the same.
It can be anything from straightforward social interaction, emails and messaging, as with the many social networking sites such as Facebook, to the sharing of video clips either homemade or borrowed as with YouTube.
Social Media runs the gamut from the provision of factual information as with sites such as Wikipedia the online interactive encyclopaedia, compiled and edited by its users, to the more personal out-pourings of the many blogs, vlogs and even micro-blogs available such as WordPress and Twitter. Blogs provide a platform for users to up-date cyberspace with the most private of thoughts and the most mundane of activities; micro-blogging, a form of short, concise, regular up-dates and vlogging, blogging to a video camera, take the concept further still.
Where blogs have limited scope for audience interaction, forums simply thrive on it; any community of people however tenuous their perceived link can join together on an internet forum and message each other in a series of online open letters that invite all-comers to join the conversation. Forums exist on almost every subject from classic cars to taxidermy and their membership is growing hourly.
When it comes to the sharing of video content, be it a vlog, a scene from Great Aunt Mildred’s 90th, a short film or a clip from Top of the Pops circa 1977, YouTube is in a class all of its own. With the advent of new mobile phone video technology comes the dawn of a time when every phone can also capture our every move for posterity, and humans being the social animals we are, a compulsion to share these clips of ephemera with as large an audience as possible abounds and user-friendly YouTube provides a perfect platform.
It is however through the hundreds of easily accessible social networking sites that the phenomenon of social media began its grip on the public imagination. Social networking, so beloved of the young, who are quite rightly the instigators of so many of the fads and fashions that later filter through to the masses, started as a means of sharing information about interests and of chatting with friends, but quickly became a byword for basic communication with choices now including “phone me, text me or Facebook me”.
No wonder then that the business community have picked up on the buzz and found increasingly more inventive ways to capitalise on the growth of this trend; with everything from social media marketing to viral marketing sweeping the net it is surely only a matter of time before our entire lives are being lived out online in a virtual version of our less colourful off-line realities.