Social media or “social networking” has almost become part of our daily lives and being tossed around over the past few years. It is like any other media such as newspaper, radio and television but it is far more than just about sharing information and ideas. Social networking tools like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and Blogs have facilitated creation and exchange of ideas so quickly and widely than the conventional media. The power of define and control a brand is shifting from corporations and institutions to individuals and communities. It is no longer on the 5Cs (e.g. condominium, credit cards and car) that Singaporeans once talked about. Today, it is about the brand new Cs: creativity, communication, connection, creation (of new ideas and products), community (of shared interests), collaboration and (changing the game of) competition.
In January 2010, InSites Consulting has conducted an online survey with 2,884 consumers from over 14 countries between the ages of 18 to 55 years old on social networking. More than 90% of participants know at least 1 social networking site and 72% of participants are members of at least 1 social networking site. On the average, people have about 195 friends and they log in twice a day to social networking sites. However, 55% of the users cannot access their social network websites at work. In the past, not many adults were able to make more than 500 friends, but with social media, even a child or teenager can get to know more than 500 people in a few days by just clicking the mouse. Social media has devalued the traditional definition of “friend” where it means trust, support, compatible values, etc. Although we get to know more people, we are not able to build strong bond with all the people whom we met as our available time is limited. Hence, there is an upcoming social trend of people with wider social circles, but weaker ties (people we don’t know very well but who provide us with useful information and ideas).
Social media also influences people’s buying behaviours. Digital Influence Group reported that 91% of the people say consumer reviews are the #1 aid to buying decisions and 87% trust a friend’s recommendation over critic’s review. It is thrice more likely to trust peer opinions over advertising for purchasing decisions. 1 word-of-mouth conversation has an impact of 200 TV ads. With the prevalence use of social media, there is numerous news related to it from the most viewed YouTube video on “Armless pianist wins ‘China’s Got Talent'” to Web-assisted suicide cases (e.g. New Jersey college student who killed himself after video of him in a sexual encounter with another man was posted online). Thus, does social networking make us better or worse off as a society?
Positive Effects of Social Media
Besides having opportunity to know a lot of people in a fast and easy way, social media also helped teenagers who have social or physical mobility restrictions to build and maintain relationships with their friends and families. Children who go overseas to study can still stay in meaningful contact with their parents. To a greater extend, there is anecdotal evidence of positive outcomes from these technologies.
In 2008, President-elected Obama won the election through the effective use of social media to reach millions of audience or voters. The Obama campaign had generated and distributed huge amount of contents and messages across email, SMS, social media platforms and their websites. Obama and his campaign team fully understood the fundamental social need that everyone shares – the need of being “who we are”. Therefore, the campaign sent the message as “Because It’s about YOU” and chose the right form of media to connect with individuals, call for actions and create community for a social movement. They encouraged citizens to share their voices, hold discussion parties in houses and run their own campaign meetings. It truly changed the delivery of political message.
Obama campaign had made 5 million “friends” on more than 15 social networking sites (3 million friends on Facebook itself) and posted nearly 2,000 YouTube videos which were watched over 80 million times. At its peak, their website, MyBarackObama.com, had 8.5 million monthly visitors and produced 400,000 blog posts. In order to ensure that their contents were found by people, the Obama campaign spent $3.5 million on Google search in October alone, $600,000 on Advertising.com, $467,000 on Facebook in 2008, etc. Currently, Obama’s Twitter account has close to 6 million followers.
In 2010, after the earthquake happened in Haiti, many of the official communication lines were down. The rest of the world was not able to grasp the full picture of the situation there. To facilitate the sharing of information and make up for the lack of information, social media came in very handy to report the news about the affected area on what happened and what help was needed. Tweets from many people provided an impressive overview of the ongoing events from the earthquake. BBC covered the event by combining tweets from the work of its reporter Matthew Price in Port-au-Prince at the ground. Guardian’s live blog also used social media together with the information from other news organisations to report about the rescue mission.