Most of us use some form of social media every day - and whether it's for personal communication, self-promotion or marketing, we use it religiously. Humans are creatures of habit, but they're also opinionated and impatient. Those two traits alone are the reasons why social networks thrive. People want the news fast and they want to talk about it now.
Technological advancements have made it easier for people to express themselves and relay news through social media platforms. But many people tend to focus on the supposed negative effects of social media and forget about the good.
Instead of focusing on social media's pitfalls and absurdities, let me remind you how its influence transforms society for the better. Here are five major contributions that social media has made to society:
- It's a forum for support and safety information during a crisis. There have been several recent disasters during which social media provided the only viable venue for communication. During Superstorm Sandy, most people didn't have power, but some cell networks and WiFi towers were still operational. Many people used Facebook to detail the destruction and reassure friends or family that they were safe. This week, the tragic Boston Marathon bombings mobilized the worldwide social media community to offer support and info for those affected. Twitter even donated a promoted hashtag (value estimated at $200,000), #OneBoston, to lend support to victims, according to Ad Week. More importantly, networks like Twitter proved to be a safety tool for people in the area. The Boston Police Department tweeted up-to-the-minute news describing injuries, death tolls and areas to avoid. In an effort to keep phone lines clear, police asked people to use social media to communicate.
- It's a valuable aid for crime-solving. Police departments like the NYPD are beginning to investigate gang-related crimes on social media networks. Recently, the NYPD nabbed about 60 gang members who boasted about violent criminal activity on social media. In other states like Oregon, authorities have arrested people for drinking and driving after they bragged about it publicly on Facebook.
- It's a form of political influence. Social media has given a true voice to the people. Last month, the rally for marriage equality spread throughout social platforms as the Supreme Court heard cases regarding same-sex marriage. Brands even took to the trend by creating relevant red equality symbols. Social media is a powerful force for change and it has potential to influence the outcomes of political decisions. The Supreme Court still has not reached a decision in the ongoing debate, but justices were aware of the public support.
- It's the best-yet way to connect across vast distances. Many of us are now able to once again connect with friends and relatives from far and wide without having to waste money paying for international phone calls. I can reconnect with people I met from Australia and South Africa. I can see their pictures and take a glimpse into their life, and it's nice to have a way to check in on their updates when I can't physically be there myself - it's the perfect complement to other communication formats like email and Skype.
- It revolutionized brand engagement. Social media transformed the marketing industry. A new BIA/Kelsey report says social media ad revenue will reach $11 billion by 2017. Brands have the ability to personally engage with customers like never before and it's showing in sales. People like to see brands respond when they comment on a Facebook post or mention the company in a tweet. The use of social media to handle the bulk of customer service inquiries is slowly becoming standard practice. Interaction fuels sales and social media agencies know that it is the key to brand success in a digital world.
(image: social media contributions / shutterstock)