Social media networking describes a range of networking methods. What these methods have in common is that they are not face-to-face or necessarily “real time”. A number of websites with an increasing array of services have emerged to challenge and/or combine with traditional methods of networking. These methods are being increasingly incorporated into business practices and are likely to become, in one form or another, a permanent aspect of life. The popularity of social media has led to its increasing acceptance as a tool for business and personal networking.
Critics of this trend cite the potential dangers and potential ineffectiveness of this type of media. There is still a large subset of the population who believe that face-to-face networking is ultimately the best way to establishing long-lasting and effective connections. For most others social media networking, for better or worse, is here to stay. In the future efforts should focus on how to maximize security and efficiency. With careful planning, social media networking can be an effective tool. Using it in combination with traditional networking is potentially better than traditional means alone.
Networking in the Past Face-to-face networking has always been a part of life. It still is an important method for forming relationships based on trust and mutual interest. Until the rise of the American middle class in the 1950s, business-based networking was primarily the purview of the elite class. Networking among the rest of the population was more based upon survival than personal or career advancement. From the mid 20th century on, the population became much more mobile, both geographically and in terms of career establishment.
Before this time, the typical American grew up with neighbors and relatives, and these were the only people they knew their entire lives. A new, mobile society placed more emphasis on “people skills” because people who did not know each other were coming in to contact every day. Technology only accelerated this trend. In the 1990s internet technology became more advanced. At the beginning of that decade a very small minority of people even had access to the internet. Communication platforms were primitive. Business and social networking was primarily done face to face at parties, conferences, retreats, dinners, golf outings etc.
Paper-based communications, such as letters, memos and telegraphs were also much more prevalent than they are today. E-mail was seen as a novelty in its early years. Gradually people began to use it more and more for personal communications then businesses began to adopt it for internal and external communications as the decade closed. Personal networking was often done at weddings, meet and greets, telephone calls, churches or community events. Business networking was always more challenging because many of the venues in which it took place were exclusive or invitation only.
In both cases, people were primarily limited to networking within their own locality, region or place of business. Evolution of online social networking It didn’t take long after the creation of the World Wide Web for the first social applications to emerge. E-mail was a strong selling point for the first online services. Users found that it was quicker and cheaper than the traditional written letter – much cheaper than a long-distance phone call. Before long people could send e-mail simultaneously to multiple recipients.
The inclusion of e-mail addresses on business names, cards and resumes became commonplace. When AmericaOnLine introduced instant messaging people thousands of miles apart could have a somewhat close to real-time conversation via their personal computers. Later fiber optic cable and advanced communications satellites would help to speed the rate at which people could communicate and expand the types of formats they could communicate in. The 1990s was a pivotal decade in the development of new media. By the end of the decade most people had internet access and an increasing number were engaging in social media.
A new generation of tech-savvy users who had never known life without computers was leading the way toward a more integrated world. In 1997 the first social network site fitting the contemporary definition was launched. SixDegrees. com featured profiles and friend lists. Many popular dating sites also had similar features. Classmates. com and Ancestry. com were topical sites that expanded on those features and became widely popular in the following years. Sites like LiveJournal and Skog provided users with profile pages and online diaries.
Many of the early social network sites were based out of Silicon Valley, a hub of technology and research in Northern California. Now there are thousands of such sites based in varying locations around the world. Present-day social networking The early 2000s saw an astonishing growth in social media as platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, MySpace and Friendster came online. Businesses took notice, not only of huge potential markets but of communication and marketing applications as well. A second wave of social media networking began at the turn of the 21st century.
Sites like Ryze, LinkedIn and Friendster were formed with business applications in mind. These services had varying degrees of success. San Francisco-based Ryze became highly popular while Friendster was an example of the dangers of the online market. It could not effectively handle its own popularity. The service was changeable, unreliable and subject to “fakesters” who ultimately caused the destruction of the service’s most popular features. By 2003, the network had more than 300,000 users – an astronomical number at the time based primarily on word-of-mouth marketing.
The advent of forums and blogs advanced e-mail to another level. Musicians, Artists and Writers are also using social media networking to self-promote their own products. Previously unknown musicians, for example, have been able to work their way toward mainstream success by releasing their music on MySpace, YouTube (video sharing) or other sites. Early study of social media networking has found that most users fall into one of three categories. Kuvar, Novak and Tomkins describe them this way: 1) Singletons who do not participate in the network 2) Isolated communities; or ) A giant component anchored by a well-connected core region Trend statistics provide a clearer picture of social networking than a snapshot on any given day.
Companies can easily contradict snapshot data. Trend data is harder to dispute. Facebook has nearly 75 million daily users and over 50 million unique monthly visitors. Growth in the United States is about 3. 8% per month (Owyang, 2009). Social networks are now more popular the email for communication purposes and nearly two-thirds of all internet users visit one or more social networks. The fastest growing group of social media users is women aged 55 or higher.
Once dominated by Caucasians, Facebook usage is now roughly proportionate to the racial breakdown of the overall population. Santa Monica, CA based MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter are also experiencing explosive world-wide growth. The amount of time spent per user on those sites is also increasing. Interestingly, a UK study found that only 5% of Twitter users account for 75% of activity on the site (Owyang, 2009). In one 60 day period the number of over-35 users on Facebook doubled. This mirrors trends on other sites in which the fastest increases are among middle age and senior populations.
This is not particularly surprising since young people were the early adopters of the technology in high percentages almost from the start. If anything, the recession has increased traffic to the social media sites. LinkedIn has added about one member per second throughout 2009. MySpace, growing at . 8% per month reached 76 million members by 2009 (Owyang, 2009). Social media network services are becoming increasingly diverse. MyChurch and Black Planet are topical and affiliation-based. BeautifulPeople and aSmallWorld limit membership to a smaller group of people.
Ning is a site where a user can create their own networks. The world is now online and there apparently is no turning back. The degree to which these new media affect traditional forms of networking is up to the individual user. Our society now expects, however, that individuals and businesses will be able to avail themselves of these methods. Those who cannot are very likely to fall behind. There will always be a place for traditional forms of networking. In some ways the new media are simply applying technology to old forms of networking.
Face-to-face meetings whether by streaming video, video phone or in-person will always be important to establishing trust among individuals. Establishing trustworthy relationships are key to success in almost any personal or business endeavor. Human beings are hard-wired to make decisions on trust based upon direct contact with another individual. Problems have arisen when people have chosen to base such decisions simply on what they see on the computer screen. The Courts and Social Media Networking The increased popularity of social media networking has had some serious ramifications, particularly in the workplace.
Some companies have found it necessary to spy on employee computer use even on password-protected sites. In a recent New Jersey case an employer logged in to a protected discussion group, monitored the group, and then fired the employees for what he felt were negative comments about the company and its clients. Cases like this one are in the process of establishing new case law in social media networking and the workplace. Never the less, an employee should never assume that any online communication is secret. The systems to spy on someone’s communications will always keep up with the systems to protect them.
In the same way case law will always struggle to keep up with the ever-changing forms of social media. Boyd and Ellison conclude that “The Fourth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution and legal decisions concerning privacy are not equipped to address social network sites” (2007). The answers as to why people use social media networking are many and diverse. Most users share a common element of wanting to have an audience or, in some cases, to be a part of an audience.
Networks of online “friends” provide people with audience opportunities they may never have otherwise had. Friends provide context by offering users an imagined audience to guide behavioral norms” (Boyd and Ellison, 2007). There are consequences however. Unfortunately, the norms reinforced are not always positive ones. Students engaging in bullying have found social media to be an effective tool for amplifying their efforts. Often, little can be done about cyber-bullying because the user may be anonymous, free speech issues may be involved or the victim may be unwilling to tell anyone what is going on because of the social stigma and the feeling that nothing can be done about it anyway.
In some cases cyber-bullying has spiraled into tragic results. Recently a group of junior high school students used social media networking to organize a “kick a ginger” day on campus. Enough students participated in the prank to create an unsafe school atmosphere for students who simply had the misfortune of having red hair on that particular day. Several students were kicked and berated. The parents of the abusers, the school, the school district and the social media platform are all now at risk of civil lawsuits. In 2009 a teenage girl was found dead from an apparent suicide.
The subsequent investigation revealed that the girl’s neighbor, Laurie Drue and her teenaged daughter had created a false profile on a networking site the girl frequented. The neighbors first posed as a boy who was interested in the girl. The “boy” then began to taunt her and degrade her mercilessly until the day she committed suicide. A similar case in Massachusetts resulted in the rape, bullying and suicide of a girl. In both cases the law is not equipped to deal with some of the consequences of the growing social media trend.
Ms Drue was convicted only of the unauthorized use of a computer – a misdemeanor. The second case and possible civil actions are still pending. Such incidents are rare, but sufficiently awful to affect the ongoing development of social media networking. The future of social networking The usage of social media networking has taken root in such a way that it cannot simply be considered a fad. A Korean study, for example, found that 85% of respondents used social media to reinforce and maintain previously-formed relationships (Boyd and Ellison, 2007).
In other words, even if social media is not used for meeting strangers and people around the world it has become as important as the phone call for keeping in touch with friends and family as well as keeping them in touch with each other. Businesses are using social media increasingly in a number of ways, from simply getting a product name out to a wide audience to investigating their own employees and those of other firms. Meanwhile the individual businessperson is finding social media more and more indispensable as a means to career group.
A new set of constituents define the modern networked businessperson-including both online and offline media-and that the most successful workers have mastered both” (Spencer, 2009). Police, schools, employers and other organizations are increasingly using social media to get information on individuals. The degree to which they can do this is nowhere near set in stone. Privacy concerns, particularly for young people will be an ongoing focus of social media networking development. Privacy systems will also have to allow for increased user flexibility in order to continue to grow the product successfully.
The remainder of the 21st century is likely to see numerous court cases as the law tries to adapt to the always-changing technology. A particularly thorny issue is determining how much the U. S. government (or any government) can regulate web sites based in foreign countries but visible in the U. S. The founding of new social media services is being targeted to an increasingly wide range of consumers. In order to distinguish themselves companies will either target under served niche markets or offer new, unique services as advancements in technology allow.
In general, the trend is toward greater integration of business and personal networking functions. In terms of technology services that seamlessly integrate multiple forms of communication will continue to develop. More and more, users will have access to social media networking anytime, anywhere through cell phones, PDA’s, Blackberries, wireless hot spots, iPads and various other technology platforms. New business models to better take advantage of these technologies will also be developed. Analysis and Conclusion Social media networking is not likely to be a dying fad.
Its formats and capabilities will change but it has become too deeply rooted to go away. We are now at a time when an entire generation has grown up with computers, cell phones and other communications technology. Many of them, and the vast majority of their children, are using social media networking in one form or another. Traditional media, business and government are all racing to exploit the possibilities social media offers. One of the biggest downfalls of social media networking is that any perceived sense of security is a myth.
This can make it difficult to network openly and effectively, either in the business or the personal sense. For this reason social media should be thought of as a secondary, not a primary means of networking. From that perspective social media can be an effective tool and better than traditional networking by itself. The question as to whether social media in and of itself is better than traditional networking is left to individual users. For some it is clearly better. For others it is not. The world is becoming a more integrated place.
More people from vastly different backgrounds and perspectives are coming together every day. It would seem that the wisest choice for both personal and professional relationship-building would be to avail themselves of as many different modes of communication as possible. As a communications tool social media networks create fascinating links between people who might not have ever known of each other. The potential for increased global communication and understanding is enormous. The long-term effectiveness of social networking as a business tool is still very much in question.
In terms of business, there are plentiful instances in which efforts to breach social networking have failed. Clearly social media networking has a down side, both for individuals and for businesses. In many ways we are plunging headlong into the unknown without full knowledge of what the potential future consequences of our online activity may be. There are also potential consequences for the lack of face-to-face interactions. These interactions are how we develop patience, understanding and empathy. These qualities have both life and business applications.
The online world often moves too fast for these virtues. Social media networking that results in the loss of traditional networking is therefore not an improvement. Social media networking plus traditional networking can be an improvement however. Social media offers tools that connect us in a variety of ways. This is important in a fragmented and dangerous world. There is an implicit “beware” sign attached to media. Users must continue to be savvy about issues such as data security and criminal activity online. Under those conditions a world with social media networking is better than a world without it.