Introduction to Social Media

Online social media use has exploded over recent years. Social media refers to media produced by the users of technological tools designed to allow people to connect and share information with each other through increasingly accessible means including social networking sites, blogs, wikis, forums, podcasts, and online communities.

While increasing numbers of people have access to the technological tools that allow for participation in social networks (computers, cell phones, digital cameras), the real appeal of participating in an online community is exactly that: the opportunity to participate and interact with the media we consume, and to create it ourselves, and for each other.

Social networks and blogs are two popular kinds of social media. A social network is a site where members have a profile, can connect with each other, and share content and information (news, videos, photos, updates, notes, music). A blog is an online journal which displays most recent entries first. A popular hybrid of these social media is Twitter, the leading micro-blog that combines a social network with the capacity of posting updates of up to 140 characters in length, and distributes the content online and over mobile phone networks.

How Social Media Work

Developing and maintaining an online media presence can present technical and tactical challenges that can be overcome with a solid strategy. Knowing what your goals are, being authentic and transparent, and participating frequently, are three of the keys for utilizing social media effectively.

Rather than being passive spectators and having no input in the production of what we read, listen to, and watch (the traditional media model), social media allows us not only to have two-way communication, but it enables many people to share information with many people (as opposed to the off-line one-to-many only model). Thus, the line between media and audience gets blurred, and the media production and interaction becomes richer and potentially more meaningful.

The production and distribution constraints of traditional media are less of a barrier in the world of online communications and thus the expectation is for much faster and frequent communication. The immediacy of online environments allows us to very quickly find and share information. While this provides a huge opportunity to stay connected, it also implies a challenge in terms of maintaining a current and active online presence. Regular and relevant participation are key in utilizing social media effectively.

While for individuals the use of social media can be a solution to the challenge of staying in touch with a lot of people, for organizations it can feel like a burden as it adds to an already full traditional communications workplan. The beauty of social media is that when integrated to the already existing communication and marketing activities, it can support a strategy in ways that were unimaginable only a few years back and provide an efficient and cost-effective way to reach out to and build relationships with our audiences.