Long before checking the Facebook news, looking through the Twitter messages, and browsing Instagram became a part of everyday routine, and long before the invention of Google, YouTube and Amazon, the Internet was a set of hubs and nodes, designed for the privileged members of military, scientific, and financial community.
It was hard to imagine that these machines with their huge sizes, complex language, and isolating in-front-of-the-screen experience would become one of the primary means of communication and create a new cultural phenomenon, as we know it today – Social Media.
Brief History and Classification
The predecessors of modern social platforms were Bulletin Board System (BBS) and America Online (AOL) that allowed making the first steps in online networking by creating online groups that supported offline communities. The only thing was that one would not get connected to the community straight away as the community was supposed to merely support one’s, offline groups. It was not until the invention of the World Wide Web in 1991 when web-blogs and e-mail services became available and laid the first step of modern social communication.
The Distinction between Social Media and Other Types of Media
Although Social Media is a part and a helping tool for all other types of media, they can be distinguished from the traditional types of media by the following features:
- Quality – usually, social media resources do not have an editor, and they are often regarded as untrustworthy. Therefore, the content can vary from reliable to abusive.
- Frequency of updates – social media are updated more often than traditional media, and this feature is closely connected to the previous one. Since the users express their opinions and beliefs, share news they have just been eyewitnesses to, they usually spend no time checking the background information and editing. Therefore, the frequency of updates often soars, while the quality suffers greatly.
- Urgency – information from social media can be posted almost immediately after the event, which often helps a lot for professionals of traditional media to create good news features.
- Reach – the reach of social media is global. Social media can be uncontrolled, decentralized, and they can often create virus content.
- Accessibility – social media platforms are more accessible than traditional types of media due to their mobility and constant tools development, by creating applications that allow one access to the social community anytime and anywhere.
- Permanence – information released via traditional forms of media cannot be changed over time, while everything on social media can be edited within a minute, which means that social media platforms create people’s informational reality, while traditional media work on people’s informational history.
Due to the above-mentioned distinctive features, the traditional press often suffers from the flood of the non-professionals expressing their opinions online quicker and often featuring video and photo right from the scene. It is even considered that the social media platforms are a real threat to the professional journalists, but only until the professionals have decided to use the social media tools to share their stories, like adding a journalist's blogs to the news feed, Twitters and Facebook accounts, creating web-sites and online community for each business.
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Kietzmann et al. (2011) developed seven building blocks that define social media, and that are distinguished by the extent to which every block is implemented within the platform. These seven functional blocks are represented in the form of the honeycomb of social media. They consist of identity, conversations, sharing, presence, relationships, reputation, and groups.
The honeycomb framework of Social Media is a universal classification tool that consists of building blocks possessed by each social media platform and helps in the definition of platform functionality.
- Identity – this block represents an extent to which personal data is revealed through social media platforms. Some platforms allow complete anonymity, allowing usage of a made-up nickname instead of real name and personal information, others acquire a basic set of information to be revealed like – name, country of origin, age, and description.
- Conversations – represents an extent to which people support conversations. Numerous platforms are created for short conversations, like chats or Twitter, or long conversations with groups or whole communities, like blogs, Livejournal, etc.
- Sharing – this block represents the extent of the user’s sharing and distributing information. Sharing can be characterized in two ways, due to the conditions of sharing – if users are in any way connected to the object of sharing, and the degree to which the content can be shared, like the YouTube videos’ sharing has gone far beyond sharing the videos of users’ own creation.
- Presence – represents the extent to which users are accessing and which information on users is provided. Such platforms as Foursquare and Friends Around Me allow measuring physical location, other platforms may not provide the information on location, but only the presence of a user on the platform, as LinkedIn can tell a lot.
- Relationships – characterizes the extent to which users can interact and associate with each other. Good examples are Facebook, which introduces friends one might know to each user, and LinkedIn that has a structural system with the degree of relations between friends and friends of friends.
- Reputation – the extent of reliability that is based on trustworthiness, which nowadays cannot be checked 100%. However, a good reputation tends to accumulate in the online sphere; therefore, all the owners of businesses should take good care of their online reputation.
- Groups – the block is built on the extent to which users can form groups and online communities, the bigger the ability to form the group is, the more “social” the network is.
The honeycomb framework of Social Media allows defining the functional set of each platform, developing the future strategy of its usage, and keeping track of Social Media ecology.
Influence of Social Media in Life
Social Media has become a cultural phenomenon and an inseparable part of everyday life. The Internet has developed quickly, making Social Media platforms develop quickly, as well. Social Media engage more and more people to spend most of their days online and not only for leisure. Most of the work, education, and social interaction have now gone online.
While information, the amount of which has now drastically increased, can be useful, it can also cause information overload. Nevertheless, it is the main tool to involve people and make them stay connected for as long as possible.
The Internet has influenced the main parts of people’s lives, changing the way they receive information about them and influencing their performance of these routines.
Receiving news – Although Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube were designed merely for social interaction, today they have become the main news resources. They are the first thing people turn to, searching for the latest interesting news, rather than checking CNN or USA today a few times an hour. The online friends are now the most trustworthy sources of information, reviewers, and counsels, the opinion of which on the newly released film, for example, matters much more than the reviews of the professionals. News has become officially social.
People still hang out with their friends and meet other people during various events, but due to the information required during the registration at the Social Media platforms, the involvement in online communities allows one to meet and to get in touch with people that share the same interests and have the same background. The acquaintance that started via social networks can continue in reality, and some of them can end up in successful marriages.
Before Social Media, people shared their views and points of view verbally and there existed a threat of limited eavesdropping and the possibility to find out only the information that the person wanted to show. Online socializing has changed the way people express their emotions, hopes, fears, and their opinions making, “recording” it into their history of social interactions. Tweeting or updating one’s Facebook status to express one’s opinion, or share one’s feelings to the online community, makes online social networks “humanized”.
Traditional media are no longer a leader in the race of influence, as the online community also plays the game and creates influencers in each professional sphere on their own. The influencers are created by their popularity, and sometimes, the number of subscribers can reach several thousand or even a few millions. That is much more than the number of viewers global news websites have. By an influencer, one can mean not only a person but also a video that in case of becoming viral can collect several millions of views via YouTube. Research on social media power influencers is occasionally provided by some of the forms of media, and the list of the influencers is provided with the analysis of reasons for the influencer’s popularity (Shaughnessy 2013).
Social Media platforms have also influenced the decision-making process because of the motivating metrics of “likes”, “sharing”, making the desire for approval at one of the social platforms a cause for action. It can be shooting a video for YouTube, going somewhere to update one’s Facebook status, or becoming very popular by making a photo to share it with one’s friends via Instagram. “We’re not only increasingly documenting our lives online but are making decisions with the knowledge that we will subsequently share them through social media” (Price 2012).
The development of new social platforms has created a whole new bunch of words and abbreviations used by people online like tweeting, OMG, LOL, hashtag, etc. Moreover, it has changed the meaning of the words people have commonly used before, not only their lexical meaning but their perception of concepts that stand behind these words. In the online context, “friendship” does no longer mean any bond with anyone; it just means being the part of the same community. The word “followers” that in the usual connotation could mean a whole scope of words from believers and devotees, is now simply used to define a number of people following somebody’s news stream on the social platform. Another change is in what now stands behind the word “like”. The quantity of likes collected creates the popularity principle when ideas/thoughts or people “liked” have the potential of becoming a trend and an influencer in a while.
The online media platforms set the rules of communication by setting the number of characters one can use to create a message, revealing one’s personal information to strangers, and in some cases, protecting anonymity and making it easier to do the things one would not get punished for. For now, the Internet is the free area without censorship or control. This freedom has its benefits, but for sure, it has its threats, as well. “Social media transmits the values and norms of the people who built (and continue to build) the sites we use and that’s why it’s important to understand how this is reflected in, and how it shapes, the conversations taking place within these networks” (Price 2012).
Social Media Influence in Politics
Social Media used almost in every sphere of people’s lives also become useful for politics. It is known that the young voters are one of the hardest audiences to work with, as they never show up for the elections and mostly consider politics as something irrelevant and boring. In 2008, the Obama campaign went online and managed to attract youngsters and make them interested in politics. “The hallmark of a healthy democracy is the participation in the government of its citizens. Some would argue that social media has improved the state of our democracy” (Elahi 2013).
Social Media has also become a tool for ensuring democracy, revealing the corruption, and making the government think before they do something. With the help of Social Media, it has become easier than ever to prove that some official person is lying.
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Social Media Influences in Business
The Internet has made it easy to launch one’s startup with the potential of developing into business. Interaction with many users from all over the world makes it possible to start a business even on one’s own, giving away the parts of the work someone is unqualified to do for the outsourcing, search for possible investors, clients and communities, and the access to the online community as the main cheap marketing tool required for a successful business. Doing business, promoting business, expanding business, and receiving profit from business has now gone largely online. It provided small companies with the chance to compete with the big ones by having access to the international community and using free tools for marketing.
Social Media also influence marketing purchase decisions. According to recent research of Invesp Soft, “4 in 10 Social Media users have purchased an item online after sharing it or marking as a Favorite on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest. 71% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase based on social media referrals” (Khalid, Infographics 2014).
Criticism of Social Media
Though being enormously popular, Social Media triggers a lot of criticism due to the issues of trustworthiness, lack of concentration, overestimation of the real impact of Social Media platforms, and privacy issues.
Trustworthiness is undermined by freedom of speech; there is no ultimate censor or an editor that will verify the information one provides. One can hope this would be soon resolved, as the users themselves are perfect censors to each other since they have the power to point out to the administration of the web site that the content is unreliable and abusive. Lack of concentration is strongly connected to the overestimation of the real impact critics. A long time ago, revolutions were made without Twitter or Facebook or a phone call, and now it seems that Social Media, instead of being a tool of any revolution, become a tool for discussion of unnecessary details like who said what, who went where and who is eating what. This lack of concentration disperses all the potential of Social Media.
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Privacy protection has also been an issue from the time Social Media has appeared, due to the developed techniques of data mining through social networks. Data received through different types of data collection can be easily used against a person, or give fraud access to somebody’s family and banking information. Nevertheless, Social Media platforms work on the constant improvement of their encryption or releasing warnings that the information posted on the web site is considered public.
Despite all of the flaws of Social Media, one believes that they bring more good than bad. They have made people’s lives so much easier in many ways. They help to stay in touch with those, who are far away. They help to find friends, dates, or simply people with the same interests as there is no territorial limit. It helps one start their own business, spending less money, and providing an opportunity for a huge growth in a short time, and even more, they help people find anything they have ever wanted. Social Media is one of the factors that facilitate globalization, helping to build a tight world community.