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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Social Media and Communication


Link to my article published on 11th March 2010 in a leading English daily of Assam - The Assam Tribune

 In the simplest terms Social Media can be described as a medium for social communication. Unlike other media where communication is more often one way, social media is a two-way platform which gives power to the common people to establish their opinion on any given subject. An amalgamation of technology and human society, this instrument has become an ardent tool for most of us. It has changed the philosophy of the use of internet. It is a breakaway from its monologue use of retrieving information only, as it allows us to share pictures, videos and audio and even interact by means of making friends, commenting on blogs, voting for news articles etc. Recollecting data from various studies it has been found that 3 out of 4 Americans uses internet technology and 2/3 of the global internet population visits networking sites. The figures will be as exciting if we calculate the time spent by us on social networks in a day. In the words of Rupert Murdoch, Global Media Entrepreneur, “Technology is shifting the power away from the editors, the publishers, the establishment, the media elite. Now its the people who are in control.”

From a range of top entrepreneurs, politicians, media personnel, celebrities etc. to the common people around the globe have chosen the social Media as a mode of communication. Recently his holiness Dalai Lama too had officially joined Twitter, the most sought after Social Media tool. It has also become a trend with business entrepreneurs merging their brands into the ocean of Social Media and getting feedback through tools like the TweetDeck, SocialMentions, Google Alerts, RSS etc. in order to enhance their sales structure. In fact it is much easier to communicate with their prospective buyers / clients etc. and to know public views as well. With this they improvise on their business strategies too. So conversations are better than campaigns.
However, it should not be mistaken with marketing toolkit for it will be more appropriate to consider Social Media as a communication channel.
Although a lot of users believe that Social media is not productive however, it has emerged as a handy research tool in many spheres. Social news sites, business entrepreneurs etc. has used this as a survey panel to figure out who was reading what and what they thought of it. Dozens of social networking sites have given rise to potentially useful information that can be included in the information professional's toolkit. Participants worldwide contribute to and collaborate in readily available online discussions, creating new knowledge bases even though these are not yet fully recognized as information sources.
Even in the field of education this has become popular by its use in schools and universities through interactive, online classrooms. The world is changing and students are demanding more. Many of the benefits of institutional learning can now be accomplished via Social Media. There is a shift in education and more and more educational institutes are adapting to online education for better and easy mode of imparting knowledge. This gives the students wider opportunities for self expression, sharing enthusiasm for common interest, easy access to experts and personalities, enhance personal and professional reputations, build and share skills and much more. With this concept educators are no longer the gatekeepers of knowledge. Now the students can choose whom and how many persons to reach out. Thus, the role of education has changed also in the context that there are more experienced co-creators rather than employers. Social media serves as guides as students shape their own paths.
Not only at home do we use internet but we are carrying a version of it in our pockets too. The technology behind this new mode of social interaction is Web 2.0, which is a social web, a process to put us into the web. This is not only about gathering information available on the internet but, connecting and interacting with a wide world. This technology has been profoundly made user friendly with methodologies such as AJAX which becomes central to the idea of Web 2.0. AJAX, which stands for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, allows websites to communicate with the browser behind the scenes and without human interaction. This means we don't have to click on something for the web page to do something. Much as this has become the trending topic, the next evolution of the web has already begun and the world awaits the new concept of Web 3.0. In brief it can be said that it is the growth of ‘smaller vertical social networks’, or social networks with a purpose. This especially will be dominated by business houses where they can help grow their businesses. It is a fact that peer-to-peer recommendations carry far more weight than any advertiser or celebrity endorsement. This concept of recommendations will be then carried online instead of offline. Although the general Websites like FaceBook and MySpace will exist yet, users will migrate to smaller vertical sites that better match their needs. Users will be able to share views on products while advertisers will need personal recommendations in order to get users attention. Then in the next phase advertisers will use tools like video to create a more visually stimulating experience. Internet has already seen development of some of the Web 3.0 applications like Twine, Google Squared, Google Wave and Mozilla Ubiquity.
In Social Media age is a factor. Here is a quick review on the study of overall usage pattern based on age groups: Ages 12 to 25 prefers more mobile social media tools, such as SMS / txt and mobile oriented social media tools. This bracket also spends more time on MySpace, followed by NetLog and Bebo in Europe. The group between Ages 25-45 crosses over in a mix between Web-based and mobile usage. Mobile usage of social tools seems to be around Twitter, Blackberry messenger or iPhone applications. The group between Ages 46-55 more often sticks to the Web rarely using SMS / txt messaging. This group is likely to print and read a document on paper rather than reading it on a monitor. They are more distrustful of social media and the content therein. Their approach to content creation is textual and rarely visual through video and images. From Ages 55 and over we see fairly regular use of Social Media and this seems to be driven as the result of familial communications. New tools are not easily adopted and this age range is more politically conservative and traditional in their media consumption habits.
Public relations, customer service, loyalty-building, collaboration, networking and much more power is served by this wonderful instrument called Social Media. Its time to harness these powers and mediate the best reasons each one of us has to share with the world. Some popular Social media tools are Techcrunch, MySpace, Flixster, Facebook, Digg, Propeller, Twitter, Stumbleupon, YouTube, Flickr, Last.FM, Wikipedia, Wikia, Orkut, IBNLive, TimesNow etc. Assam has also added its name in bringing up a common platform to the society and myassam.net is already growing popular as a Social Media tool. So media power has been diverted to the hands of the consumer and without ‘misusing’ it, this tool should be utilized responsibly by the users.

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