If you are like most people, you already use at least one social media platform, but you may still have some questions about social networking. Is social media helping or hindering your life? Is it safe? Can it really increase productivity and build brand awareness - or is it simply a place to waste a considerable amount of time?
Nine Advantages of Social Networking
There are many reasons why someone may choose to take advantage of social networks online.
1. Worldwide Connectivity
No matter if you are searching for a former college roommate, your first grade teacher, or an international friend, no easier or faster way to make a connection exists than social media. Although Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest are probably the most well-known social networking communities, new websites are popping up regularly that let people connect and interact over the web. With each of these sites, individuals can make new friends, build business connections or simply extend their personal base by connecting and interacting with friends of friends - which can have a multiplying effect. These connections can help with a variety of things such as:
- Finding romance
- Seeking a new job
- Locating assistance
- Getting and giving product and service referrals
- Receiving support from like-minded individuals
- Making or receiving career or personal advice
- Sharing political beliefs
- Accessing news in real time
In many ways, these social communities are the virtual equivalent of church socials where family and friends gather to exchange news and get updates. Even the age-old custom of connecting with pen pals has been upgraded as private messages can be sent over social media. When it comes to getting information, few methods are faster than social media.
2. Commonality of Interest
When you opt to participate in a social network community, you can pick and choose individuals whose likes and dislikes are similar to yours and build your network around those commonalities. For instance, if you are a chess aficionado, a knitter, a book lover or have a particular political leaning, you can find and interact with those who share your interest.
It can also be a great way to share tips and ideas. Sites like Pinterest have been very successful due to the ease in which a person can learn - and share - information about hobbies, crafts, cooking, gardening and other do-it-yourself activities. By pinning and sharing, you can attract like-minded individuals into your circle.
But, just as these virtual groups can help hobbyists exchange ideas and techniques, other social network groups offer solutions for more vexing, real-world problems. For example, social media groups can be lifelines for individuals suffering from a rare disease. Churches, synagogues and temples also use social media to reach out to members who may be unable to attend services.
3. Real-Time Information Sharing
Many social networking sites incorporate an instant messaging feature, which lets people exchange information in real-time via a chat. This is a great feature for teachers to use to facilitate classroom discussions because it lets them utilize the vast store of information available on the Web. This can be a great time saver for the teacher - since students no longer need to visit a library to conduct research- and it can be a great way to engage distracted learners.
School is not the only setting where this type of real-time information sharing can be beneficial. Social networking can provide a tool for managers to utilize in team meetings, for conference organizers to use to update attendees and for business people to use as a means of interacting with clients or prospects. Some leaders are going so far as to include Tweets or other social media updates during presentations. This approach can make events more interactive and help the presenter reach a larger audience.
4. Targeted Advertising
Whether you are non-profit organization that needs to get the word out about an upcoming fundraiser or a business owner marketing a new product or service, there's no better way than social media to get your message in front of millions of people 24/7.
Although social media can be used to spread a company's message for free, fee-based advertising options are also available. One of the best aspects of social networking is the ability to deliver your content only to those users with the most potential interest in your product or service. Each social platform offers an array of tools that enable a business to deliver specific content to a very specific target group. This approach can maximize targeted reach while minimizing waste.
5. Increased News Cycle Speed
Undoubtedly, social networking has revolutionized the speed of the news cycle. Most news organizations now rely on social media sites to collect and share information. Social media - especially Twitter - is steadily becoming a mainstream source for breaking news. Today an individual can know, in real time, what is happening throughout the world. This has led to the development of a nearly instantaneous news cycle as everything from terrorist attacks to local car crashes get shared on social media, quickly alerting their intended audience of the event.
Part of the increase in the speed of news can be attributed to smartphones. The percentage of individuals accessing social media via their phone or mobile device continues to rise. 46% percent of smart phone users access social media from their phones - and 86% check their social media accounts on a daily basis with 72% checking several times each day.
6. Trusted Referrals
Review sites such as Google Reviews, Yelp and even Facebook have become a popular source of information for consumers. These sites create "social proof" for individuals looking for input from other consumers about the value of a product or service. Over 90% of consumers today use social review sites when making a decision on a buying a product or hiring a service. This includes review sites like Trip Advisor and Rotten Tomatoes, among others.
7. Professional Growth
Not only are there many groups for people to discuss their interests but there has been a huge growth in chat rooms, forums and groups focused on professional growth. Today you can find a group that focuses on just about any profession or educational pursuit and seek out help from others around the globe. Freelancers in particular can find others to trade referral sources with, tips on how to handle difficult clients, and get feedback on portfolios and other professional topics. No matter where you live, you can reach out and find others who work in your profession and are eager to help you with your own business and career.
8. Increase in Human Interaction
While many decry the more negative personal aspects of social networking, it has been a huge source of connection to other people for those who have more difficulty with face-to-face interaction. For example, people with disabilities who may not be able to travel outside their home are able to have personal relationships with people online, engaging in multi-player gaming, and even work jobs because of the existence of social media. Likewise introverted individuals enjoy the chance to interact with people in a more intellectual and less stressful way. Families are also brought closer together, especially for elderly adults who might not be able to travel to see children and grand children but can regularly "see" them posting on social media and feel a part of their lives.
9. Benefits for Non-Profits
Non-profit charities, educational associations and even political groups have found that social networking is a powerful tool for getting one's message out. You can build up exposure and support for a cause through social media, especially if a video or news story goes "viral." This has helped many organizations with small budgets to reach mass audiences they never would have been able to afford to before and bring in higher dollar donations and members to their associations. It also has mobilized large segments of the population to help with disaster relief when it's critically needed.
Eight Disadvantages of Social Networking
Before diving too deep into the world of social media, perhaps you should consider some of these possible pitfalls.
A joke among friends is one thing but a joke with the world at-large is much different. When potentially offensive content is posted online, the amount of feedback can be excessive and is often brutal. This is particularly true with highly opinionated subjects like politics and religion. This backlash can also have a long-term impact on a person's future, especially in a world that has fallen prey to over-sharing. Even high school students are learning that comments they post on social media can influence whether a college approves their application for admission.
2. Cyberbullying and Crimes Against Children
Use of social networks may expose individuals to other forms of harassment or even inappropriate contact. This can be especially true for teens and younger children. Unless parents diligently filter the Web content their family views, children could be exposed to pornography or other inappropriate content.
Besides unleashing age-inappropriate content, the digital age also gave birth to a social phenomenon - cyberbullying. It is often levied more harshly against young females that males and, unlike traditional bullying, it is not limited to physical interaction. Cyberbullying can happen 24 hours a day, every day of the week. Adding to this realm of cyber abuse are the anonymous social media sites which can elevate the severity of the assault - under the false promise of privacy.
3. Risks of Fraud or Identity Theft
Whether you like it or not, the information you post on the Internet is available to almost anyone who is clever enough to access it. Most thieves need just a few vital pieces of personal information to make your life a nightmare. If they successfully steal your identity, it could cost you dearly. A report on Bankrate reveals Millennials are one of the fastest growing groups to be victims. This is linked to the group's comfort with sharing everything online - including personal information.
4. Time Waster
Business Insider reports that social media is the most popular use of the Internet - surpassing email - and smartphones and other mobile devices seem to be the driving force behind this trend since 60 percent of the traffic is from a mobile source. The GlobalWebIndex poll shows that 28 percent of the time spent online is on social networks. With these type of numbers, some of the time spent on social media occurs at work. When these visits are for non-work related activity, it can cost companies money through lost productivity. A report on Forbes states that 89 percent of responders admitted to wasting time on social media while at work.
5. Corporate Invasion of Privacy
Social networking invites major corporations to invade your privacy and sell your personal information. Have you ever posted a comment on Facebook, only to notice an advertisement appear with content related to your post? In 2018, Facebook earned an estimated $55 billion in ad revenue. That's not bad for a free site.
If Facebook and other social networking sites don't charge their members, however, how do they make so much money? They do it by selling the ability to specifically target advertisements. On social networking sites, the website isn't the product - the users are. These sites run algorithms that search for keywords, web browsing habits, and other data stored on your computer or social networking profile and provide you with advertisements targeted specifically to you.
6. Fake News
One unfortunate use of social media that has come up since the 2016 elections is the use of social media to influence public policy with information that may be doctored or outright false. This can be done by actors within the United States such as political parties as well as foreign governments. It also can be used by corporations to generate interest or controversy over a product or service that may be based entirely on fake information. A study by the Pew Research Center found that 60% of adults who get their news information from social media shared stories that were false on their social media accounts. It's an issue that over half of Americans believe will continue to increase.
7. Decrease in Civil Behavior
With the rise in tensions among different segments of the population in the last few years, some say exacerbated by social media, there appears to be a trend toward more uncivil behavior online which is bleeding into the public square. Even a former Facebook executive has decried the negative aspects of social media which are "ripping apart the social fabric of how society works." The ease with which anyone can respond to any person online without any social restrictions has led to more and more emotional, reactive behavior that validates one's point of view and vilifies anyone who disagrees without pausing to reflect and engage in civil, respectful discussion.
8. Depression and Loneliness
While social media can be wonderful for keeping in touch with friends and families, it can also have the opposite effect for many people. Research has found a link between increases in loneliness, depression and anxiety and social media use and limiting one's social media use each day can actually help alleviate these feelings. It appears that it can have a particularly pernicious effect on the mental health of young adults and it may be related to how younger individuals feel more pressure to compare themselves to the lives they see on social media that appear happier and more exciting than their own. There is even a diagnosable mental health condition called social media anxiety disorder which includes an addictive need to check social media, withdrawal from work and personal interests, and severe anxiety over being away from social media activity.
Because networking and online social communities are so widespread, several studies have looked at the effects of social networking. A common complaint, highlighted on Debate.org, suggests social media is making people less social and more aggressive. Comments on social media sites are often more blunt than the statements would be if they were made face-to-face. But other sources, like Psychology Today, suggest that social networking, like any other technological tool, is as good as a user makes it.
When using any social media platform, take responsibility for your own safety and never join a group just because it is trendy or all your friends are doing it. In evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of social networking, it's best to err on the side of caution and protect your privacy. Be careful with what you post and treat others as if you were in a face-to-face situation.