Human beings have always been social creatures. So, the advent and popularity of social media come as no surprise. People strive for ways to efficiently connect across the globe and have been for centuries. Successful companies know that the key to reaching almost any audience these days is through a robust digital footprint. In other words, you gotta get on social media to succeed.
Social platforms are rising from the digital landscape like dandelions in spring, yet 58% of B2B brands fail to measure social well. Perhaps it’s because some organizations do not realize the true value of this powerful tool.
Here’s a brief rundown of history to help demonstrate how we got here and why social media is not only crucial to modern business, but the entire way we socialize as human beings:
What Defines the Concept of Social Media?
„Websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking“ – Oxford Dictionaries
Any technology that is designed to facilitate the creation and sharing of information between people can be considered a social network. Virtual communities and networks are computer-mediated and most platforms, although incredibly diverse, share some common features:
- Social media is an interactive, web-based application.
- It facilitates the development of social networks.
- Social media contains user-generated content, like posts, texts, blog, pictures, videos, etc…
- Users create service-specific profiles to identify themselves and are monitored by the organization.
In the past, people typically accessed social media from their desktop or laptop. These days, however, social media is offered through mobile devices and is a highly popular way of using these platforms.
The Precursors of Social Media
Since its inception, people have always looked for ways to socialize online. There are many different types of sites that predate social media, but were still very important steps in the evolution of the websites today. The following are some of the platforms that started it all:
First mentioned in 1979, Usenet was a simple message board that allowed people to post news and articles to a group thread (called a newsgroup). Usenet systems were not only responsible for the evolution of newsreader clients, but they also served as the inspiration to RSS feed readers.
Bulletin Board Systems (BBS)
Bulletin board systems (also called BBS) were formed in 1979 as well but survived all the way into the late 90s. One of the first forms of social media, BBS’s are hosted on a personal computer and can only be accessed by one person at a time. It was the first type of platform where people could “log-in” and connect with each other.
You’re probably thinking America Online (AOL), but we’re talking way before that. Internet Relay Chat (IRC) first came out in 1988 and was used to not only keep in touch but share links and files. Now you didn’t have to wait ages for your online crush to send their pic in the mail! IRC is also the recognized predecessor of modern instant messaging.
The Palace was started in 1994 and was the first recognized chatroom online. The program allowed users to interact on a server that looked like a graph. These data points were called “palaces” and each person could intermingle with their gravatar. Believe it or not, it’s still around today (just run by different folks). Check out: The Palace.
The Beginnings of Social Media
Although the urge to communicate online started with the birth of the internet, it wasn’t until the late 90’s that platforms were developed to cater solely to the human interaction and experience. Until then, it was all about getting creative. Nowadays, we have it made in the shade. Here are a few of the early social media websites and what they did for people:
When SixDegrees peaked, it saw over 100 million members. Launched in 1997, the site only stayed alive for a few years. Users could send messages, upload profile pics, make friends, expand their social groups, and post to bulletin boards in first, second, and third-degree connections. It was sold for $125 million in 2000 and incredibly, was closed the following year.
Other honorable mentions from 1997-2001 include:
Social Media 2000’s
By 2000, around 100 million people had access to the internet. From there it became very common for the public to be socially engaged online. Here’s what happened in the next decade that followed:
When we hit the year 2000 and Y2K didn’t destroy all life forms, the internet really got to jumpin’ and jivin’. LunarStorm was launched in 2000 and was the first social media platform to consider commercial advertising. This strategy would become increasingly important as the decade progressed and is what basically keeps most of the big social platforms running today.
By 2007, LunarStorm had grown to an impressive 1.2 million members. Developed in Sweden and originally aimed at teenagers, 70% of the users were between the ages of 12 and 17. The site officially closed up shop in 2010.
This Malaysian-born platform was started in 2002 but is now defunct. In addition to offering social networking, Friendster was also the first to enable features like music streaming, dating services, hobby discovery, and social gaming. They officially closed their doors in 2015 due to lack of engagement.
LinkedIn marks the first social platform where people were ready to do real business. Founded in 2003, it uses mainstream networks for business but operates much like a social network. Users can keep a profile, send a private message, engage and post to groups or their wall, and even write and publish articles. LinkedIn is the most serious of social networks but makes people millions in business.
The granddaddy of Facebook, Myspace plays an integral role in how we view social media today. Launched in 2003, in just three years it became the most famous social media platform in the world. In addition to instant messaging, it allowed incredible customization of your profile.
Visitors were creative like never before. People could embed video and music into their profile and create unique pages with flashing images and colors. Users also had a ‘comment” section where they could interact with friends. WordPress was also launched this year and saw the birth of regular people doing web developer things.
All hail! The king has entered the room. If you’re reading this, you’re probably already aware that Facebook is in the social stratosphere of networks. Although the Harvard version began in 2004, it took until 2008 to make its way outside of the school system and into mainstream public.
Over the years, Facebook continues to innovate based on user needs. Like most of the other platforms, people can share data, connect, follow, personalize profiles (although not to the extent of MySpace), and instant message each other. Because of its ability to adapt, Facebook continues to be the leader of all social platforms in existence. In fact, at the end of Q4 2017, there were 2.2 billion monthly active users. Wow!
The video-hosting platform launched in 2005 and introduced an entirely new method of communication. Users could create and share video, and even become popular from the content on their “channel” (same as a profile). This was the first-time viewers started emerging as “social media stars.” People can establish actual careers with the ad income YouTube filters down from their free content.
Twitter began in 2006 and now has over 300 million active users. People can connect with actual celebrities, which skyrocketed the popularity of Twitter. It also plays a vital role in politics as the president of the United States uses it more than the platform at the White House.
Social Media 2010+
After the peak in the mid-2000’s, things for social media began to slow down, but features became more involved. Technology also continues to add and innovate different forms of communication and media creation. The focus is now geared more toward personalization and unique experiences. Since we’re now all uber-connected, it’s about getting back to ourselves.
Instagram is really the ultimate social platform for bright media. If you own a restaurant or a fashion company, your business should practically live on Instagram. It’s the place people go for little noise and a lot of inspiration. Launched in 2010, it was one of the first platforms to focus more on the visual and less on text. Users can comment and like pics, but there is barely any room for drama. As of September 2017, there are over 800 million users. Wow!
Going with the visual trend, Pinterest also falls in line with a media-laden approach. Users can shuffle through millions of photos and infographics related to their search and create “boards” which they can pin to their profile. They can also share their boards with friends and connect for inspiration from others.
Pinterest started in 2010 and has now reached more than 200 million active monthly users. Globally, the site is most popular with women. In 2012, a report found that 83% of the global users were women. By 2016, however, the proportion of women users was lower at 60%. Perhaps this was influenced by the growing popularity of Instagram and other platforms designed specifically for visuals.
In 2011 Google decided to introduce a social media platform of its own called Google+. People were able to form contacts into “groups” and also chat live via video “hangouts.” This was the first time social media gave users deeper options for organizing their vast amount of social data.
Forget about marketing to millennials, generation Z are now active buyers and they absolutely love Snapchat. Launched in 2011, the main feature of the social platform is micro-video, i.e. content that lasts only seconds and then is gone for good. Currently, the app sees up to 10 billion videos every day.
Unlike other social media platforms of the past, SnapChat relies on a camera and is only available as an app on a mobile device. Originally designed for person-to-person sharing, they now offer features like “Stories,” a 24-hour string of chronological content, and “Discover,” a place for brands to show short and engaging ads. As of February 2018, Snapchat has 187 million daily active users and is growing rapidly.
Social by the Numbers
The depth and reach of social media are often underestimated but a business that skips this important digital marketing step is really missing out. To give you a better understanding as to the importance of social media in modern marketing, here are a few statistics to ponder:
- Facebook is estimated to generate $21.57 billion in US ad revenue during 2018.
- Instagram grows by 100 million new users a year.
- Facebook is the most popular social media network with 79% of internet users in the US logging onto the site.
- In Q4 2017, Twitter estimated an average of 330 million monthly active usersacross the globe.
- There are more than 450 million LinkedIn user accounts.
- Across 34 countries, 97% of online adults between the ages of 16 and 64 have visited or used social media.
The stats are astounding, and the numbers speak for themselves. Not only is social media not going away anytime soon, it’s rapidly expanding into another universe. Any modern business would be foolish not to take hold of this easy strategy and run with it.
The Future of Social
Like Godzilla, social media continues to grow and overtake every city in the world. The reach and powers of this form of human interaction are endless. As businesses—and people in general—continue to find more uses and applications for the technology, it will further become an integral part of our lives. The futures of social media will entertain concepts like:
- Artificial Intelligence and Automation.
- Deeper customer experiences.
- Virtual and Augmented Reality.
- Less gamification.
- Personalized and unique user interfaces.
Soon consumers will even be able to shop with their friends in a digital world. Think that’s a joke? Walmart’s in-house innovation team recently announced plans to redefine consumerism through virtual shopping. You can try on outfits with your avatar and seek opinions from friends, just as if you were standing there in real life.
Social media is here to stay. Not only does it connect people on a level we never knew existed, it redefines the way in which we do business. It’s a technology that should be embraced and when used correctly, can elevate all of humanity.