In today’s constantly-connected world, there’s no escaping social media. Companies are using social media to reach a new audience of consumers, schools are creating Twitter and Facebook accounts to connect with students and their families, and entertainment companies use social media to reward regular views of TV shows and movie fans. Social media is also being used by traditional media to enhance print publications and television shows.
But does all of this connectivity add up to any real benefit for the user? Does social media integration make a person more inclined to use online services—shopping, education and customer service— in place of more conventional options? While people make decisions based on a whole host of factors, studies show that social media can influence more than just the way people communicate; social media can have a tangible impact on what people choose to buy, as well as levels of political and social engagement. Social media is affecting the way people communicate, but it’s also affecting the way people live their lives.
Colleges and universities were among the first institutions to introduce online elements like e-mail and websites to their students, faculty and staff. But as social media becomes an important tool for students and teachers alike, Facebook and Twitter are enhancing or even replacing some of the messaging and online collaborative programs from just a few years ago. The rise of online education has been both encouraged and supported by social media: most major colleges and universities now offer courses online, and others offer entire programs online for returning adults or students who want to finish a degree without traveling to a campus.
And online education is also becoming a useful tool for K-12 teachers and students— programs like Skype that connect students from different areas of the country or the world, online apps like Google Earth that gives students tours of far-flung locations, and programs like Grockit that help kids study for tests are all changing the educational landscape.
Social awareness and consumers
You might not think that shopping is an important part of life, but social media is helping consumers make informed decisions about what they buy and why. Whether it’s learning about the latest smartphone or how buying local can affect your town’s economy, social media sites are encouraging people to learn more about what and how they consume products.
Of course, marketing firms and companies have recognized that social media can influence buying decisions, but activists and non-profit organizations have also realized that providing consumers with information can affect how people view their regular purchases. And sites like Facebook have made it possible for people to learn more about various causes, and how they can contribute to improving society. Organizations like Feeding America and the Red Cross are using social media to make it easy for people to donate and offer other types of support. By making it easy for regular people to contribute to charities and other causes, people are becoming more politically and socially active—and small actions by millions of people can combine to create a larger impact.
The links that social media have helped create go far beyond messages to friends, family and classmates. The benefits to users can range from the minor to the miraculous—and as social media becomes a part of everyday life, it will change the way we interact with the world.