Let’s play a game. Think of your life 10 years ago. Think of your life now. Now, think of five things that you have today that you didn’t have 10 years ago. Here are a few:
- Online grocery ordering and delivery
- Wearable, smart heart-rate trackers
- Portable computers lighter than a bowling ball
- Smart wine and beer dispensers that can measure exact amounts
- Unbridled access to just about anyone via social media platforms
What a time to be alive.
Although they do exist, it’s difficult to find people who’ve never joined a social media network, or who are not currently listed on at least one popular social media platform. Whatever your flavor—business connections, personal contacts, dating, photo browsing and sharing, and video entertainment, among others—there is likely a social network that exists to serve your heart’s desires. How did we get to this place?
Where Social Media All Began
Depending on when you first adopted social media, you may not be aware of all the networks who have come and gone before. It can be argued that social media first began with Bulletin Board Systems, which were heavily coded online “meeting places” for people of similar interests—those interests typically centered around technology, as you can imagine.
As time went on, more niche “communities” formed regarding shared experiences or interests based on race or gender, followed by SixDegrees.com, founded on the idea that there were likely only six degrees of separation between us and anyone else on the planet. Then along comes Friendster, MySpace…and then Facebook. The rest is history.
But why did these communities catch on? What about the initial “social networking” concept paved the way for an evolution of bigger, better, and infinitely more connected platforms?
As someone who grew up in a time of floppy disks and MS-DOS, networks like AOL provided an outside window to a world that I would never have otherwise had access to in my semi-rural area. Suddenly, the information available to those of us with a dial-up connection was second to none. It was only natural for that ignited curiosity to extend to wanting to connect with one another—where social networking really took hold.
Why We Love Social Media
Initially, social networking was a draw based on niches of interest; theoretically, blogs, message boards, and chat rooms were a part of the social networking intrigue as well. You could be a part of a community of shared interests and get to know others that were just like you. As social networking evolved, platforms like MySpace were primarily used by younger audiences and audiences that were looking to be “discovered,” especially with the community niche trending toward musicians.
Facebook itself originally was only open to Ivy League schools and their students and, eventually, opened to college students everywhere. By 2006, Facebook had exploded in popularity, likely because of the limited exclusivity of the platform, prompting founder Mark Zuckerberg to open the platform up to the 13-and-older public.
Just as with MySpace, people loved being on the social platforms largely to connect with their friends and family. As a matter of fact, as of just a year ago, “staying in touch with friends and family” was the #1 reason that users cited for being a part of social networks, followed up by “staying in touch with current events,” and “filling up spare time.” It allowed users access to not only those who were already involved in their lives, but old classmates and distant relatives, new contacts and strangers, celebrities, businesses, and business contacts (on platforms like LinkedIn.) A smattering of reasons people love social media:
- Looking at beautiful visuals from friends and strangers (Instagram, Flickr)
- Networking for new job opportunities (LinkedIn)
- Finding dates and soulmates (Tinder, Bumble)
- Video entertainment (YouTube)
- Sharing opinions (Facebook, Twitter)
- Sharing personal moments with friends and strangers (Snapchat)
- Sharing and finding recipes and hobby ideas (Pinterest)
But how did it become a marketing avenue? And how does it continue to evolve?
It didn’t take long for the savvy Zuckerberg & Co. to realize that they boasted millions of active users and still didn’t have a viable revenue stream. Who wants access to a captive audience? Marketers and businesses.
Social media marketing is an inexpensive tool in the marketing tool box
The rising star and staying power of Facebook (despite annual reports that it is dead or dying,) is that it adapts exceptionally well to user interests. Timehop is picking out your social media post memories? Facebook builds that into the native platform so no one has a reason to go to Timehop anymore. Instagram becoming a major platform for a completely different user base? Facebook acquires Instagram. Periscope—connected to Twitter—gaining steam due to a new and interesting live video feed? Facebook Live launches on their native platform as a major competitor.
As social media platforms like Facebook continue to evolve to give the people what they want, users will continue to engage. And if users are staying engaged, they remain a captive audience. An audience that marketers can have access to. Facebook and Twitter don’t require businesses to pay to be involved and reach the consumers that the social platforms provide. Should you pay to play and increase your odds of hitting greater audiences? Yes. But do they make you do that? Absolutely not.
The fact that this type of marketing exists as an inexpensive tool in the marketing toolbox keeps social media marketing popularity on the rise.
Although some brands leave social media in dramatic fashion and others consistently bemoan the drop in organic reach, the fact remains that it is an inexpensive and trackable form of marketing, unlike television commercials, newspaper ads, and billboards. The audience is larger, highly targeted demographics are available for advertising, brands can stay current and relevant with new developments with their audience, and businesses can see exactly which leads and conversions are coming from their social media efforts. For a behemoth business like Facebook or Twitter to grant a business access to their entire audience is unprecedented–even though reach has declined, it’s still a better option than anything we’ve seen before.
Will it last on social media? Personally, I think so. But new developments remain to be seen, and one thing is for certain: marketing efforts will only get better, more trackable, and more efficient from here.
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