The Qualities and Potential of Social Media

The Qualities and Potential of Social Media

Udo Richard Averweg (eThekwini Municipality, South Africa) and Marcus Leaning (University of Winchester, UK)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 10
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2255-3.ch617
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Abstract

In recent years social media have been clearly identified as playing a significant part in facilitating, if not causing a number of political revolutions and unexpected election results. Similarly social media ha also been considered as a way to improve organisational performance. In business and management social media is seen as a way to empower customers and users, improve service levels through feedback loops and generally offer an improved service users' experience of bureaucracy. In this article the qualities and potential of social media can be understood to cause social change are examined. First in the background discussion to social media, new technologies are discussed. Then the four key areas of the characteristics of social media (the contemporaneity of communications; productive audiences; its dialogical and network nature; and its searchable and ‘taggable' nature) are explored. Finally, a number of possible trends in social media development and extrapolate are identified. From these (the self leveraging network; deeper personal profiles and the Universal ID and identity; and hyper locality) they are extrapolated to the future.
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Background

Social Change

Collective human life is structured by social practices; they define accepted behavior and how we act in different circumstances. Sociologists often understand such social practices as changing and shifting in response to social dynamics, logics and developments as well as external drivers (Giddens, 1990). We may understand technology as a major agent in driving such social change though there is disagreement in the manner in which such change occurs (Leaning, 2009) and whether such change is socially beneficial. One argument is that social media are contributory to the general decline of collective action in social life - social media contribute to the atomization of society and a decline in social capital – the binding connections between individuals. An opposing position contends that social media and similar technology actually contributes to social capital since there “is clear evidence that social capital has been on the ascent in the past decade: in the form of networks in cyberspace” (Lin, 2001). That is, the interpersonal connectedness facilitated by social media is beneficial and indeed social media afford communities opportunities to internally ‘bond’ or change in a positive, affirming manner.

Social Media

Social media refers to a range of World Wide Web (hereinafter referred to as ‘web’) applications that facilitate communication between individuals. Numerous technical sources identify the ancestry of social media in web 2.0 technology. Many of the features considered unique to social media (such as interest-driven communities, peer commentary and horizontal rather than hierarchical information flows) were present in early internet communication systems. Indeed much contemporaneous commentary on social media echoes statements made about the internet in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Virality: The tendency of information to be circulated rapidly and widely from one Internet user to another; the quality or fact of being viral.

Collective Intelligence: The weaknesses of the individual are compensated by the contribution of the many.

Contemporaneity of Communications: Refers to the way in which social media are constantly in people’s lives and how they afford the user continuous routes of communication.

‘Taggable’ Nature of Media: Refers to the way in which social media allows users to add descriptors or ‘tags’ to media content.

Wiki: A unique type of website that eliminates physical distance between the reader and the producers of the information.

Social media: Refers to a range of World Wide Web applications that facilitate communication between individuals.

Folksonomy: The description of information by the people who use it and the consequent challenge to the power structure of those who have historically labelled it.

Long Tail: A description of the way in which retailing in the contemporary world allows small businesses that produce a niche product can exist in a world of mass production.

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