What are the major social media networks and how are they evolving?

As social media in various forms have been with us for 10 years or so now, we can start to see interesting patterns not just in what tools are currently most popular, but also how their usage varies in different parts of the world AND how this profile has changed / is changing over time.

Social networks are not just a recent phenomenon

As with previous examples of new technologies, the growth of social media has provoked hype and derision in equal measure. We have been here many times before.

Standage (2014) notes how the development of commercial printing in the 16th Century provoked concern from the authorities - that knowledge would spread to the uneducated and undeserving, challenging current power positions. 150 years later, diverse groups of people gathered to share ideas in the new coffee houses, and were criticised for wasting time that should have been spent working. But instead:

‘By providing an environment in which unexpected connections could be made, coffee houses proved to be hotbeds of collaborative innovation’ (p245)

The author provides many more interesting historical comparisons and you can find full details of his book, ‘Social Media: the first 2000 years’ at the foot of the page.

What are the major social media networks worldwide?

Try searching for information about the “top social media networks”. Did you find out anything that surprised you?

As you will have found out, the sheer number of users for the main social media platforms is now quite staggering. The differences in usage patterns seen around the world is also interesting.

How are social media platforms evolving?

To celebrate Twitter’s recent 10th Anniversary (March 2016), here at the University of Southampton, Professor Dame Wendy Hall (Director of the Web Science Institute) discussed the past, present and future of Twitter in a short video interview available on YouTube (4:57). You may also be interested in reading the accompanying article ‘200 billion reasons Twitter will survive’.

Social media platforms offer an increasingly diverse range of free services that enable us to communicate and build our networks, on a global basis if we wish. These interactions are immediate, permanent and searchable - and consequently they bring opportunities but also challenges. Recently, for example, Facebook has introduced live video to its portfolio of communication tools as has Twitter in the form of Periscope.

You may be interested in reading about how we experimented with using Periscope to broadcast a live event during our Digital Marketing: Challenges and Insights free online course in November 2015.

So what’s the catch with contemporary social media?

Who pays for the services we use? The answer is that we, the users, pay with our data. We are the product.

In exchange for sharing our information, we can make unlimited use of the platform features. The more we use them, the more data we generate and share. By selling this data to advertisers, the platform makes its money. As a business model, this makes perfect sense. It should mean that we are served advertisements that are relevant to our interests (even if this still doesn’t seem to work very well!). As platform users, we need to be aware of the deal and manage our behaviour accordingly if we have concerns about sharing our data.

In this course we focus on using social media for professional rather than social purposes, but the boundaries between the two are becoming increasingly blurred. Platforms such as LinkedIn are almost exclusively professional, others such as Twitter or Facebook may play both roles. A key challenge for all of us lies in managing these boundaries appropriately.

How has your usage of social media changed over time? What are your preferred social media platforms and what do you use them for?

Background Resources

For a well written and informative account of the history of social media, you might like to read Standage, T. (2014) “Social Media: the first 2000 years” published by Bloomsbury, New York.

An example of how Dr Sue Black OBE used social media as early as 2008 to help rescue Bletchley Park, try Black, S. (2016) “Saving Bletchley Park: how #socialmedia saved the home of the WWII codebreakers” published by UnBound, London.

The UK’s Open University has produced a comprehensive free online social media toolkit which you may find useful. It is a collection of tips, recommendations, tools and pieces of social media best practice aimed in particular at those who use social media in a professional capacity.

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The Power of Social Media

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