History is littered with stories of technologies changing cultures and cultures’ changing technologies. Social is a prime example of both. The rise of social media is a cultural revolution and touches all aspects of our lives. Its success lies in the simple fact that it allowed us to expand and enhance something we did anyway: socialize. Humans are innately social beings. From the beginning of time we formed groups based on everything from survival needs to common interests to spreading information. Social media has given us the ability to breakdown geographic and physical barriers and connect on a seamless, 24/7 sharing platform.
The earliest roots of social can be traced to the first email that was sent in 1971 across the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), the world’s first set of connected computers that would become the root of today’s Internet. That initial email, and the millions sent in the years after, gave us our first experience with connecting digitally and in real-time, opening up a completely new way to connect with our friends, family, colleagues and beyond.
The next advancement came around 1977 with the rise of BBS (Bulletin Board Systems) or Internet Forums that utilized web applications to manage user-generated content to allow users to share, post and comment on particular topics. This gave us the ability to have a more group exchange and interaction.
Around 1994 the Internet started to gain steam and was first referred to as the “Information Superhighway.” The World Wide Web was upon us. It gave rise to early browsers, like Mosaic; to numerous ISPs (internet service providers) such as CompuServe and Netcom then AOL, Mindspring and Earthlink. A host of technology companies sprouted as a result and. a new digital industry was born. By 1995, the Web already had one million websites.
Around 1997-98 blogs began to emerge via technology tools that allowed individuals to create “weblogs” that facilitated the sharing of content and commenting functionalities. Blogs exploded, first with individuals, eventually being adopted mainstream by brands, organizations and media. In 2011, there were more than 150 million public blogs. The year 1997 also saw the launch of Google, as well as numerous other prominent technology companies that would influence social media.
Friendster came about in 2002 and became the first social network to gain more than one million users. About a year later, MySpace began and quickly gained popularity. In 2003, Facebook launched but, despite its prominence today, struggled against MySpace’s dominance, which was purchased by NewsCorp in 2005. Twitter emerged in 2006 giving consumers a micro-blogging platform. Also around 2006, MySpace, as it has been widely noted, began its fall from grace after an advertising strategy that resulted in cluttered pages and an exiting audience. YouTube launches around this time giving rise to the user-generated video content concept. Around 2007, Facebook begins to outpace MySpace, reaching almost 60 million users by the end of the year, and it launches Facebook Pages for brands.
Also in 2007 mobile received a major boost—although we didn’t know just how much at the time—with the introduction of the iPhone. It would fundamentally change consumer behavior and an entire industry as mobile phone manufacturers and providers flocked to the “smartphone” revolution. Soon the world would also be introduced to the iPad.
2008 saw another interesting event occur that would help propel social media and the business of social: the emergence of social media management systems (SMMS) to help brands effectively and efficiently manage their growing social communities. Companies like Vitrue, Collective Intellect and Involver recognized the vast potential that social, led by Facebook, could have for brands and began to focus on developing SaaS-based social marketing solutions. Vitrue, for example, began working closely with Facebook, which at the time had less than 140 million users, and started developing a small product originally called “Link Tracker” that would become the kernel of what is today the industry’s leading SMMS platform, the SRM (Social Relationship Management) Platform.
It can be said that late 2009 and 2010 were the years social media truly gained respect both with consumers and brands. Twitter became a place for breaking news as it began alerting the world to major news events before media giants like CNN and the AP. Tumbler emerges. Instagram launches. Facebook creates the Like button. Brands start creating Facebook Pages in droves. By the end of 2010, Facebook had more than 600 million users worldwide.
2011 saw social propel political and cultural revolutions in the Middle East and other countries. Pinterest became popular, underscoring the visual nature of social. (Facebook would buy Pinterest in 2012.) Practically every major brand had a Facebook Page and a Twitter handle, at the least, and many also had presences on LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube. CEOs began to pay more attention to social and social marketing became a vital part of marketing departments worldwide.
Today, as we all know, social has exploded in popularity, as Facebook closes in on one billion consumers and Twitter tops 200 million, not to mention emerging platforms like Google+, Instagram and Pinterest. And this growth reaches beyond the internet-enabled computer as smartphone proliferation creates hundreds of millions of mobile consumers that make social networks their on-the-go digital portal. The shift from desktop access to mobile will not only dramatically effect social media but communications overall.
It has been said that social is the great equalizer; the democratization of media. In many ways that is true. Social gave consumers a platform for their voices, thoughts and ideas to be heard and shared. And brands took notice. Social is not the old one-off marketing campaign or “push” marketing channel; it’s a two-way conversation platform that gives consumers the power and ability to be heard, answered and engaged. Armed with the right technologies, marketers today can achieve instant scale across Facebook and other social networks and almost simultaneously hyper-target content for individual, niche audiences for relevancy. They can create true “relationships” with their consumers, something no other “marketing” channel has been able to touch. That is a powerful proposition for those brands willing to dedicate the resources, tools and technologies.
Social will continue to expand into a mainstream channel for consumers and brands will put an even bigger emphasis on its importance. The future will see social being incorporated into all areas of business from traditional CRM to sales to marketing, creating a seamless connection to consumers. Technologies and tools will advance. Consolidation across the industry will benefit both the technologies available and consumers as products become more comprehensive and allow brands to reach and engage with consumers seamlessly across numerous touchpoints.
Rich Beattie, Senior Director Oracle Social
You can find Vitrue at their event during Social Media Week London, Tuesday 25th September at Advertising & Marketing Hub at Facebook.
Also watch this video about Social Medias