Social Media has been the mutated offspring of the internet, capitalizing on the inherent human desire to be a part of a group. When we understand what role social media plays in people’s lives, we will be better able to work with it to achieve our goal of growing our businesses. We will also be able to avoid the pitfalls that many small businesses (and large ones!) fall into while attempting to advertise in this new media.

Let’s start with the basic understanding that humans are herd animals. Not all humans, but most of them, seek to find connectedness in their lives and daily activities. We want to know that we belong, and that people care about us. As we became a more transient culture, with a high percentage of people moving away from their home towns and its close-knit social groups, we found it easier to move to new places… and just stay indoors. We have learned to avoid meeting our neighbors, for fear of not liking them (or more likely, of not being liked!), and we watched a lot of television. In the 1990s, this became an epidemic, where “gated communities” contained lots of people who had never even met each other. I knew several families who had lived in such communities for five years or more, and still could not actually name the people that lived on either side of them.

It was into this environment that social media was born. The youth are the first to find solutions to problems that adults didn’t quite know they had, and that was the case here. With forums and groups, people were able to connect and discuss specific topics.  In 1997, AOL introduced us to “Instant Messaging”, and suddenly we were having real time communication with people we knew. In 2002, “Friendster” was launched to create a network of people you really knew in real life. It added 3 million members in its first three months (almost 1% of the internet users at the time!) Friendster was cloned, with the code written in less than two weeks, and the new product was introduced:

MySpace.com

This is where it became confusing. Many other sites, including popular networking sites like LinkedIn, or video sharing sites like YouTube, began to see the future of social media, and they began to adapt their platforms to allow people to “follow” each other, add themselves to circles of friends, or simply watch certain groups/discussions whenever they chose. But none of them pulled it together in the right way until 2004. That is when the virtual world had a seismic shift.