Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The positive benefits of social media

Media distortion of the negatives
I am sure we've all heard the negative news stories relating to social media, especially within the workplace. No matter how unfounded or untrue some of these accusations may be, they have been widely circulated by a media that has little grasp of Web 2.0 or social media.

In an attempt to redress the balance, I thought I'd outline just a few of the positive benefits of social media, giving some examples of how I use it.

Staying up to date
First of all, as a professional software developer, I use it to stay in touch with the latest technological developments, be they related to software, social media, applications, architectures and so on. On Twitter, I follow many technologists, from a diverse range of technical backgrounds. Some are published authors and speakers. All are interesting and worth following if you have an interest in technology.

Often, I have sent a message or question to one of them, and more importantly, received a reply. This is a great way to engage with someone on a particular topic. Not only do I get to read the reply, but so does anyone else who has access to their social media channels too, so the information is circulated to a much wider audience.

Social media can be used to promote yourself, your business or your campaigns and causes. This is something I do regularly. My Facebook and Twitter channels are full of links to my blogs, campaign and charity groups or causes I want to champion (such as PETA). I may simply link to an article which criticises some element of government legislation, I may ask a question to get others to think about the issue, I may link to a video showing animal abuse, or anything else I want to draw people's attention to.

This is a very powerful tool, and can be very effective. If you run a business or charity, you will be much more effective if you incorporate social media channels into your overall marketing and promotion strategy. Just to be clear, I am not advocating replacing your current marketing and promotion channels, but suggesting you add social media to complement your existing channels.

Spread the word
With real time social media channels such as Twitter, news and information can be spread instantly. Agencies such as BBC News and Downing Street use Twitter to great effect, to get the news out quickly, and usually before the more traditional news channels can. After all, it is quicker to type a brief message into Twitter and hit send, than put out the same story on the radio or television, which requires much more co-ordination and organisation.

The downside to this of course, is that it is just as quick to spread dis-information, whether deliberately or otherwise. This is not a fair criticism of the technology though, rather its mis-use by disingenuous people.

Power to the people!
During the Iran election protests earlier this year, many Iranian citizens were able to share their experiences to the Western world via social media channels. These were spread quickly around the Internet, and reported by Western news agencies. To spread information so quickly like this would have been almost impossible before. As long as you have Internet access, you have a voice, and more importantly, you have an audience.

And finally...
While certain sections of the media may indulge themselves by concentrating on the more negative aspects of social media, practically all of which are not related to the technologies themselves but their mis-use by human beings, we should not focus too heavily on them. With a little common sense, we can all use social media safely and sensibly.

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