What is Social Media?

Social Media: forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos).

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It's funny; a little over a decade ago social media wasn't a phrase that people used all that much. I guess playing a tune out loud on the radio to a bunch of friends was as close to 'social' as media got. Even now, it's a complete mystery to some (including me to a certain extent), but it forms part of the personal and business lexicon of millions worldwide, and every day, it seems, there's a new social media platform released.

But what exactly is social media and why is it so powerful? Well, from my personal experience it's just an awesome way of keeping in touch with everything, from friends and family, to news, to customers. You can use it passively; to catch up on what's happening in the news in real time viaTwitter; or watch videos onYouTube, or to proactively engage in conversations with the world on any subject imaginable.

For fun

I know plenty of people who use social media as a way to show family and friends their interests and hobbies. Others post photos onFacebookof their vacations and some of thecrazy things their kids do! I know a friend of mine who usedPinterestto collate photos of ideas for refurbishing their home.

For business

For businesses it's become the cheapest and often best way to engage customers and tell them about their products. The bottom line is so important to every business, but social media allows them to reach customers way beyond the usual means for free.I know that I've found it super useful for getting the word out about my business. Sure, it can be a little time consuming but once you've covered the basics it can get addictive real quick, especially when you get into a conversation where you have some knowledge and are able to offer solutions or help – that's social media in motion, right there.

For customers

It's never a one-way street either. Your customers will be quick to let you know if your products aren't working for them, believe me. But even this can be turned to your advantage if you actively address the problem. Often the customer will post their thanks publically, and if you're really lucky they'll become an advocate of your brand.

So, what is social media? Put bluntly, it's a huge part of the way we now communicate. It's fun, informative, cost-efficient for business, and it can be pretty confusing, at times, but I'm glad I took a chance on it, and I'm definitely seeing the benefits.

3 questions to ask yourself before you go social

  1. Which social media channel(s)?If you're thinking about using social media for your business, don't think you need to be on all of them. Take your time and think about which would work best for your business. If you're a restaurant, for example, Pinterest could be a great place to show off photos of the amazing food on your menu.

  2. What do I want to achieve?You may want your business to gain more exposure, or to be able to interact with your customers online. It's definitely worth thinking about what you want social media to do for your business. And, while it's great to have a ton of followers, it's no good if they aren't engaging with you.

  3. Can I make time?Before you go ahead and set up a page, ensure that you can make time for social media. Although the benefits can be awesome, it does take time to build a loyal and engaged following.