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The Evolution of Social Media

A dozen or so years ago when the internet was just beginning to gain a foothold in our culture, forward-thinking businesses established their online presence in a world where they had a high degree of control over their message. Interactivity and conversations were limited to putting an email link or a contact form on your website;  comments systems, feedback, and reviews were nearly nonexistent, and “going viral” meant emails with subject lines like “Fwd: fwd: fwd: fwd: fwd: You have to see this!”  Early forums and BBS were used by only a tiny fraction of the internet-connected population and search engines were slow and inefficient, so there was very little interference in business-to-consumer communications.

MetaFilter was probably the first true social media site, but with the very small demographic of sophisticated early adopters, getting a marketing message on the site was nearly impossible. There was a very low tolerance for any type of promotional activity, and the community would ruthlessly go after any appearance of commercial intent. This is still true on many strictly social media sites; content must pass a fairly stringent test of ‘interestingness’ in order to rise to the top. Social media marketing takes place in a democratic environment that has shifted the power over last decade from the company to the individual, and smart businesses have adapted to this model and learned to take advantage of the system without relying too much on ‘gaming the system’ which often has very negative results. To prosper in the social media universe, a brand must find ways to offer value along with their message in order to gain the number of up-votes, likes, or shares it takes to rise to the top.

Whether or not you use social media, it has changed your business.

Social media, and social networking, have changed the business landscape, both for companies that have adopted them and for those who have not.  By definition, social media is where members share content with a wide audience, with the focus on the content, while social networking is more centered on conversations and groups with shared interests.  Facebook, which straddles the line dividing the two types of interactions, has 600,000 regular users worldwide and welcomes companies, organizations, and brands to utilize its platform to connect with their audience.
Almost all social networks have incorporated a measure of social media, allowing users to become curators of the interesting content they find, sharing links, images, and short personal stories. Businesses who have learned to create content and engage in conversations are already ‘in the stream’ – and more and more, internet users have the expectation they will be able to interact with their favorite brands. Companies that have embraced this have an ever-growing advantage over those who have not.

By the Numbers: Why Social Media is here to stay

Let’s look at the numbers: 9 out of every 10 U.K. Internet users now visit a social network site at least once a week. Social networking and media sites accounted for 12% of all time spent online in 2010 with the average user spending 4.5 hours on these sites. Globally, social networking accounts for 15.6 percent of online time among those age 15 and older. Web-based email usage has decreased in every age group except those 55 and older, as more and more communication takes place on the various social websites. The sharp increases in web email usage in the over 55 demographic is accompanied by a similar increase in their usage of social sites; the fastest-growing demographic on Facebook is women 55 and older. Social media is here to stay, and chances are, your customer or client base is already spending a significant amount of time there.

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