As a marketer, I have often been quite reticent when it comes to the use of social media. Even to this day, when asking my friends and colleagues on their opinion of social media; the first few things that come to their mind are entitled opinions, unwarranted stupidity and disturbingly irrelevant content.
While I do not deny that digital marketing – considering its affordability and global reach – is an exceptionally marvellous approach; I suppose my hesitancy has often been due to the notion that platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are open tools – no pun intended. Just like many other tools, more often than not, its merits are defined and at times confined to the uses as set out by its exploiters.
Succinctly put, social media is simply an open platform that was originally intended to share information between users of the same channel. Over the years, the context and information flowing through these channels have diversified to such an extent that social media was able to quickly evolve into a form of distribution channel that is rapidly outpacing all traditional forms of media.
In spite of the stigma associated with the abundance of social posts these days, I still personally believe that social media is an important channel with admirable potential.
“Remember how crap life was before Facebook?” said no-one ever
In an age whereby technological advancement has exceeded our abilities to adapt fast enough to its changes; as a generation it would seem that we have not had the time to take a step back and truly appreciate just how far we have enhanced our lives through technology.
A singular rhetoric that genuinely encompasses just how dependent we are as a species on the progress of information technology is the age old proverbial question, “Remember life before Google?” These days, with information so readily available at our fingertips, it is easy for us to take for granted the effort required in answering simple questions. Within the same vein, it feels as though social media has suffered from a lack of appreciation as it is quite difficult to define a time before Facebook and Twitter whereby our lives have been worst off – considering our polarised perception of the channel these days.
Photo Credit: http://loyalkng.com/2010/02/19/chuck-beans-life-before-google-a-short-story-from-shoeboxblog-com/
Social media is not a brand new concept. It has its roots starting as early as the induction of the internet for personal use. Whether in the form of blogs or small volume, content-driven news channels, social media has been around for quite some time – for those of us who are old enough, remember “Friendster” or “MySpace?” It wasn’t until the introduction of Facebook in 2008 that social media became mainstream. Since then, social media has been integrated into our lives with such brevity and efficiency that it is understandably difficult to pinpoint the positive changes that this channel has brought to our lives.
The Twitter Revolution: The beginnings of the Arab Springs
‘Freedom of information, opinion and expression’ and everything it stands for has been constitutionally ingrained within those of us who are lucky enough to live in countries that have recognised it as inalienable human right. Yet, as we bask ourselves under this isolated ‘privilege’, we tend to forget that a majority of our global population live under the daily fear of persecution should they ever express an opinion contrary to their government.
In late 2010, a Tunisian street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi had lit himself on fire in protest to his government’s deep-seated corruption (Dewey, Kaden, Marks, Matsushima & Zhu 2012, p. 16). Already amidst protests, Bouazizi’s death sparked public outrage amongst Tunisians and thus began a collaborative discussion on the state of affairs of the Tunisian government. In order to overcome the ‘media blackout’ that was overseen by then President Ben Ali, the Tunisian public resorted to a communications channel that had still remained unchecked: Twitter. With the ability to express their discontent on a global scale, the world soon rose to their support. More importantly, this act of defiance also inspired public protests and uprisings in Egypt after a man named Khaled Saeed was brutally beaten to death by authorities. The aftermath of this protest lead to the eventual ousting of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (Dewey, Kaden, Marks, Matsushima & Zhu 2012, p. 17).
While it is arguable on how much actual impact social media had in the overthrowing of these governments, we simply cannot deny that the protestor’s ability to communicate their frustrations had a ripple effect and, through that, others saw the opportunity to raise a discussion.
Social media’s impact today: The Syrian Refugee Crisis
The Arab Springs, are just one of many examples of how social media has permitted a global discussion on our most controversial issues. Most recently, social media has been a vital survival tool for Syrian refugees attempting to escape ISIS. In an article by the New York Times, it was found that among food and clothing the most instrumental possession that Syrian refugees carry with them are their smartphones (Brunwasser, 2015).
The GPS function on their smartphones have been utilised as a means of tracking their movements as well as figuring their route and destinations. Groups have also emerged on channels such as Facebook and Instagram detailing tips, safer routes and updates on dangerous or ISIS occupied territories. There have also been an influx of community support within certain Facebook groups wherein members have been working collaboratively to help organise accommodation and food drops for these refugees. In short, without these social media channels, access to critical and potentially life-preserving information may not be as readily available or abundant as they are now (Byrne & Solomon, 2015).
Where to now?
As the debate stands, we live in an age and generation that is exponentially more educated than in the past but also, at the same time, more reluctant to be engaged in many controversial issues. This idleness has perceived our current generation as the ‘entitled generation’ whose only interest is to voice their opinion on matters, yet refrain from actual commitments. That being said, I still believe that social media will always have a place in our lives and it is up to us to decide responsibly how we will utilise it. Today, YouTube has an abundance of channels and videos that are focused on educating its users within a plethora of different fields.
In a nutshell, social media is a tool for communication; and as demonstrated in the past, when used correctly it can initiate changes on a global scale. Many will argue that ‘liking’ or ‘sharing’ a post will not make an immediate difference. However, at the very least, it will bring enough attention to the problem by raising a discussion; as the first step in solving any problem, is to recognise that there is one.
Written by: Tam Nguyen, Chief Marketing Officer
- Byrne, A Solomon, E. (2015). Refugees seek help from social media.Available: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/09625b90-56fc-11e5-a28b-50226830d644.html#axzz45DWLO1mj. Last accessed 4th Apr 2015.
- Brunwasser, M. (2015). A 21st-Century Migrant’s Essentials: Food, Shelter, Smartphone. Available: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/26/world/europe/a-21st-century-migrants-checklist-water-shelter-smartphone.html?_r=1. Last accessed 8th Apr 2015.
- Dewey, T Kaden J Marks, M Matsushima S, Zhu B. (2012). The Impact of Social Media on Social Unrest in the Arab Spring. Standford University. – (-), p15-30, 32-45.