It is difficult to imagine a technology that has been defining our times now as much as the social media. Social media has penetrated both our private and professional lives and has been embraced by almost every imaginable profession or industry including social welfare sector and politics. While most of the effects of social media have been positive, there are also costs though they could be minimized through effective user habits.

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Social media improves our communication processes and it is true for both individuals and businesses. First of all, social media makes it easier and faster to stay in touch with family members and friends and keep them updated through statuses and posts which eliminate the need for one-to-one communication. It is also convenient given our busy lives. Similarly, businesses have found a way to directly communicate with their customers and learn about their product experiences as well as suggestions. Almost every major company has presence on the social media now. The effect of this has been greater customer power because their opinions now directly reach the companies and in addition, negative experiences often go viral which is also a reason companies now pay more attention to what their consumers have to say.

Social media also encourages entrepreneurship as well as close the competitive gap between smaller and bigger businesses. Internet and social media has made it possible for entrepreneurs to set up operations without the need to invest in physical infrastructure. Similarly, social media also makes it cheaper to remain in business because it allows many functions such as marketing to be carried out at significantly low costs. An article in The New York Times mentioned many small businesses that might not have come into existence were it not for the social media, especially Facebook. One business mentioned in the article was Got What It Cakes whose owner Mandy Miller sells cakes (Zimmerman). Social media also promotes entrepreneurship because it allows businesses to benefit from word-of-mouth marketing as well as reach targeted customer groups more efficiently.

Social media has transformed certain entire professions and one of them is journalism. Social media has given rise to citizen journalism because anyone can post information anywhere in the world and Twitter has specifically risen as a powerful tool for citizen journalism. One of the earliest journalists to note this effect of social media, particularly Twitter was The Guardian Editor-in-Chief Alan Rusbridger who reminded his fellow professionals in a speech that citizen journalists are everywhere, even in the remote areas where professional journalists cannot always reach in time (Rusbridger).

Social media has also been helping citizens become more knowledgeable and informed. People post news links on Facebook and popular news links often go viral. Thus, many users who don’t go to news websites and or read newspapers on regular basis stay up-to-date on current affairs by coming across news articles posted by their friends. Users also subscribe to their favorite newspaper pages on social media such as Facebook and these news companies post important news links on regular basis. Thus, social media helps create a society with more informed citizens who also make higher quality decision on political and social issues.

Social media has also been transforming the marketing profession. Before internet and particularly social media, marketers tended to use marketing channels such as TV, radio, and newspapers where communication is usually one way and members of targeted customer segments are reached in a random fashion. But social media has given birth to two-way communication between marketers and targeted customer segments and it is possible to create more targeted marketing campaigns since social media allows marketers to gather intelligence on consumers. Since social media allows consumers to reach marketers directly, it may also promote brand loyalty depending upon marketers’ response to their consumers. Thus, social media has been promoting closer relationships between marketers and their targeted customer segments.

Social media has also been promoting globalization, both in economic and cultural terms More and more businesses are selling overseas because social media makes it possible for them to interact with international clients and even gauge interest before actually entering international markets. In addition, international business doesn’t require actual setting of physical operations or partnership with a local company. Social media has also been promoting cross-cultural interaction because it is used by people from all over the world. As a result, respect for and interest in other cultures increase. Many users regularly post pictures of their international trips which also help increase interest in travel among their friends.

But just as there are positive effects of social media, social media imposes certain costs, too though they can be minimized through responsible use. One of the costs is lack of privacy because user profiles are visible to strangers also and many information and data entered by users become permanent on social media, often without users’ awareness. Another cost is danger to children who may be stalked by sexual predators. Similarly, social media can also be used to engage in cyber bullying because it provides false sense of anonymity to some.

It is clear that despite some costs, social media has mostly been a positive force in the society. It facilitates communication, promotes entrepreneurship, helps users stay informed, promotes civilian journalism, and promotes cross-cultural interaction among other things. But at the same time, it also erodes our privacy and may subject certain users such as children to harm. Thus, education is important to promote responsible use of social media.

    References
  • Rusbridger, Alan. Alan Rusbridger: Why Twitter matters for media organisations. 19 November 2010. 12 March 2014 http://www.theguardian.com/media/2010/nov/19/alan-rusbridger-twitter
  • Zimmerman, Eilene. Small Retailers Open Up Storefronts on Facebook Pages. 25 July 2012. 12 March 2014 http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/26/business/smallbusiness/small-businesses-win-customers-on-facebook.html