Social networking sites have gained huge popularity in recent years. Today names like Face book, MySpace and Twitter have become household names. Facebook reported an amazing 500 million members in July, 2010 and is the most popular social networking site. Most of the users are undoubtedly the younger generation of the populace. We have heard of everything from social networking site addicts to people losing their jobs due to their posts on those sites. So it leads to the question- Are social networking sites valuable assets to us or is it a waste of time.
Social networking sites, as the name suggests, are virtual communities where users create their own page and is linked with friends, families and people with common interests. Users can post comments, photos, videos, send mail, debate on various topics and much more. Basically the idea is to get connected to your social network. It is heaven sent to people living far away from their friends and families. Social networking sites also extend beyond friends and families in the form of various groups and pages. This is where people sharing common views get together, discuss and debate over various issues. Social networking sites have created a virtual meeting place for all these people. Ashish Shrestha who is studying abroad says, "Social networking sites have helped me keep in touch with my family and friends. I can be updated with a click of a button".
Social networking site is also a virtual platform. It provides the users with an arena to show case their talents and promote their businesses. Advertisements and business group pages are now common in the social networking sites. This is a huge advantage to the businessmen and other specific uses owing to the popularity of the social networking sites.
It is not uncommon for young people now-a-days to be indulged in social networking sites. Internet has become a big part of their lives. Addiction to social networking sites has become common. Social network has habituated them into getting updates so often. With all the new photos and updates a person may feel like a social outcast if he/she doesn’t have a account in an social networking sites.
We have heard of our friends just going through old photos or just refreshing their Facebook page for new updates without really doing anything. There are many people who check their hi5 accounts the first thing in the morning. We spend most of our time worrying about other people’s lives and status updates. The same time could have been spent for doing something productive like studying for exams or cleaning our room. Siddhartha Baral said, “I closed off my face book wall so that no one could post. It’s really distracting sometimes.”
Social networking sites use their huge popularity for commercial purpose also. It is not unusual for us to see an advertisement in their sites. Various businesses take advantage of this to create their own profiles and in some cases spam also. There are social networking sites which are advertisement free such as hi5, Yahoo! 360 or Orkut but these are few in number compared to the ones that have advertisement in them.
In workplaces and colleges social networking sites have been a hazard. Employees using Facebook when they should have been working or students using hi5 in classroom are not a new thing. Most of these places have Facebook blocked as social networking sites have been a distraction for them. They are wasting valuable minutes engrossed in these sites when they should have been working or studying. I asked some students whether they used any social networking sites in class sometimes. They replied sometimes they do while some replied that facebook and other social networking sites were blocked in their college network.
Like anything else what you get out of social networking sites depends on the way we use them. Like Ashish, Siddhartha and others we asked they were happy as well as skeptical on the advent of social networking sites. These sites have great potential to both improve and degrade the society. According to them it all depends on the users and I believe so too.
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You know the drill, the minute something becomes popular, some report comes out making claims about how much money is being pulled out of the economy because we're wasting our time on it.
Social media is no different. In fact, it's not even social media as entirety. We've seen instances where Facebook has been accused of wasting millions of dollars on being a time suck. The same has happened with YouTube and Twitter (more on that here: Gigaom - News Flash: Your Employees are Wasting Time on the Internet). We're always quick to blame the technology and not the people. I always argue that those who are not wasting their time on YouTube (because a company has blocked it) have probably figured out something else to do to waste their time (hint: they're not happy and energized to be doing their jobs ... it's not YouTube).
Social media is a big-time time sucker.
That was the news last week in the AdWeek news item, Social Networking: A Waste of Time? (Oct. 7, 2010). "Here's a sign of social networking's growing presence in modern life: It has surpassed TV viewing as the preeminent waster of people's time," stated the news item. "At any rate, it tops the waste-of-time standings in a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll released this week. Respondents were given a list of six activities and asked to pick the one they regard as 'your biggest waste of time.' A plurality (36 per cent) chose 'social networking,' putting it easily ahead of runner-up 'fantasy sports' (25 per cent) and third-place 'watching television' (23 per cent). Few votes went to 'shopping' (nine per cent), 'reading' (two per cent) or 'your job' (two per cent)."
Social media is only a waste of time if you're using it to waste your time.
It's not because it's a slight against online social networks that I'm upset (or because I base part of my business livelihood on the success of social media as a marketing channel), but we have to meet the people who lump "reading" and their "jobs" as their "biggest waste of time." Wasting your time should probably be defined as an activity that requires nothing proactive, while utilizing minimal effort and with even less of a valued outcome in terms of overall life benefit. But, if you look at social media like that, you're missing the point entirely.
Social media is the fabric that binds our culture together.
Maybe not our current, entire culture but the shift is happening in a very non-subtle way. Contrast the news above with this blog post last week from MediaPost's Engage - GenY titled, Social Network Disconnect, which looks at GenY (those born between 1982 and 2004). Prior to looking at the stats presented below, you should know that Gen Y is (according to the Blog post), "the first generation in U.S. history to exceed 100,000,000 members is typified as multi-cultural, multi-racial, multilingual, multimedia and multi-tasking. Most importantly, Gen Y is the first generation in human history to, as children, be more technologically advanced than their parents."
Are you ready to have your mind blown?...
"Their use of technology is pervasive and sophisticated. You can pretty much count on the totality of Gen Y to be online and connected. Research conducted by the Insights division of Ypulse in September 2010 94 percent of GenY to be on Facebook, spending 11.4 hours a week within its pearly blue gates. This connectivity is nearly ubiquitous, with more than three quarters (78 per cent) of high school and college students connecting to their preferred social network via their mobile phone. Mobile devices and the Facebook platform are the glue that keeps this generation connected. When Gen Y communicates with each other, their preferred tool is a text message (55 per cent state texting as the primary means of communicating with their friends), followed by Facebook (24 per cent). Voice-based communications (land line, VOIP and mobile voice calls) among Gen Y represents only 10 per cent of communications, IM is the primary communications tool for seven per cent and email is dominant among a meager one per cent of Gen Y when communicating peer to peer."
It's not just because it's cool to be on Facebook.
Regardless of what the platform is, there's something bigger brewing beneath the surface here. The massive speed of change and adoption of new media among this huge generation is changing our society (they're not just idly sitting by watching TV, flipping through magazines or playing video games). From whom they trust and rely on to how they perceive privacy and relationships. These youngish people are doing things in a more open and sharing environment (and, yes some of it is not in a positive way - look no further than the tragedy that took place at Rutgers University a few weeks back when a young person committed suicide after a video was posted on YouTube without their consent), and this is having current implications on how society evolves... and we haven't even begun to look at the long-term society impact of this change in terms of business, education, privacy, communications and connectivity. What we do know is that you can hardly dismiss this massive shift as a waste of time (unless all you're doing is watching YouTube videos of people falling off of treadmills - which, admittedly, never gets tiring).
Is this causing such a huge societal change that we can't even begin to imagine the implications, so we have decide to ignore it or pass it off as a time waster, or is the reality something much bigger that we - as the business leaders of today - must begin to grasp and embrace?
The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business - Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original versions online here:
By Mitch Joel