Social Media 11 Mar 2011 02:46 pm

Social Media: Redefining Message Influence

In the communications industry, influence can be defined in terms of breadth, depth, and time. In essence, material that reaches the most amount of people, is most thoroughly discussed, and connects to the audience quickest is more influential than information that does not. Social media has been most successful in imparting information because, unlike other media, it has mastered two of the more alluding aspects of influence: breadth and time.

Facebook is a prime example of mastery of influence by breadth. According to Social Media Today, 2010 estimates predicted that 41.6% of the US has a Facebook account. It is because of the sheer size of their audience that advertisers are looking to profit from social network sites. Apart from company advertising opportunities, the targeted audiences also benefit from social media. Because customer opinion can now be widely and quickly spread, companies are held more accountable for bad products and poor services. Since friends’ recommendations are consistently one of the top considerations that customers use when making purchasing decisions, according to The Economist, companies are warned not to underestimate the power of social media.

Twitter utilizes time to the fullest in promoting their influence. Twitter messages are brief, concise, and most important: instant. Admittedly, I was initially skeptical of the influence Twitter could have because of its resemblance to Facebook’s “status updates.” Still, with its recent usage in Tunisia and Egypt, sharing information to organize rebellion despite governmental censorship, I am beginning to rethink the benefits of Tweeting. Whereas previous communication held delay, Tweets are unpolished, bare, and in the moment. In addition to sheer speed, it is the website’s instantaneous nature that opens the door for frequency; messages can be repeated often. Twitter provides a new definition of the term “current news.”

Social media is redefining influence measurement in the communication industry. In particular, Facebook and Twitter are setting new benchmarks on communication speed and audience breadth. This becomes especially apparent when comparing the social media with a traditional form of media, such as a newspaper. Examining breadth, newspapers reach a largely pre-determined audience each circulation period. Often the reach is not international, as is the case with Twitter and Facebook. Considering time, many newspapers are circulated every 24-hours. Therefore, information can be at least a day old before reaching its audience. This isn’t even taking into consideration the disadvantage of the newspaper as a secondary source of information meaning an accompanied time-lapse between event occurrence and newspaper receipt of news. In contrast, with Tunisia and Egypt’s use of Twitter, news emerged from the source of the conflict; information is often direct when using social media.

Breadth and time have been discussed extensively, yet social media incorporates depth, or the extensiveness of information and discussion about a topic, successfully as well. With the websites discussion threads and invitations to comment, social media is a hotbed for depth. Still, depth is less alluding to traditional media. Newspaper is seasoned in providing depth; articles and opinion pieces boast a vast source of information. The difference between depth in traditional and social media: traditional media is one-way communication while social media is a community-generated knowledge market. Ultimately, these social media sites promote more intense interconnectedness, allowing us to be better-informed consumers of information, whether that be social, political, or commercial.

Jackie VanSloten

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