I’ve waved the white flag and thrown in the towel. I am now a social media convert. It may be the primary domain of the twenty-something’s, but you can’t deny the pervasive creep of all things social media into our everyday personal and business lives. So the million dollar question is, how can social media help grow a small (or mid-sized) business? Since most SMB organizations are too busy worrying about their day-to-day business operations, I will attempt to shed some light on the history of social media as well as some of the most commonly used tools and technologies.
The earliest social networking platform was born in the late 1980s from AOL (America Online) chat rooms. Users were able to network and connect with others from virtually anywhere an Internet connection was available. Chat rooms created a new social dynamic, and for several years, this was pretty much what passed for social media. AOL then found ways to embed advertising into the application, and thus created a new revenue stream. This was just the beginning of the social network explosion.
Even with the crumbling of the dot com industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s the desire to connect to the Internet didn’t wane, it only grew stronger. The next prominent milestone in the social media timeline was the introduction of web logs or blogs. These tools enabled Individuals and/or organizations to post information on just about anything. Mini-websites such as Blogger and WordPress allowed these posts to be accessible to anyone with an Internet connection and they gave the reader a chance to interact with the author by leaving comments.
Of course the social media timeline would be incomplete without marking the beginning of one of the largest outlets the Internet could facilitate – shopping! During the dot com boom there was no shortage of sites for shopping, and even after the shakeout there were still plenty of options left. Many sites included the ability to share information about the products which was just another way for people to connect and share, and as a result, retailers took notice.
One particular retailer embraced this new dynamic and became the powerhouse of online retailing we are familiar with today – Amazon.com. Another popular online retailer, eBay, wasn’t far behind with their “swap meet/auction” business philosophy of allowing the community Spotify luisteraars kopen to buy and sell to each other while taking just a percentage of the item’s final sale price. Again, a key differentiator for eBay was the direct interaction between buyer and seller which was another pivotal point in the social media evolution.
In the early years after Y2K, Tom Anderson and Chris DeWolfe created MySpace which was one of the first social networks to become a hot acquisition property. The pair sold to Fox’s NewsCorp unit for $580 million! Not a bad payout for Anderson who first rose to fame as a computer hacker at 13 and who was raided by the FBI not long after. You can ask him yourself. He’s automatically added to the “friends” list of each of the 240 million MySpace subscribers, but don’t hold your breath for a quick response! While MySpace was created mainly as a way for musicians to network together, seven months after its birth a Harvard student named Mark Zuckerberg and some of his buddies built their own private network for Crimson students. The offspring of this union was Facebook and it quickly gained traction at other Boston-area campuses such as MIT and Boston College. After its initial launch it spread like wildfire to college campuses all across the country and eventually anyone with an email address ending in.edu were allowed to join. Those boundaries couldn’t hold, and before long networks were created for those outside of the educational borders. The march has continued unabated ever since to the point where “The Social Network” became an Oscar-winning film about Zuckerberg and his creation.
Twitter came onto the scene in 2006 as an internal project by a group of employees at a San Francisco podcasting company. Initially it was a micro-blogging site that focused on small messages to inform others in the group about what was happening. While the initial site was entirely web-based, a team led by Jack Dorsey wanted to create a service that leveraged SMS or text messaging on mobile phones to transmit information. The 160 character limit on these transmissions proved to be an obstacle, so they decided to limit messages to 140 characters to allow room for the username and colon at the beginning of the message. In those early days there was slow adoption because many users didn’t have unlimited text plans and the costs to participate could have easily skyrocketed. However, once phone plans began to include unlimited texting everything changed, and the sky was the limit. Then watershed moment #2 occurred. During the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards, Twitter was used to create an online community and a conversation around the live event.
The use of the social media platform engaged a new generation of users like no ad campaign ever could. From that point on, Twitter was everywhere. Apple featured Twitter during their worldwide conference in the same year, there were television news stories, print articles, and the world would never be the same! Jack had a terrific team which included Dom Sagolla who wrote about Twitter history and the genesis of proper messaging techniques called “140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form,” likely available on Amazon.com I’d bet!