It seems that everyday there is a new report or set of statistics released that offers a fascinating insight into the rapidly evolving reach of social media. While this should not necessary come as a significant surprise, the potential applications of social media and its fundamental values continue to defy conventional logic and traditional thinking. Even allowing for the considerable pace of technological advancement, the evolution of social media appears to be progressing at a disproportionate rate of knots.
This week, for example, it was revealed that 189 million of Facebook’s global user base accessed the site through the mobile medium only. In addition to this, sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+ were also experiencing a considerable rise in the number of older users, with individuals aged over 45 becoming increasingly active on social media. These statistics are as revealing as they are fascinating, especially when you consider how the medium has expanded during the last 5 years in particular.
The Evolving World of Social Media: Embracing a Rapidly Changing Medium
The fact that older social demographics are becoming more active on social media is particularly telling, as it highlights the evolution that has changed social media from a recreational networking tool to a multi-purpose medium. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are becoming increasingly popular among older users due to their rising levels of diversity, with concepts such as social gaming, digital marketing and real time interaction having added to the appeal of social media resources.
Not only can social media now be used to perform a multitude of recreational and business orientated tasks, it can also retain the potential to expand even further. When the industry leader Facebook was first established in America during 2005, few would have thought that the site would become such an effective business marketing tool with more than 1 billion global users. If social media experiences similar evolution between now and 2020, there is no telling how the medium and its technology may be applied.
Photo by Jason Howie
3 Unusual Applications for Social Media in 2013
With this in mind, what are the unusual applications that have helped to alter the course social media and broaden its already significant appeal in recent times? Consider the following:
#1: Social Media as a Political Weapon
One of the most surprising and unusual applications of social media involves politics, as politicians and local state officials seek to maintain greater levels of communication with their constituents. This is part of a global trend, and it is an evolution that has been driven primarily by an increasingly diverse social media user base. Initially, politicians in nations such as India utilised social media to engage a younger and more technologically aware voter demographic, but this has changed as the average user age has soared.
On a more controversial note, social media resources have also been used to organise and promote large scale political protests. When the Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali lost power in 2011, a loose coalition of opposition groups used the real time communication tools of Facebook to organise street protests throughout Egypt. Although the government immediately responded by attempting to block social media and phone network sites, this was unsuccessful and the events proved that these mediums have considerable political influence in 2013.
#2: Nonprofit Causes and International Relief Efforts
The sheer scope of social media and the instant nature of real time communication are two of the key features that drive diverse social media usage. This has also enabled innovative thinkers to use the medium for serious purposes, such as the organisation of nonprofit events and the co-ordination of international relief efforts in the event of an emergency. As long ago as 2010, for example, forward thinking Atlantan residents used Facebook and Twitter to arrange disaster assistance for those impacted by the devastating Haiti earthquake. Thanks to the reach of social media, this quickly grew into a global project that both raised money and assisted with the clean-up operation.
Social media has subsequently evolved into a key organisational and promotional tool for nonprofit ventures. In particular, it has provided an opportunity for nonprofit organisations to engage and reward a wider base of followers, rather than being forced to spend considerable sums on demonstrations, networking efforts and promotional campaigns. Social gaming has also played a pivotal role in this evolution, as popular titles such as Farmville have marketed specific causes and even raised capital through the sale of virtual produce to participants.
Photo by Julie Blaustein
#3: The Use of Social Media to Report and Social Issues and Illness
Now that social media has reached a point where it is such an integral part of everyday life, its global user base continues to share an increasing amount of information with their contemporaries. This has provided experts with a unique opportunity to monitor the development of social issues and illnesses, with a view to identifying potential problems before they become unmanageable. There have already been considerable efforts in this field, with a handful of Chicago based developers having already created an application that charts the advancement of food borne illness among local residents.
The app, which is registered as Foodborne Chicago, has established a real time connection between users and the city’s Department of Public Health. It works by searching Twitter for keywords that may relate to a specific food borne illness, before moderators identify potentially related tweets and respond with helpful medical advice. In addition to this, the app will also allow users to complete a food borne illness report, which in turn will be passed to the Department of Public Health, who can monitor complaints and identify any potential sources of harmful bacteria.
The Bottom Line and the Future for Social Media
Social media is a fluid medium, and one that continues to evolve at a rapid pace. One of the main reasons for this is that it is essentially driven by simple and uncomplicated technology that remains malleable to each individual user. So, as the global user base grows and a higher diversity of social demographics begin to enjoy the medium, it stands to reason that social media should be applied to suit more unusual purposes.
While it seems unlikely that this level of growth and diversification can continue indefinitely, there is clearly plenty of scope for social media to evolve further during the next decade. However, it may also experience something of a plateau during this time, as the global user base reaches its saturation point and various sites suffer from a decline in popularity. One thing that remains clear, however, is that the social media medium is unique in terms of its growth, development and worldwide appeal.