The evolution of the social media platform

Clare Hopping

Monday 29 September 2014

There’s no denying the power of social media. Whether you want to stay in contact with friends, share content you find interesting, become a thought leader or market your business to the perfect audience, social is the place to start.

According to David Cushman, author of The 10 Principles of Open Business, in the UK more people use Twitter than read a newspaper each morning. And with 24 million Britons logging in to Facebook on a daily basis, it’s clear to see that social is a key part of our lives.

Where did social networks come from?

The popularity of social networks really skyrocketed when they hit the mainstream, according to Cushman. The idea of creating a place where people can connect and communicate in one place using the internet predated Facebook by 10 years.

In the mid-1990s, basic communities were created via and GeoCities. These, and the thousands of forums that popped up in the early days of the internet, allowed those with a connection to both start and become part of a variety of communities. Understandably, these groups were limited to those who had a dial-up connection and, as a result, were pretty niche.

Towards 2000, as internet adoption increased, so did the number of more user-friendly social networks. Friendster, launched in 2002, was the first version of what we now take for granted as a social network. The following year, MySpace and LinkedIn were founded.

The latter was designed for business networking, although it didn’t really become a fad until the dawn of the more consumer-friendly social networks later in the decade. However, MySpace exploded in popularity, with 100 million worldwide users at its peak. By 2005, MySpace was getting more page views than Google. At that time, Facebook – a platform designed by Mark Zuckerberg as a way for Harvard students to connect – was in its infancy.

Now, LinkedIn is the fastest-growing social network, with a large majority of American up-and-coming companies preferring it to Zuckerberg’s offering.

How did adoption lead to explosion?

Social media represents all segments of society, and it’s a key example of the theory that when something becomes normal, it becomes capable of great change, says Cushman.

“The web has always been for one thing: to enable ad-hoc groups of people and relevant information to self-organise. It’s always been about connecting people, and now the web is essentially social media. It has become more and more so thanks to iterations of platforms which have made it easier and easier for people to publish enough about themselves to discover others who care about the same things.

However, he says social shouldn’t be viewed as a media, per se, but as a tool to develop ideas and build relationships.

“When people get their heads around that it will really start enabling the organisational change it is best at. Social is an exercise in relationship building. Its future is in enabling groups to self-organise around the things that matter to them at increasingly lower cost in effort and time. This is far more than a cheap channel to send messages through. It’s not just a game changer, it’s a society changer.”

Mobile is the enabler

One huge factor in determining how social media became so important is how we are accessing the likes of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Just three years ago, social networks were built to work on desktop, from within a browser. Now, more people access Facebook and Twitter on a mobile device.

“The mobile-computing revolution is finally here, and just as tablets and mobile have shown the way, so wearable tech is bound to take us on new and ever-more virtual worlds.

Is social media important to your business?

The reach and exponential growth of social media means it’s an essential business tool and should be heavily implemented in your marketing strategy.

Social media allows us to decide what we are going to buy, and we are much more likely to buy a product according to reviews and recommendations rather than marketing.

“Companies which take the time to be led by their customers [through social media] will deliver ever-more perfect customer service. They will understand their customer’s intent at the moment they visit their website or store, their mood, the mood of their peers and their peers’ attitude towards the business that customer is engaging with.

“They will know who is influencing who. And they will have all this at their disposal in real time – enabling them to connect with data they already hold about how valuable or otherwise that customer is to them, to provide customer experiences people will want to share.”