Introduction

Social media refer to the Internet based pages and applications that enable users’ communication and interaction, aiding the flow and exchange of ideas, information and also enabling people to build relationships across the globe online. The online communication is enabled in various formats ranging from posting comments, news articles, or blogs, to sharing of photo/video, and live conversations in social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook. This paper addresses the role the social media plays in the world of business and looks at the historical evolution of social media.

The Social Media

According to Kaplan A. and Haenlein M (2010), “Social media is a group of Internet-based applications that are built on the ideological and technical foundations of Web 2.0, which allows the creation and exchange of user-generated content”. Ideally, social media is a product of Web 2.0, which refers to a platform whereby content and applications are no longer created and published by individuals, but continuously are modified by all users in a participatory and collaborative way (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2009).

Features of Social Media

Social media are a set of different applications that are all bound by the same under-guiding principle of online digital interaction between individuals. It vary only in type of interaction they enable, the uploadable user-generated content they allow, and the strength of their social presence (degree of acoustic, visual and physical contact), as well as media richness (degree in which they resolve ambiguity and reduce uncertainty in communication). Therefore, features of social media are the sum of the features of the some separate categories.

Categories of Social Media

Collaborative projects; These projects enable the end-users to generate content online conjointly. Examples of collaborative projects include the wikis – the most popular among which is Wikipedia - which allow users to add, delete or change the text-based content. Another example is social bookmarking sites, such as Delicious, Blinklist, and Simpy, which enable groups to tag and collect websites for future reference, and also rate the Internet links and media content.

Blogs; Blogs are distinct websites that allow a single user to upload and manage content of any kind, ranging from text to videos, but still allow interaction with other individuals through the addition of comments by other users, who have their own blogs on that website.

Content communities; These websites allow users to upload and share content of given format and characteristics, such as text, video or images, on the website in question. Among the examples are BookCrossing, through which people share books and photos, YouTube for sharing videos, and Slideshare for sharing PowerPoint presentations. Users of content communities are not allowed to post their personal information, except the date they joined the website, and the quantity of content uploaded; rating is also visible, at some pages.

Social networking sites; These online services allow users to connect and join the Internet community by creating personal information profiles, and allowing other users to view those profiles, and also send messages to each other. These personal profiles can include information of other types, such as text, videos, music, or photos.

Virtual worlds; These platforms replicate an environment rendered in 3D; in which users can create and manage a personalized avatar and interact in an environment that is very alike to real life. Virtual worlds come primarily in two forms: Virtual game worlds, which are also called massively multiplayer online role-playing games, in which users’ behavior is bound by specific rules, within the context of the game. In such a scenario, there is limited capability of self-presentation and self-disclosure. In the virtual social worlds, on the other hand, users’ behavior is more flexible, inclusive of a customizable avatar and myriad of interaction possibilities.

Historical Evolution of Social Media

The evolution of social media can be traced through a series of remarkable events, and milestones in the development of the digital world. As social media can exist only in the virtual environment, its history is closely associated with interconnectivity between computers, better known as the World Wide Web, or Internet. The journey started in 1971with the first email sent from one computer to another, using a dial-up connection. Towards the end of that decade, the Bulletin Board System (BBS) was invented, to make announcements and share information through postings. Bulletin Board Systems also gave rise to flame wars and trolling between users. An example of such a BBS was Usenet.

In 1993, CERN, a European nuclear research facility based in Switzerland, donated the World Wide Web technology. As a result, the following year, the world saw the creation of the first social networking site: Geocities. It was intended to help users create their own websites, modeled after one out of the six most popular cities; among them were Wallstreet and Hollywood. A number of other socio-interactive sites and applications, such as Six Degrees, AOL instant messaging, search engines, and weblogs, commonly known today as blogs, cropped up afterwards. Today, it is reported that social media are accessible from anywhere for over 550 million people, registered in social websites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

With time, online communities have become a powerful tool of advertisement and influence. Several companies have bought ad space, within such social media, to advertise their brands and products a lot more quickly and cheaply to online users. They also have made use of such media as wikis and blogs to acknowledge users about updated information on company’s activity, to promote transparency and also encourage discussion and dissemination of ideas. Individuals that are most notable in the social media world include; Mark Zuckerberg; the American computer programmer that created Facebook. As of April 2012, Facebook has over 900 million active users; Larry Page and Erin Brin; young innovators who founded Google, the world’s biggest and most popular search engine; Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim, former PayPal employees, who are the founders of YouTube, a video sharing web service, which was ranked the third place after Google and Facebook by the web information company Alexa; Jack Dorsey; the programmer who created Twitter, a micro blogging and social networking site. As of 2012, Twitter has over 140 million active users (Drell, 2011).

Applications of Social Media in Business

The use of the social media in business has grown at an exceptionally fast rate, and today businesses can no longer ignore the value of social media. Firstly, the application of the social media in businesses is helpful in the recruitment of employees. Most businesses are using social media to advertise for vacancies that are available in their companies. This is further helped by the fact that most if not all employees have an online profile on a social networking site, and this allows the company to advertise for vacancies in a cost-effective manner. Ideally, social media sites should require the profiles where the users are asked to feel in their job history and interests. Companies, therefore, take advantage of these sites in the recruitment process, to target a specific audience with unique skills.

As a rule, most businesses men and women usually engage in a lot of travelling and, therefore, do not have enough time to attend the meetings, organized by their respective companies and businesses. The existence of the modern online applications has managed to address the problem effectively. Through the use of virtual meetings and collaborations, most business people can now attend such meetings and be able to offer support to their partners, suppliers, and other shareholders. Video and teleconferencing has been facilitated by some modern devices, for example, mobile phones, laptops, and IPads, which have the Internet connectivity (McCorvey, 2010).

The value of the social media in marketing cannot be underestimated; actually, this is the basis of most businesses. Marketing their products and brands via social media is cheaper and far much effective than the traditional forms of advertising. Social media sites have a 24-hour world wide audience, and through the simple posting of the product information, news will spread almost instantly, reaching the target audience worldwide.

Today, most companies’ CEOs have profiles on major social networks. This allows consumers and clients to contact with them online. Through this accessible feature, the reputation of the company is enhanced, and products are marketed, consequently.

Social media have also been employed by companies in increasing innovation and effectiveness of management. Companies rely on the ideas and demands of the social media users, to meet and surpass their clients’ expectations. This allows them to be more innovative and effective. Major companies have employed the use of social media to popularize their businesses and enhance awareness of their products. Major movie makers rely on prominent networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter, to popularize new motion pictures.

Virgin American Airlines and Social Media

Virgin America Airlines is one of the companies that actively and effectively employ social media in the business. This company was founded in 2007, a period when most of the social media sites were just emerging. Most of these sites were entering the market. Facebook was only three years old, and Twitter was just gaining popularity. This airline began to use social media from the very beginning. Today, everything in the company has a social aspect, from the way the planes are named to the way the safety videos are recorded, which is very interesting and entertaining. The passengers can communicate and interact through the touch screen video devices, in-built to their seats. The company has a social networking manager, who is responsible for effective employment of social media possibilities in running the business. In essence, the aspect of the social media is the heart of the company. Its proximity to the prominent social media giants, like Google and Twitter, has enabled it to build partnership with these companies. For instance, the airline signed a contract with Google in offering free wireless Internet services on the board; on the other hand, they worked with Twitter in promoting its brand through tweets (Kaplan, & Haenlein, 2010).

The use of the social media, like Facebook and Twitter, by the airline has led to the massive growth of its revenue and increase of its clientele. Among the domestic airlines, Virgin airlines have the highest growth in number of followers on Twitter. The use of other social media platforms, such asLoopt, for promotional purposes has allowed for the diversification of the company’s services. In addition, the Virgin airline has a strategy that allows it to listen to and engage new clients through Twitter and Facebook. This is achieved through the use of Sprinklr, which allows the company to respond and support their clients. Similarly, it can calculate the revenue got through their cooperation with other social networks, like Twitter, through the use of site catalyst, powered by Omniture (Muniz, 2001).

In conclusion, the social media have developed fast to reach the point where it is now. Consequently, it has made the world a global village. Its role in the economy and development of nations cannot be understated; thus, it continues to play a crucial role in the running of different businesses worldwide.

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