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For every annoying ad or post, there's a different positive use to social media...

The positive impact of Social Media

Date: 24-01-2014
Author: Peter Garrett

Having recently seen a number of posts on popular news platforms looking at the negative side of social media and how their mass popularity has affected our lives for the worse, (see "The degeneration of Facebook in 10 statuses" and "7 ways to be insufferable on Facebook") I thought it would be balanced to look at the positive impact and uses of social media in our everyday lives.

It's worth mentioning that whilst researching this list I had countless updates coming through on my phone and tablet whilst trying to work, so it's important to be aware that with every post there can always be a number of updates and notifications back, so careful control of your profiles is important.

Damage Limitation

In the event that a product or service that is used goes horribly wrong, the internet has become a first port of call for many to easily vent their frustrations (see "I hate Dell"). Before social networking came along, many turned to early blogging platforms and forums to vent their frustrations. These platforms offered very little functionality and options to allow businesses to response and where required, defend themseleves.

Not only do social networking sites allow customers to easily communicate with the businesses in question, but they also provide an open and transparent location for you to react to your complaints. It's important to note though, that if you are going to put your business out there in the public domain, open to any form of criticism, that you must react accordingly and in a timely manner when complaints are left.

Public messages back to your audience offering support, advice, replacements or special offers demonstrate not only to that customer that you value them, but also most likely to their friends and all other users who follow your profile. We all know that there is no brand or business which is perfect (see Apple Maps launch apology letter) and mistakes are easily made, but your reaction is what will end up being judged.

No reaction speaks volumes.

Brand Awareness

So what type of business are you? Stuffy, traditional, geeky, informal, fun, humourous?

Your social network posts are not just a place to promote products and services (see @LordSugar), but they present you with the perfect opportunity for you to convey your values.

It is now your "followers" and "friends" who have control of your brand and how it is perceived in its marketplace. They will be the ones to comment on and share your posts and updates. By giving them content which communicates your core values (which should be positive messages), they are less likely to greet your communication with synicism or apathy.

The following articles make reference to a popular trend found on Twitter (Pun offs) which demonstrates how these brands no longer perceive themselves as stuffy organisations, but as growing, organic and almost human entities.

Important Communication during disasters

During natural and human caused disasters, social networks have become a very important mechanism for sharing important messages.

Due to the ever expanding popularity of smartphones and with their relationship to social apps, sharing information has never been simpler. Friends and Followers share content at lightning speed, particularly in disaster situations, so sites like Twitter and Google + begin trending with useful information during these situations.

Checking in with friends and family occurs within moments of hearing of any bad news. Public conversations get quickly added to by friends, and friends of friends providing a much fuller picture of the magnitude of the disaster.

Often emotional support and backup comes from the most unlikely of places in times of hardship; before social networks, most would not be communicating with old friends they haven't seen for years, but shared hardship pulls everyone together. Social networks provide a platform for inividuals to support each other emotionally and even organise to help physically too.

More examples can be found on "The 4 Ways People Use Social Media in Natural Disasters".

Finding Criminals

Many police forces across the globe are now turning to social media profiles to find information on suspected criminals.

More often than not, many individuals share their updates and posts to the general public. There have been countless examples of criminals being caught due to their own arrogance and self indulgence on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube including:

  • The burglar who used Facebook on their victim's home computer. After returning home and using their machine, the victim reported the burglar to the police and he was quickly arrested with all stolen items recovered.
  • The couple who crashed a White House party and posted their photos on Facebook - they quickly ended up on the Washington Post website and the police got involved shortly after.
  • The criminal stupid enough to post a photo of himself syphoning fuel out of a cop car.
  • Hackers boasting of their pursuits have been found when GPS information has been attached to their posts on Twitter.

You can find more examples on the following articles:

Stress Relief & Comfort

From time to time, we all encounter bad times; a terrible day at work, the loss of a loved one, self loathing, stuggling with addiction/stress or rejection by friends/partners and social media sites provide an avenue (both public and private) for individuals to seek comfort and support.

Many of the opposing blogs and articles refer to some of these status updates and posts negatively. A cry for attention can be frustrating and annoying when encountered many times from the same person, but when it is justworthy, social networks provide individuals with support mechanisms they may not normally have access to. Living in remote places, working excessive hours, a lack of self confidence or moving abroad would normally present significant barriers to communication with friends and loved ones, but simple updates via social networks makes contact and communication so easy when you need it most.

Social networks have countless groups, pages and discussion areas allowing individuals to seek advice and comfort on a multitude of subjects including parental advice, drug and alcohol addiction, child abuse, body and health worries and much more...

Easter Eggs

Many social networks have simple little easter eggs too - my favourite is the language setting on Facebook which changes the site to Pirate!

More examples can be found on the BBC Website

I hope you enjoyed the examples I found, proving that there are some very positive uses of social media - there are undoubtably more. If you have any examples you wish to share, please add them below.

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