Social Media Shapes the Way We Live

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Bilal Kathrada a Certified Software Developer and Trainer and winner of the 2012 Vodacom AppStar Challenge South Africa takes us through the importance of social media in the 21st century.


Q. For those not familiar with technology briefly explain what social media is and provide examples of this phenomenon?

A: Social Media are online spaces or sites designed to create community, and promote sharing and engagement with ordinary web users and citizens. Every person who signs up has a profile and has their own voice to add to the dialogue, a place to express their interests, ideas and beliefs. Some examples of how social media has revolutionised modern living can be drawn from: the Arab Spring where social media was a key tool in the masses communicating and spreading the message of change.

Q: Do you believe social media is a passing fad or here to stay? Elaborate.

A: Those who believe that social media is a passing fad have clearly not understood the shift from analogue to digital technologies and how smart devices, internet connectivity and the Internet has radically shaped the way we live today. Social Media allows anyone to have a voice online provided that voice is consistent, engaging and valuable. Everyone has an opinion, story to share, photographs, ideas, slideshows, lesson plans, recipes, how to guides and countless other ideas to share. Online and social media makes that possible. Brands have realised too that their consumer is buying through recommendation and not direct hard sell. Social Media is where the conversation is happening.

Q: What are the benefits of social media?

A: Access to all types of demographics not previously accessible via other traditional marketing and media methods. Data from research can be gleaned from insights using various social channels to understand your audience and structure the message to get maximum engagement. All social media channels ultimately encourage community building, storytelling and sharing. Social Media tools can easily target the type of demographic a brand wishes to communicate with for example define age, location, interest, marital status, education and work.

Q: Who should make use of social media?

A: Anyone who wants to make a success of their business – both business to business and business to consumer. By maintaining an authentic voice, consistency and providing valuable content, prospective clients will learn to trust the brand, start sharing messages, engaging with the brand and become advocates. The more engagement a brand has online, the better it will be found during searches, credibility will be built and ad-spend accrued without the actual spend. Anyone who has a story, opinion or content that will add value and create conversation.

Q: You have presented us with the benefits of social media (Q2). Can you outline the negatives of this phenomenon?

A: Social media by its nature is a free space that allows equal access and sharing of information. While all networks enforce rules of engagement on sign-up, some communities online aim to bully, harass or mock targeted groups. Cyber-bulling and hate speech is common and many support, focus and education groups have been established worldwide to deal with this behavior. There is also a tendency for young females, and young adults to be lured by stalkers and pedophiles online.

Q: Do you believe social media would replace traditional methods of doing things like marketing and teaching for example?

A: Absolutely! A more correct way to state this is that social media will radically alter the manner in which marketing and teaching is conducted. Marketing activities cannot exclude online properties and advertising in this age of new media and digital connectivity. That is like waving in the dark at someone you really like. Chances are you’d end up hitting them and they either charge you or hate you.

Q: Certain forms of social media like Facebook for example have been abused by some users for nefarious activities like committing crimes which highlights the ethical aspects of this phenomenon. What can be done to stem such activity?

A: Education. Education. Education. When people are taught about the possible dangers of connecting with complete strangers online, releasing personal information, or misrepresenting their employer or brand, then they are more empowered to make responsible decisions. Social media channels all comes with rules for use as well as settings, tools and access mechanisms which all work towards creating a largely controlled and protected environment for use. It is then up to the individual to use their ability of reasoning between good and evil, and not being ignorant, willfully or otherwise in using social channels. In a simple statement: people must not behave stupidly online, and work at displaying responsible credible interaction.

Q: Do you believe social media teachings should be introduced to children at primary school level? Elaborate.

A: Yes. Research from Nielsen shows that the amount of time spent online by kids aged 2-11 years old increased dramatically between 2004 to 2009. Schools have understood this phenomenon, particularly in the United States and Asia, and have undertaken to incorporate social media use in the classroom for collaborative and fun learning experiences. Social media tools developed for classroom use are used to engage students with lesson plans, create discussion groups, allow online learning with tests and learning exercises, communicate with teachers and provide a responsible way of using online tools rather than banning it completely.

Q: Do you believe social media is an ideal tool for employers to use in its recruitment process? Elaborate.

A: Yes. The modern day digital landscape of smart devices, social media networks and Google has all but made the world much smaller. There are chances that in connecting with someone online, two out of every five people you connect with, share a mutual friend with you. Recruiters have embraced social media as a necessary check on their list. From a quick Google search to check results (good or bad) on a potential candidate, to friending them on Facebook, researching all online profiles and looking at connections, comments and general behavior online, a recruiter is able to quickly paint a picture of the potential candidate. LinkedIn is a fantastic example of how recruiters leverage social media to find the perfect fit and get recommendations from the candidate’s network. Here is an interesting infographic to understand how social media has changed the face of recruitment.

Q: How can social media benefit distant learning institutions like MANCOSA?

A: One of the most powerful social media platforms is Facebook. Today the adoption of social media and associated technologies has infiltrated every aspect of modern living as well as communication methods of most disciplines. Distance Learning institutions allow the flexibility of part time study to full time employees or entrepreneurs who wish to empower themselves and increase their skill set.
Technology, including the communication channels of social media which is real time, are enablers for better information transfer and targeted communication with students and educators alike. Within the grouping of students, there are new sign-ups, current students, students nearing graduation and alumni. These groups all have dedicated messaging that would be directed at them, which takes into account their profile. Social media’s effective offering of allowing users to share information through audio, video, text and image; create networks that serve them, provide a voice of value and promulgate brand advocacy, will only enhance and drive further traffic to an institution like MANCOSA.