Introduction to Social Media

The Summer break is over and it’s back to reality with Semester 1, 2017. For my first entry I start at the beginning and look at the history of social media and ask what keeps us coming back for more.

The definition of social media changes depending on who, where and when you ask. A simplified interpretation I have come to adopt is that social media is open interaction with other people via internet technology.

Pictured: Not Reality

Origins of Social Media

The first digital network was created in 1969 when 4 computers known as APRANET were linked together. In the 20 years following, the internet was structured around corporate enterprises and large tertiary institutions. The proliferation of the personal computer (PC) in the 1990’s allowed individuals direct access to the internet, planting the first seeds for social media as we know it today.

In 1997 the first social network SixDegrees launched (a brief history here). SixDegrees rapidly gained 1 million users but the platform ran ahead of its time with Generation X not yet ready to embrace the public nature of sharing personal information. SixDegrees provided a social media platform with public profiles, instant messaging and friend lists; a staple of many modern social media sites today.

SixDegrees log in page circa 1997

The early 2000’s saw the creation of Friends Reunited, MySpace, Friendster, Bebo and modern behemoth Facebook. YouTube, LinkedIn and Twitter would all launch in the later years of the decade and gain rapid global acceptance. By 2009 however Bebo would shut down and MySpace had lost significant market share, never to recover.

Today Facebook, Weibo, Twitter, YouTube, Pintrest, Tumblr and LinkedIn rule the social media roost but there is consistent competition from new entrants. In the short history of social media so far it seems “here today, gone tomorrow” is the new normal.

Why Do We Use Social Media?

People are (generally) social creatures and we crave interaction. Social media facilitates interaction on a scale never seen before.

A 2015 survey by Global Web Index found the top reasons for social media use were to keep in touch with friends, stay up to date on current events and kill spare time.

Social Media doesn’t just allow us to keep in touch with our friends however. It adds value because we interact rather than merely react. We share photos, videos, music, memes and messages in real time and our receive immediate feedback in the forms of likes, reactions or favourites. These reactions help validate our online experience and enhance the process of interaction.

Social media also helps us facilitate our own decision making. 70% of Americans seek out the opinions of others before making purchase decisions and social media provides incredibly rich platforms to share experiences. Need a new lawnmower? Use social media to ask dad by posting on his Facebook wall,  find an Instagram hashtag (#goodlawnmowers?) or better yet read direct customer reviews and feedback from

Jimmy is clearly unhappy with his lawnmower purchase

It’s not just interaction that drives our use of social media. One of the greatest strengths in social media is the ability to collaborate with other people. Wikipedia demonstrates this beautifully, itself being one of the largest digital collaborations in history. Researchers and scientific teams use social media platforms to communicate, work on collaborative documents (such as spreadsheets via Google Drive) and disseminate their research findings to wider audiences. NASA last week demonstrated this by heading straight to Reddit to discuss their research findings on the new solar system TRAPPIST 1.

Social media clearly taps in to the human need to interact but provides a richness and experience that gives it wide applications from staving off boredom to discussing new galaxies.

Your Thoughts

What do you think? What have I missed in the history of social media and what compels us to use it so widely? Are we programmed at a psychological level to share and seek validation?

Further Reading

In addition to articles already linked in this post I found the following to be of great interest and help in writing about this topic:

Web 2.0 and Social Media for Business (eBook)
Social Media at Work: How Networking Tools Propel Organizational Performance (Text)
The History of Social Media (Video)


Author: bmcnulty88


7 thoughts on “Introduction to Social Media”

  1. Wow Ben, this is impressive, you seem to be the first to get this started from the entire course. Well done.

    I really liked how you simplified social media. I was getting all complicated in my head but what you said “….is that social media is open interaction with other people via internet technology.” really put it in place for me. I probably would have written 150 words just to get that point across.

    I think you really get to the point later on when you further describe social media as well, not just being social 🙂 but being a medium for interaction rather than reaction. Again a strong point on the description of social media that I didn’t grasp myself up front (thanks).

    I have a question for you though. what worries me about social media is that, well there is just so much of it. I remember when MySpace was the thing, now you basically get laughed at if you still have a MySpace account. I just set up a Facebook account but my friends are telling me that Facebook is no longer the cool social media place. I guess my question is how can we know which social media location is the ‘right’ social media location to hang out on? What if I spend a lot of time working on an account like Google + (or do you remember when they tried to get google wave up and running, I actually bought a book on google wave then it got cancelled)

    What do you think about all these social media sites that keep popping up and dissappearing a year to two later. I hear that Twitter is now in financial trouble and may have to close down soon….. ?

    Great post Ben and Kudos for getting into this so early.



    1. Hi Pete

      Thanks for your comment and feedback. I share your thoughts about what is the ‘right’ social media, I used to be across a lot of different platforms (linkedin, twitter, FB, instragram, tumblr) but have in the last year really found myself only using FB primarily as a means of study support for Massey and Instagram since the content is so well controlled/relevant to my interests.

      I think the reality is the right social media is what gives you personal enjoyment but from a business perspective one needs to be on top of all platforms and their potential benefits to the business. Maintaining a business youtube, FB page, pintrest page, twitter account, instagram account and linkedin would be exhausting but probably something you have to do.


  2. Thanks Ben, I really liked the reading about getting ones opinion or review when wanting to purchase an item. I myself do this a lot, and have made some purchases I’ve been absolutely delighted with because of the fact that someone else on social media said it was a go. Good read


  3. Hi Ben you brought the week one subjects together nicely for a smooth read. I like the image of Six Degrees, fun looking at throwbacks like that. The line ‘facilitate our own decision making’ – well written and could not be truer. Thanks for adding additional links for more reading 🙂


  4. Really good introduction man, sums up the content really well!

    An interesting idea I’ve found is that Social Media seems to be so heavily business based now with businesses using it to push marketing to the users, but then again that could just be my usage!


  5. Hi Ben, great first blog post. You have really set the standard high with both the quality of the information presented and the structure. I find it really fascinating reading about ARPANET and how Generation X was in no way ready to embrace social media and networking at the time. Yet, many of them now embrace it wholeheartedly. Were they simply too unsure about jumping in? or simply needed another younger generation to pave the way? Interesting reading!


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