Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Is social media ruining our lives?

When you got up this morning what is one of the first things you did? Check your phone for Twitter updates? Let the world know you’re awake by telling Facebook ‘what’s on your mind’? Okay perhaps not as soon as you woke up for some of you, but on the commute to work, once you’ve sat down in the office? How many times will you then update or check this throughout the day?

I work in an industry where social media is a big thing and is fast becoming – no scrap that – is definitely a key tool for many companies to get their messages out there. Whether it’s to show a face to their brand, find a way to interact with their customer base or advertise the services they offer. A YouTube channel, Facebook page and/or Twitter account used to be things that were a suggestion of something nice to have, now they are a must have.

Some people may use it as a tool to let anyone and everyone know what we’ve been up to (I shockingly have 150+ photo albums on my account), whilst others use it to ‘follow’ their favourite band to find out what they’re up to. However, this is just the mere beginning of what you can do, you can get the latest news, share your views on it and learn other people’s opinions, you can promote any charity events you are participating in to help raise more cash or you can get reunited with old school chums who you may have lost touch with.

However, it’s not all happy times; the power of social media can actually be a dangerous thing. Look at the recent case where a juror and defendant discussed an ongoing case on Facebook. Or the many people who have lost their jobs over the tweets they posted – US journalists, British politicians, amateur footballers, I could go on. You have to remember the sheer amount of people who may end up reading your comments, like you would think before you speak in a normal conversation (well most of us anyway), you need to apply the same when you voice your opinion on a social media site. Clearly this is even more important if you’re in a high powered job, in the public eye or in a particularly sensitive industry.

Testament to the popularity and power involved here is the fact that this week actually sees Social Media Day. A whole day dedicated to it!

In turn, although it’s great to show your customers and business clients a more human side to your company, it can also create havoc – benefits may take a while to show, you need to closely monitor comments and also ensure you can guarantee timely responses. Don’t forget it works both ways too – if people aren’t happy with the service they receive they don’t have to tell you about it, they can just go right ahead and complain to fellow Facebookers, tweet to their followers or even record a disgruntled video to upload onto YouTube!

If as a company you allow your staff to represent the company via social media you need to put in place strict rules to adhere to, you want to provide genuine updates, but you need to keep your branding in mind and the values of your organisation. I’ve noticed some people clearly indicate on their profile information on Twitter now that the views are completely their own, so as to avoid any connections made between themselves and where they work.

I for one am pretty addicted to social media and find it – for now – a very positive area to get to work with and embrace within my personal life. I regularly update my Facebook status, I tweet about myself and my industry, I watch YouTube videos for tips and then I’ll read up on what’s going on in social media and share that!

Although the thought of social media not being there anymore, trying to ‘survive’ without Facebook for a few days when I recently went to a festival (I left my phone at home) and the buzz I get when I’m ‘retweeted’ does worry me somewhat. Do I really need to take so many photos when I’m out and about, or am I subconsciously considering how they’ll look on Facebook? When I arrive somewhere people don’t really need to know where I am, but sometimes I just can’t stop myself ‘checking in’ regardless.

What about privacy? Is there ever a time now when you can do something without someone finding out about it – I’m referring to going out socially here, rather than the fact you ate a whole tub of ice cream in your PJs when home alone! If you don’t put a photo up of yourself, or go onto ‘places’ and declare where you are, you can bet somebody in the group will.

We all know about recent developments where face recognition is now being adapted automatically on your account to allow ‘easier tagging’ of images on Facebook. A potential employer searches your name online – oops there comes up your somewhat drunken profile picture, whether you’re ‘friends’ or not. What happens with security – when you get so excited about that upcoming holiday, you announce when you’re at the airport or how you’re sipping your drink in the sun, you might as well scream ‘hello burglars, my house is empty, that’s right empty!! Just go on in and help yourselves!’ There were cases in America I believe where whole gangs of burglars were planning their operations based around information they could gain just from people’s social media accounts.

Despite all these so-called cons of social media though, perhaps you just need to apply a bit commonsense and be wary. Keep informed of changes where you may well need to go into your account settings and make some updates to increase your privacy, think before you type out that update and try and remember just how many people could see those words or images.

It seems to me rather than ruining our lives, for most of us social media seems to be in fact ruling our lives in a lot of ways – whether this is positive or negative remains to be seen...

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