Our Top Ten Blog Posts by Readership in 2011
Orginally published on January 19, 2011
Lately, there has been a great deal of debate about the $500 million investment  by financial giant, Goldman Sachs, and a Russian investor in the social networking site Facebook. Sachs justified their investment by saying the company is worth $50 billion dollars. Many financial analysts think this high dollar amount is ludicrous and unjustifiable because Facebook has not yet generated a great deal of profit. However, the question many people are debating, and have been debating for some time, is: what is the true value of social media?
While the financial potential is yet to be determined, it’s not difficult to see the social benefits. First of all, social networking sites have the highest amount of users on the internet. Facebook has more than 500 million active users , spending over 700 billion minutes per month . The site is translated into some 70 different languages , and 70% of users  live outside of the United States. Twitter,  on the other hand, has more than 106 million users  worldwide, with 300,000 new accounts  created daily, and some 55 million tweets  per day. Moreover, two billion videos  are being watched each day on Youtube . While Facebook and Twitter are perhaps the predominant social networking sites, they are not necessarily the top sites in other countries. In India for example, Orkut.com  (owned by Google) has some 18 million users, while Facebook has 17 million.
Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites, have played a crucial role in raising awareness of issues and events, sharing information, organizing rallies, etc. Just look at the recent events  in Tunisia, and the Iranian Presidential election  in 2009. Both Facebook and Twitter played a crucial role in spreading news to the “outside” world, as well as assembling the masses. However, social media’s actual role and impact on the ousting of the President in Tunisia is currently up for debate, as other contributing factors  also came into play. While the extent of social media’s role might be difficult to measure, there is no doubt it played a significant role in spreading information around the world, energizing citizens to rally, and generating outside pressure for change.
In global advocacy campaigns, social media has become a necessary tool to engage a global audience, and to build public and political support. Imagine if social media was around during the civil rights movement, women’s suffrage movement, or the abolition campaign. Would change have happened sooner? Thomas Clarkson worked tirelessly to change norms about the slave trade in the British Empire, by collecting evidence and raising awareness that resulted in a nation-wide movement. If social media was available to him, one can only imagine that public opinion would have shifted sooner, and the complete abolition would have taken less than the 50 years it took.
Today, many government officials have come to embrace social media as a way of communicating with constituents. For example, the late Pakistani Governor Salman Taseer was an outspoken critic of human rights violations and vented his frustrations continuously using Twitter, which some people think may have led to his assassination. However, many public officials have yet to embrace this form of communication, but it is picking up slowly. For example, in the European Parliament , less than half of its members have Twitter accounts. According to a survey conducted a year ago, 62% of the members had never heard of Twitter, nor intended to use it.
In terms of Facebook usage , the biggest markets outside of the U.S. and the UK are Indonesia, Turkey, and the Philippines. The Philippines is often referred to as the “social media capital of the world”, and ranks fith in terms of Facebook users. Also, the government is embracing social media, using both Facebook and Twitter. Just this month, in the wake of the country’s recent flooding, officials are now encouraging the use of social media  as a “disaster warning tool.”
The vast majority of users in these countries utilize social media via cell phones, and not computers. In India, 600 million people  are registered cell phone users with half having access to the internet, while 81 million people are registered users via a personal computer. Mary McDowell, Executive Vice President of Mobile Phones at Nokia, states  that 80% of world’s population lives near a cell phone tower, and therefore the vast majority will access the internet through an affordable handheld device.
The point is, access and innovative use of social media are rapidly spreading and have an impact in ways yet to be fully realized. In the years to come no doubt social media will play a more significant role in political elections, advocacy campaigns, and even reforms to say the least. A media platform that has such a large and diverse user base cannot be ignored. Thus, how can we not see the value and the future potential that social media offers?
Photo Credit: Flickr user L.e.e