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Social networking sites aim to promote the establishment and maintenance of networks of friends over the Internet and allow individuals to easily connect with one or all members of their social networks, regardless of time or geographic location.
According to Kotecki (2011, p. 279), social networking sites are essentially online communities that allow users to come together, communicate, and share things such as photographs, music, or other files. Ordinarily, people use social networking sites to ask their friend’s questions, say how they feel and what they are up to, or comment on something they have seen on another person’s page.
Although there are numerous negative effects associated with the use of social networking sites, a number of benefits can also be identified. To some extent, the positive effects of some types of Internet use may offset the negative effects of others.
Effect on Business
Globally, social networking sites are huge businesses with the main players earning billions of US dollars annually. Revenue is generated through advertising and technology allows adverts to be targeted, for example, geographically and even personally, to the users based on age, gender, ethnicity, and browsing habits.
In general, social networking sites are among the most frequently visited websites on the Internet. The traffic stampede to sites like MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, and YouTube continues to grow and now reaches the vast majority of Internet users of all ages and backgrounds.
As a result, business operators who advertise on the Internet have the capability to expose their products to a wider market. By doing business through social networking sites, enterprises are able to cut down on advertising costs and increase the speed at which information about their products gets to potential clients. Setting up and running social media marketing can be significantly less expensive than buying advertisements or using traditional public relations campaigns.
Successful marketing campaigns on MySpace employ elements of interactivity and engagement to build a relationship with the audience. They also employ marketing techniques that encourage visitors to share the site’s content with friends.
Proper usage of MySpace marketing campaigns allows business enterprises to build relationships that convert visitors to advocates and evangelists. LinkedIn, one of the top social networking sites for business, has profiles of several millions of professionals and, apparently, 25 new members join the site every minute.
Presently, many human resource recruitment processes include Internet and social networking site searches to find prospective employees and contractors. Social networking sites can reveal how professional a person can potentially be, the various activities that he or she is involved in, and also validate information on their resume. Prospective employees can also do research on enterprises for which they are applying for a position.
On the other hand, when an employee is exhibiting strange behavior and is reported for disciplinary actions, the human resource department can use a social networking site to see if the enterprise is possibly being slandered or discussed by the employee in question. With caution and validation of the information researched, social networking sites can benefit an enterprise.
The use of social networking sites also helps organizations to effectively undertake global business operations. Virtual teams, for example, may be created to enable employees from different branches across the world to work on joint projects. This eliminates the need to spend on traveling, air tickets, or accommodation.
Effects on Education
Due to the negative publicity given to social networking sites, they have been blocked by many schools. As such, social networking is something that young people mostly do during their free time. According to Tatnall and Jones (2009, p. 322), social networking sites can be used effectively to expand learning activities. Such expansion may include a network of peers, teachers, professional experts, and other communities. Researchers believe that these sites can be used to complement traditional and online classroom activities.
Although not originally created for educational purposes, social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace are popular among students. Among other things, they can encourage informal dialogue and knowledge sharing, mediated by students themselves.
With such technological advancements, students are likely to learn as much from social networking sites as they are from their assigned tasks and text books in class (Tatnall & Jones 2009). By visiting a friend’s space, one can easily expand his or her network and thus establish new relationships.
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The sites are emergent, self-organized, and generate less homogeneous contributions. Ordinarily, most of the learning that takes place in Facebook is the kind of learning that would happen, for instance, in the school corridors, canteens, and phone conversations after class. This suggests an informal learning that rests in the hands of the students. It is not classroom-based or structured. Despite its potential, however, there is a clear lack of research to address whether social networking sites can be used effectively in education.
Educational institutions are also taking advantage of social networking sites to offer distant learning to students who can not physically be present for lessons in a class room. A number of services including the use of email exist and these may be used to send tasks to students and enable them to interact with tutors from wherever they are. Tutors can in turn issue instructions and offer guidance to students as needed.
Effects on Social Life
Advances in Internet technology have made it possible for people to interact with their social networks online in a type of virtual community facilitated by social networking sites. According to Kotecki (2011, p. 282), Internet social relationships are very common and have a variety of advantages and disadvantages.
Visiting social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace is a very popular pastime for many people. While some researchers argue that social networking sites have positive value in terms of social health, others are convinced that using technology to connect with and maintain social relationships can be detrimental to the health and well being of individuals.
On the positive side, the use of social networking sites can increase feelings of connection, decrease feelings of sadness or anxiety, and decrease feelings of social isolation. In addition, the use of technology including social networking sites has been shown to decrease the distance that so often occurs between friends when they graduate from high school and attend different colleges. A set of common features differentiates social networking sites from other Internet based forms of communication.
These features include the opportunities to create personalized user profile pages, to link with multiple friends within the networks, and to leave comments on the profile pages of others. Depending on the site or level of privacy selected by users, members of one’s social network can be publicly viewed, and comments can be publicly posted.
One of the most obvious benefits of social networking sites is the ease with which users can establish and maintain relationships through the use of communication tools offered by these sites (Papacharissi 2010, p. 76). The Internet in general provides users with multiple ways of interacting with people and groups. However, the unique features of social networking sites allow members to search and find others, to organize and share information with others, and to maintain contact with others using only one application.
The use of social networking sites can also increase chances of forming relationships and receiving feedback from others. Furthermore, it is possible to avoid negative interactions and focus on positive interactions on social networking sites than in face to face situations.
Generally, the increased contact with peers includes a widening or broadening of their peer networks. In chat rooms people can converse with multiple partners simultaneously in the public space. Using instant messaging, they can also talk to different partners at the same time.
Typically, therefore, social networking sites offer users a unique form of communication that facilitates the establishment and maintenance of social relationships. With more opportunities to connect with others, increase the size of social networks, and to be part of relationships, users can enhance their sources of social support.
The media has consistently painted a very negative picture of social networking sites. This notwithstanding, it is imperative to recognize the contributions of social networking sites to different areas of our lives. As has been demonstrated in this paper, social media sites have changed our way of learning, doing business, and socializing.
Kotecki, JE 2011, Physical Activity & Health: An Interactive Approach, Jones & Bartlett Learning, Ontario, Canada.
Papacharissi, Z 2010, A Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites, Routledge, New York, NY.
Tatnall, A & Jones, A 2009, Education and Technology for a Better World, Springer, Melbourne, Australia.