When social media started to become mainstream in the mid to late 2000s, teenagers went crazy for it – myself included. The OGs (Original Gangsters) – Myspace, Bebo and, unbelievably, MSN – were the reason many kids didn’t move from their screens until bedtime.
Bebo and Myspace were the more traditional social networks with profiles, friends and interests all listed out. MSN on the other hand, was more of a chatroom that allowed you to talk to strangers and friends alike, and is a nostalgic source of embarrassment for adults today.
Then came Facebook, which turned the concept of social networking on its head. Although not totally dissimilar to both Myspace and Bebo, it offered functionality that neither could compete with and as such, took over the mantle of social media king – retaining the crown to this day. Twitter quickly followed suit, offering something completely different to the others – pithy, immediate updates that has turned the platform into a modern day news channel – and has since changed the lives of many. This is also true for businesses who saw the value in interacting with their consumers on a more intimate level.
So what have these social networks got in common? The massive amounts of data they’ve collected on the individuals using them – their interests, likes, dislikes, friends and in Facebook’s case more personal details such as age, marital status and education history.
A data surge was expected, but the enormous levels of the data gathered is overwhelming. More data was created in the two years leading up to 2015 than ever existed before and by 2020, 1.7 megabytes of data will be created for every human on earth, every second.
For social media and companies that use it, this data, which is normally unstructured, is a great repository of information for customers past, present and future. This information has helped businesses create the targeted ad, which we all find creepily accurate and entertaining in equal measure.
As data analytics improve and unstructured data becomes more useful, the things that might be achievable is going to change. Data on location for instance, as is gathered with geotagging, will help government and high-street shops understand the walkability of the area so they can try to boost footfall. It might also inform architectural design as we learn more about how people are interacting with buildings and locations.
For communicators, the use of social media allows us to stay in touch with our target audience, be it journalists or businesses. We can use the data they share to understand what they are into, build rapport and improve their experience.
Social data is Big Data and through its analytics, we will see a lot of change. Social media isn’t going anywhere, so we might as well use it to help improve our daily lives – and enable businesses to improve what they are offering and how.