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A (Fairly) Quick History of Social Media

November 29, 2016


As social animals, people have always relied on communication to strengthen their relationships. So when we can't chat face-to-face, we've come up with plenty of other ways to communicate (smoke signals, anyone?). Social media though has transformed the interaction and communication of individuals throughout the world. Social networking has become daily practice in some users' lives. The roots of social media stretch far deeper than you might imagine. Although it might still seem like a new trend, sites like Facebook are the natural outcome of many centuries of social media development. Let's dive in and see what we can find!

First there were the smoke signals, then there were letters, and then…the telegraph! In 1792, the telegraph was invented. This allowed messages to be delivered over a long distance far faster than a horse and rider could carry them. Although telegraph messages were short, they were a revolutionary way to convey news and information. Next came two of the greatest inventions ever – the telephone in 1890 and the radio in 1891. Suddenly we could talk to people who weren't in front of our faces – or listen to people who were elsewhere! What's the tie to social media here? The first blogs and podcasts came about via phone. No really. See, during the 1950s, phone phreaking (the term used for the rogue searching of the telephone network) began. This was done through the use of homemade electronic devices that gave people unauthorized access to the telephone system to make free calls. Phreaks were able to find telephone company test lines and conference circuits to complete their task. In this way, phreaks were able to hack into corporate unused voice mailboxes to host the first blogs and podcasts. Guess we've always wanted to share our lives, huh?

Next came along supercomputers in the 1940s, the birth of the internet in the 1960s (though the internet wouldn't be available for public consumption till 1991 – so if you're like me, you can say, “I remember those dark days before the internet, when we had to search phone books for numbers and real, live encyclopedias for knowledge!”), and 1979’s UseNet allowed users to communicate through a virtual newsletter. Internet relay chats, or IRCs, were first used in 1988 and continued to be popular well into the 1990’s.

The first recognizable social media site, Six Degrees, was created in 1997. It enabled users to upload a profile and make friends with other users. In 1999, the first blogging sites became popular, such as Blogger and Epinions. We're already familiar with Blogger, but Epinions is a site where consumers can read or create reviews of products. Many online social sites were of the niche market, including sites for public policy advocacy and a social network based on a web of contacts model.

In 2000, social media received a great boost with the witnessing of many social networking sites springing up. This transformed the interactions of individuals and organizations who share common interest in music, education, movies, and friendship, based on social networking. Among those that were launched included LunarStorm, six degrees, cyworld, ryze, and Wikipedia. In 2001, fotolog, sky blog and Friendster were launched, and in 2003, MySpace, LinkedIn, lastFM, tribe.net, Hi5 etc. In 2004, popular names like Facebook Harvard, Dogster and Mixi evolved. During 2005 YouTube emerged creating an entirely new way for people to communicate and share with each other. By 2006, Facebook and Twitter both became available to users throughout the world. (That's right – Facebook originally started as a site for college kids only and grew from there!) These sites remain some of the most popular social networks on the Internet. Other sites like Tumblr, Spotify, Foursquare and Pinterest began popping up to fill specific social networking niches.

Can you believe how far we've come? What does this have to do with business though? Engaging in social media will help strengthen the brand experience which will support brand building. A company is more attractive to customers if it has a well-built brand name, and social media is another way of helping in building a good reputation for your organization. Brand awareness starts with the experiences with the employees of a company. If a company is approachable, people-friendly, then the company must make itself visible by inclusion on the web. Social media becomes a good venue for discussions and becomes a classic goal of marketing and communications, just make sure you're adhering to the rules and etiquette of social media.

Now, there are a tremendous variety of social networking sites, and many of them can be linked to allow cross-posting. This creates an environment where users can reach the maximum number of people without sacrificing the intimacy of person-to-person communication. We don't know what the future of social media & networking holds, but we're guessing it'll be a wild ride!



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Social Marketing Solutions LLC

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