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How best can one describe what social media is? Technological terms and their definitions change often due to the fluid nature of technology and its advances. And since social media is a technological tool, its definition has kept on evolving. The best description for social media can be that these are tools, primarily internet based, that allow and enables sharing and discussion of information by users or online communities who use these tools. Any website therefore can qualify to be described as a social media tool; however, it is the ‘social’ aspect of the site that could be best used to differentiate it from a real social media tool. A social media site can then be said to be one designed with the main focus being on enabling interaction by members through real time commenting i.e. like in a blog site, this therefore negates websites that simply have a comment sections as a site content add on. For one to use social media, the media must bring out this social part of its usage.

One can use social media for a lot of things, depending with what exactly one wants to achieve through social media usage. Social media and its usage can be broadly put under the following:

Communication

WordPress,blogsites are examples of sites that act as communication tools that have social aspects. They allow one to create articles that can then be commented on by visitors to that site or by fellow users of that site. Facebook and other social network sites like twitter and LinkedIn allow for sharing of videos, personal details and have others comment on the posts. They also offer interaction avenues such as sending of friend and follow requests on Facebook and twitter respectively.

These are real time interactions where one can comment and get instant feedback from another user. They even have emotion emojis (feeling annoyed, smileys, listening to music etc) to further accentuate the virtual reality of these interactions. The same applies to sites that enable a business or individual to get funding by other social media users; these can be found in social media sites like Zopa or Kickstarter. Thus any site that has these aspects of communication can be said to qualify as a social media site. One can therefore use social media for various forms of communication.

Collaboration

Collaborative usage of social media is best seen in sites like Dropbox that bring out the social aspect of these sites by allowing sharing of files and documents online i.e. Wikipedia allows one to update and simultaneously view online encyclopedias. Dropbox enables people to access files, usually of large size that are stored in one folder. These stored files can then be downloaded or uploaded simultaneously by multiple persons using various mobile devices like phones, laptops, desktops or tablets. Thus one can use social media to share work files, or organizations can store their files and have workers access them online without having to resort to numerous physical filing cabinets.

Offering reviews and opinions

These are online sites that can be said to be authoritative and reputable in terms of information or good knowledge sources. This is the major difference between sites that offer reviews and opinions like Quora, and other communication or blog sites that might be similar in content. In Yahoo answers and sites like Quora, one can have their questions answered by others within the site, questions in these sites are usually open ended in nature. Others like Amazon focus more on consumable product ranges and allow consumers to comment and give product reviews of products sold on the site thus giving a product rating system. Sites like CNET are similar to Amazon but are more of a blog containing expert reviews that allow consumers to comment on. Thus one can use social media as a way of gaining insight on various topics and issues.

Brand Monitoring

Sites like Radian 6 or some like Brand watch are popular with companies that deal in consumer brands. Through these monitoring tools, companies can read and get a summary of what is being said in other social media platforms or the web in general, about consumer products and people, or other brands, including the company’s brand(s). These sites offer an effective tool for consumer trend, brand campaigns and competitors brand analysis. Therefore consumer brand companies and businesses in general can use social media to keep track of brand performance.

Entertainment

Social media has changed the entertainment scene. One can now watch videos, stream live concerts, news coverage and get celebrity news online. The most affected of entertainment sector has been the gaming sector. Before, gaming had no social aspect, with handheld devices like brick-games or phone games to other console games. Gaming has now taken a social aspect, with gaming companies bringing in real time player interaction as they play. This can be seen in sites like Zygna, known for games like Farmville, it also has Mafia Wars, games that allow player interaction as a main component of its games design. This component can also be found in virtual world games like Second Life. One can therefore use social media to play games and for various entertainment purposes.

Media Sharing

This is probably the most applied usage of social media, information dispensation. Sites like YouTube allow users to upload or view videos, simultaneously allowing other users to comment on the same. It even allows users to have their own YouTube channels. Music lovers have sites like LastFm which now comes with features that allow playlist sharing among users. Apart from YouTube and LastFm, Soundcloud, popular with those professionally involved in music, allows them to upload as well as download tracks for free. Others are like Flickr, Instagram and Picasa that allow photo sharing with social aspects to them (like, comment, follow, unfollow etc.) one can even use Pinterest to share with others various events, sites and photos they find interesting.

Summary

Social media usage is wide and varied, thus one can use social media for various purposes, for socialization, to conduct business, with a good example being Youi New zealand, to dispense information among other things. One can therefore decide, based on the above parameters (collaboration, entertainment, media sharing, communication and to get opinions or reviews) to determine what they want to use social media for.

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