The Fate of Social Media: A Fad or Here to Stay?

As PR students, we are quickly adapting to the idea that social media is the place to be in order to connect with our publics and get feedback from others. Luckily, the “digital natives” of our generation don’t have too much adjusting to do, as most of us use smartphones almost as an extra appendage and immediately log onto Facebook or Twitter when we have Internet access. However, we have to ask ourselves if this is really something to devote so much time learning about. Will these networks cease to exist in the next few years? In the New York Times’ discussion “Is Facebook a Fad? Will Our Grandchildren Tweet?” journalists and social media users from all walks of life examine the rise, and possible fall, of social media. So, lets ask a scary question: Will something new come along, or will the glamour of social media flash and quickly fade?

Social Media: Old Dog, New Tricks

Before we ultimately deem social media dead or alive for the future, first we should examine the roots of social media. True, computers weren’t around in the early 1900s, but that ease people’s undying need to communicate with each other. We can trace social back to 1932, when the Notificator was created as a scrolling message board where friends could stop and read messages left for them. Sound familiar? This could be seen as the world’s first idea of a Facebook Wall, where people feed their need for communication and connect with friends. The legacy of the XX is quickly replaced by the telephone, beeper, smartphone, tablet — all methods for us to have social media at our fingertips. During the discussion, Keith Hampton argues that people are only likely to flock to such technologies if a sizable matter of people are on that medium. We have seen the popularity of these tools come and go, but fundamentally the need to communicate with people remains the same. Our grandchildren may not be liking statuses or retweeting information, but we will always be attracted to these means of staying in touch with one another.

So, Will It Last?

Most critics, and even tweeters, vote that the social media trend is here to stay. Why does these media methods trump other methods of communication in terms of longevity? For Morra Aarons Mele, it’s the power of equality that makes social media so attractive. From the homes of mothers to the streets of Egypt, these digital conversations allow people to connect with others interested in the same fields and at the same level — even connecting with companies as equals. Though social media is still young, it has already empowered users to connect with others and have a voice. However, with so many screams, where will social media go?

What Does this Mean for Us?

For PR pros, it brings several gifts and curses to our profession. Social media makes our publics more accessible than ever, allowing us to have one-on-one conversations with consumers and advocates of the company. In a profession scarred by it’s “spin doctor” reputation, these avenues allow opportunities for companies to be human and transparent to publics. Unfortunately, this means that our jobs will never stop, even after the doors of our office close for the day. During the discussion, Leslie Perlow points out that professionals always have the urge to check their phones to stay in touch with work life, even on vacation. In the digital age, the 9 to 5 PR job will cease to exist and we will be expected to monitor the welfare of our organizations at all times. Where is social media’s place? Everywhere. We are now married to the media and whether we like it or not must become a power couple with each social media network.

Like fledgling PR students, social media has a long way to go. Though it’s power and effects on our society are evident, in some ways its current dynamic can limit our human nature and communication skills. Sheryl Turkle feels that while social media has a foothold in society, it allows us to hide behind a screen and only offer a perception of what we want viewers to understand. Will social media ever allow us to be purely human? Is it really the technology blocking us from hiding our flaws, or is it our own self-consciousness that has made us harness these tools for this purpose?

Well, hang on for the ride, because we all have some exploring to do.

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