According to scholars, social media is not a newly developed field. Murthy (2013) states that social media was born with the telegraph. He thus considers the Notificator (1935) a precursor of Twitter. This was a “robot messenger” designed to “aid persons who wish to make or cancel appointments or to inform friends of their whereabouts” (p.18).
In the 1970’s, IBM created a software program that enabled its employees to set up an online community as a practical communication medium for members, in order to save time and have face-to-face meetings, hence increasing productivity.
Over the years, the Internet evolution gave rise to the development of virtual communities. Since the 90’s we have witnessed a democratisation of the online content and users can share their own content.
The term “user-generated content” was coined to define the content produced and published by the users online. However, it was not until 2000 that “social media site development really began to take off, both in terms of platform development and content creation” (Scott and Jacka, 2011, p.9). The “user-generated content began reaching a level of critical mass, providing the first signal to organizations that people were able and willing to create content and join conversations without organizational participation” (pp.9-10).
In 2003, the term Web 2.0 began to gain popularity. Much richer than Web 1.0 in terms of content, Web 2.0 does not only focus on the “Web as a platform” but “was built around the collaborative creation of content and information sharing” (p.10).
Between 2005 and 2009, online users actually began to adopt Web 2.0 tools and understand the need for building online relationships and being part of an online community.
Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) classify social media in six major categories:
- Collaborative projects: Wikipedia, Wikis, Delicious, Diigo, Google Reader
- Blogs and micro-blogs: Blogger, Twitter, Yammer
- Content communities: WordPress, YouTube, Flickr, Picasa, SlideShare
- Social networking sites: Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace
- Virtual game worlds: World of Warcraft
- Virtual communities: Second Life.
Today’s “Googled” world means social media has changed the way we live. Today, it is common practice to keep in touch with friends, colleagues and family via the social media and networks, which not only serve personal, but also professional needs. Social media has also revolutionised the field of marketing and has empowered information consumers to quickly react to organisations’ messages, products and any other activities.
The real question would be “Where is the value of social media for an organisation?” (Scott and Jacka, 2011, p. 7). Relationships are exactly what are at stake for organisations using social media. Since organisations no longer have the power to control their image and reputation, social media and networks only allow them to monitor feedback provided by their stakeholders and to react quickly and appropriately.
To ensure success and productivity, organisations have no other choice but to engage with their clients and listen to their needs and expectations. Exchange and trust are keywords.
Lately, many worldwide companies integrated social media and networks into their communication strategies. Blanchard (2011) warns that social media should complement the traditional communication strategy and not replace it:
“A fully deployed social media program is a completely integrated communications mechanism that amplifies the impact of every function within an organization by leveraging the power of human networks via social networking platforms. It is a complement to all other forms of tactical communications […] not a replacement for any of them” (p.8).
In other words, social media and networks are an asset to an organisation but do not replace the other forms of communications. Blanchard (2011) advises to consider the return on investment (ROI), which he puts it as follows: “You invest money into something with the expectation of getting money back from your investment (preferably more)” (p.215).
 Murthy, D. (2013), Twitter: Social Communication in the Twitter Age, Cambridge, Polity Press.
 Scott, P. R. and Jacka, J. M. (2011), Auditing Social Media: A Governance and Risk Guide, New Jersey, Wiley Business.
 Kaplan, A. M. and Haenlein M. (2010), Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media
Blanchard, O. (2011), Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization, Boston, Pearson Education