Social media is building virtual networks or online communities that facilitate sharing information and media like photos and videos. Originally developed as a means of interaction among family and friends, businesses later adopted social media to increase their outreach to prospective customers. Globally, more than 3 billion people actively use social media.

Social media is more attractive to the young generation according to the PEW research center; about 90 percent of people in the age bracket of 18 to 29 used at least one form of social media. Further, these users tend to be better educated, earning comparatively higher incomes.

Here are ten types of social media:

  • social networks
  • media sharing networks
  • discussions forums
  • bookmarking and content curation networks
  • consumer review networks
  • blogging and publishing networks
  • interest-based networks
  • social shopping networks
  • sharing economy networks
  • anonymous social networks

Social media benefits to a business include, but are not limited to; brand awareness, increasing website traffic and generating leads, reputation management, crisis communication, customer services and support, monitoring critical communications online, targeted advertising, keeping an eye on the competition and gauging buzz around the brand.

While social media platforms have turned into hubs of communication and interaction, some see downsides of social media's widespread usage, like wastage of time, use to a level of addiction and spread of false news due to lack of oversight and fact-checking. The National Center for Biotechnology Information links heavy social media usage to depression. Though mostly appreciated for its role in raising public awareness, social media platforms role in election campaigns is criticized to the level of altering public perception about a candidate.

As powerful as social media has become, tech giants and online educational platforms have launched social media marketing courses. Social media courses teach how to optimize social media content that can lead to effectively communicating a message, how to target particular demographics, budgeting and costing of social media campaigns, and building brand image on social media. These courses aim to teach how to make the consumers like, interact and share social media posts and generate business through social media platforms. These courses range from simple pdf guides and tutorial videos to months of practical work handling social media platforms. Some of these courses are free, others charge a fee, which can range from a few bucks to thousands of dollars, depending on the course's length and depth. Some of these online courses are individual modules taught at renowned international universities, including Harvard and MIT. Where on-campus classes cost vast sums of money, the same lessons are taught at much lesser charges to underprivileged students and professionals who can't spare time from their busy schedules for the one-on-one sessions. Live project is a feature of such courses, which impart knowledge directly taught by industry experts.

Learning and investing in social media is a crucial strategy that small and large businesses can adopt to outshine their competitors and future-proof their income streams.

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