Introduction
The history of social media
Social Media Influencers
Influence on culture & communication
Loss of privacy
A look into the future

The Internet and the social media it has spawned have an enormous impact our society today. For many people, this digital world is still uncharted territory, at least for those who grew up before the advent of ubiquitous social media networks. For Generation Z and, for the most part, Millenials, it’s all absolutely natural, normal and taken for granted. Accordingly, they don’t reflect on it at all. The older generations first had to get to grips with Facebook and the like with difficulty, and are literally overrun by the ever-faster development of new social media platforms.

Opinions differ accordingly. Some see social networks, “Web 2.0,” as a true blessing and rave about the positive effects, while others see only the downside. Is social media really as “social” as the term suggests? Probably, as always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

The history of social media

The history of social networks basically began back in 1971, when technicians from the Advanced Research Projects Agency sent out the first e-mails to the world. Because a few years later, based on this, two specialists invented the first bulletin board. This was a forum software with which the latest news could be discussed and exchanged among friends. This then led to the founding of USENET in the 1980s, an important platform for the exchange of scientific contributions.

The Internet as we know it today was finally launched in 1989. By linking scientific articles, Tim Berners-Lee developed a hypertext system at that time, which formed the foundation for today’s Internet (World Wide Web).

The Geocities network went online in 1993, allowing users to create and then publish their own web page for the first time in history. A year later, student Justin Hall launched his first blog, connecting himself to the world. He is therefore considered the forefather of the blogging scene as we know it today. Hall could be considered one of the first social media influencers at a time when the term could probably only be associated with the flu disease “influenza.”

2002 – MySpace is born

MySpace was the first social network ever and was launched in 2002. Now you could easily communicate with friends and acquaintances via the platform. In the meantime, however, MySpace has largely fallen into oblivion, proof of how fast-moving the Internet is after all.  The virtual death blow came in March 2019, when it was announced that MySpace had lost all photos, videos and audio files uploaded between 2003 and 2016 in a failed server change.

2004 – Facebook & YouTube go online

Perennial favorites Facebook and YouTube both saw the light in 2004. Facebook was originally conceived as an internal social network for Harvard students. However, it morphed into the absolute epitome of social media over the next 9 years. In 2006, Facebook achieved the status of the most visited social media platform in the world with 1.44 billion active users. And today, Facebook is still the most popular social network in the world.

In contrast, YouTube was from the beginning an online platform for the general public, who can upload videos they have created themselves here.

2006 – Twitter goes online

When Twitter went online on March 21, 2006, it was a real novelty, because it is a so-called microblogging service. The “tweets” have to be very short and are automatically limited to a maximum of 140 characters at that time.  This type of communication is also very popular with companies, politicians and organizations. Because with short and concise messages, followers are always kept up to date. Just how important Twitter and the like have become was already evident in 2008 during the U.S. presidential elections, when Barack Obama relied heavily on social media campaigns (“Yes we can!”). And 2020? The President of the United States uses Twitter as his main channel for communicating with the public. Whether this direct and usually not particularly fact-based communication is positive or negative in times of “fake news” remains to be seen.

2010 Instagram is born as an app for iOS

In 2010, Instagram went live in the Apple App Store. Instagram was developed by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, who are still on board today.

At the end of April 2012, the world was surprised by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook bought the Instagram platform for one billion US dollars. At that time, the social network had just 30 million monthly active users and only a few employees. However, the version for Android devices was released three weeks earlier, which was certainly decisive for the further development of Instagram.

2011 – Google+, Pinterest and Snapchat go online

Google+ and Pinterest are relatively new and only saw the light of day in 2011. Although quite young, both are enjoying increasing popularity. Google+, the social network founded by Google, already had around 300 million users in March 2015.

Pinterest offers its users image collections on various topics, which they can pin to virtual pinboards. Other users can in turn share, comment on and like them. For companies, Pinterest is an excellent way to position their own brand and market products.

Snapchat saw the light of day in 2011 as an app for iOS and Android and then immediately began an incredible triumphant march. No wonder Mark Zuckerberg offered 3 billion US dollars for Snapchat in 2013. Four years later, at the beginning of 2017, the app was already valued at around 25 billion US dollars.

2014 – German YouTube channels take off

In 2014, a number of German YouTube channels broke through the 1 million subscriber mark for the first time – YouTuber “Gronkh,” for example. In the meantime, almost 5 million people have subscribed to him. Numbers that are hard to imagine.

2017 TikTok goes online

TikTok is the talk of the town, despite only launching in 2017. In 2018, the app merged with Musical.ly. Meanwhile, TikTok has even surpassed Facebook and Instagram with over 800 million global downloads. As is well known, you can upload short video clips on TikTok, which then run in a loop. Numerous gimmicks such as AR filters, music, text, hashtags and so on provide plenty of creative options and the entertainment value for creators and viewers is immense. Accordingly, most companies have recognized the huge potential of TikTok and are enthusiastically using the platform for their marketing. RedBull, for example, already has 2.7 million followers here.

Social media influencers

With the social networks, a complete subculture of so-called influencers has developed – certainly one of the important changes brought about by social media, especially in the field of marketing.

Influencers are opinion leaders and multipliers on the social web. They are influential people on the web, such as bloggers, video creators, streamers or prominent Instagram personalities. Influencer marketing is therefore a marketing method that involves these influencers.

The advantage is that this form of marketing is not only significantly cheaper than traditional advertising, but that influencers are perceived as much more credible by customers, especially Generation Z, as they are often perceived as idols by their target group. When it comes to product recommendations made by influencers, their reputation, expert status and reach come into play, and followers perceive these reviews and recommendations almost like an insider tip from a family member or friend.

Relevant influencers act as wonderful multipliers of the content provided by the company. I myself see enormous potential in the area of influencer marketing, which makes established advertising formats such as radio or television advertising look old. For this reason, I founded the StartUp Adfluencer in Schwaig near Nuremberg in 2018, which connects well-known social media creators with brands & advertisers. Companies can pursue different goals when using the services of an Influencer, e.g.:

Increase awareness of the company
Increase traffic to the company’s website
Generating more social signals (likes, comments, etc.).

Of course, the phenomenon of influencers can also be viewed critically, because often everything is more appearance than reality and especially young people are deceived by it and are often rather negatively influenced. Teenagers in particular are not yet fully developed in their personalities and tend to be insecure. The seemingly perfect life of the glamorous influencers sets too high and unattainable a mark here, and many young people despair in their attempts to do the same as the idols.

Influence on culture and communication

Needless to say, social media platforms have a huge reach, as they typically operate globally, with the exception of a few local platforms. For one thing, this means that it’s easy to access information from all over the world. Foreign cultures come closer to us and bridges can be built. Many people are able to maintain contact with family members and friends in different countries through social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and the like. We can all easily enjoy photos and information from people in all parts of the world. Communication is fast, agile and efficient. And most importantly, “free”, except for the data that is collected about us and used for advertising purposes. We can follow news channels and blogs that keep us updated on topics of our interest.

Words such as “hashtags”, “followers”, “shares” or “liken”, which come from the English language, are equally used and understood in all kinds of languages, such as German, Russian, French, Chinese or Spanish. Facebook and other social networks have also brought us together here and ensured understanding.

As far as language use is concerned, however, a negative trend can also be observed. Because the limited space, for example, on Twitter from the outset limited to 140 characters, today to 280 characters, often quite the correct use of grammar and spelling is neglected.

Brevity is the spice of life, and bloggers know that they must capture the reader’s attention in the first few seconds, or they will continue to “scroll.” The key is to get to the point quickly. Small talk and irrelevant banter are out. Of course, a more ornate and elevated writing style suffers from this. Whether this is seen as an advantage or a disadvantage remains to be seen – opinions differ.

Through social media, as well as the Internet in general, the world has become smaller, information is easy to get. It is available to everyone, not just to a small elite as in the past. Many see this as democratic, social and desirable. In many cases, this is certainly the case. However, at the same time, a certain lack of criticism has become widespread. The broad masses do not question, scrutinize, or look at information with critical eyes, fake news is the order of the day, and rumors and false information spread like wildfire. “Media awareness” is the keyword, but it is often not easy for many people to correctly classify the truth content of a source.

Loss of privacy

Another change brought about by social media, such as Facebook, is how we treat our privacy. Many users eagerly post pictures of their vacation, restaurant visit, children, etc. And even those who value their privacy and try to protect it are not safe from the fact that a friend of a friend does not post a photo of the last party and tag different people. This has the consequence that suddenly very quickly a lot of people can admire our photos on the social platforms, whether we want this or not. Many a Facebook post has even led to a divorce.

And companies are also using social media to investigate future employees even before the first job interview. Anyone who jets from one party to the next on social media, expresses somewhat radical political opinions, etc., may be closing some doors and damaging their professional career.

A look into the future

Where previously various social media platforms from Western countries such as Instagram, Facebook & YouTube were in direct competition for new users, new competitors are constantly appearing, especially from China. TikTok is the first Chinese platform to make the international breakthrough. But even the giants Tencent, Weibo & WeChat, which are relatively unknown in this country, already have user numbers that are hard to imagine. But what does the future of social media look like? Facebook bought the company Oculus, which specializes in the development of virtual reality glasses, a few years ago. Mark Zuckerberg openly admitted that they are already testing possibilities for a virtual reality social media network. Recently, Facebook Horizon was also announced in this context, a kind of digital VR world that you can explore together with friends. The film “Ready Player One” by Steven Spielberg shows how this development could continue. Users spend most of their free time in a gigantic virtual VR world & meet other users there. The entire life takes place there. The light novel series “Sword Art Online” by author Reki Kawahara, which was also adapted as an anime and manga, shows a similar future scenario.

Already today, Deep Learning algorithms are being used with the help of “Big Data” to offer users the most personalized user experience possible.

Social media has most certainly changed our lives and it’s hard to imagine life without it. Whether this influence is positive or negative is something everyone has to decide for themselves; in the final analysis, it depends very much on the personal approach to social media. Parents in particular face a not inconsiderable problem in finding the right balance. For Generation Z, banning or limiting social media is almost impossible and, according to experts, not necessarily advisable.

The development of existing and new social media networks will certainly continue steadily, and we can look forward to seeing what the future will bring in terms of social networks.