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Social Media


Social media refers to user-created content (audio, text, video, multimedia) that is published and shared online. It is also the online technology that allows users to share content and communicate with one another. Social media has changed how we live our lives and affected how nearly every industry does business. People use social media to stay informed, compare and buy products, and keep in touch with family and friends. Companies also use social media to reach customers. They have in-house social media departments or hire consulting firms to help them develop a social media strategy, market their products, and manage their profile across various types of social media. Nonprofits and government agencies use them to spread information about their programs and services.

In a general sense, social media has been around since the beginning of the Internet, but Six Degrees, the first social-networking site, launched in 1997. Marketing professors Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein identify six different types of social media. In their Business Horizons article, “Users of the World, Unite! The Challenges and Opportunities of Social Media,” they named the following:

  • collaborative projects (e.g., Wikipedia)
  • blogs and microblogs (e.g., X, Tumblr, Reddit)
  • content communities (e.g., YouTube, Flickr)
  • social-networking sites (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram)
  • virtual game worlds (e.g., World of Warcraft)
  • virtual social worlds (e.g., Second Life)

No discussion of social media is complete without mention of the Internet—the delivery method for all those blog posts, pictures, videos, and Tweets. The Internet is a worldwide network of computer networks linked through high-speed, high-volume telephone lines and cables, as well as via Wi-Fi connections. It has come a long way from its start in the 1960s as a vast, indestructible U.S. military computer network that could communicate even when under enemy attack. Today, the Internet is open to everyone and a major destination for information, commerce, entertainment, and communication. In 2023, 95 percent of the U.S. population used the Internet, according to the Pew Research Center. Only 48 percent of Americans were online in 2000.

Social media has become extremely popular (and a lucrative industry) in recent years. In 2021, 72 percent of the public used some type of social media, according to the Pew Research Center. Revenue in the social media industry is increasing rapidly. The worldwide social media advertising market size is expected to increase from $198.78 billion in 2023 to $362.64 billion in 2028, according to The Business Research Company. The research firm says that “growth can be attributed to increasing Internet penetration, rise of social media platforms, targeted advertising capabilities, mobile device proliferation, and data analytics and insights.”

The social media industry provides another great benefit: jobs for people with a variety of educational backgrounds and skill sets. There are many rewarding careers in the industry. Social media managers, software engineers and designers, computer programmers, and other computer scientists are in demand, but so are workers with creative backgrounds such as writers, digital designers, user experience professionals, and marketing professionals. Workers with no technical or creative background may find jobs in administration, finance, law, and other areas.

Several types of companies create and/or utilize social media. Some companies, such as Alphabet (the parent company of Google), offer several types of products and services. For example, Google offers the search engine Chrome, the popular social media site YouTube, and hardware (Pixel, Chromecast, etc.). It also owns cloud computing, cybersecurity, and data analytics companies. Others, such as Pinterest, specialize in social media. There are also thousands of start-ups that are still seeking to capture the public’s interest or find venture capital funding to build their brands. Companies are located throughout the United States, but often are headquartered in California, the Pacific Northwest, and New York City. Typical departments at these companies include:

  • business development
  • content creation
  • corporate communications
  • customer service and support
  • data and analytics
  • design
  • engineering
  • finance and administration
  • human resources
  • information systems and technology (including data security)
  • legal affairs
  • marketing
  • merchandising
  • quality assurance
  • regulatory affairs
  • warehousing/fulfillment.

One thing is certain about the social media industry: the field is growing, and it will offer a wide range of career opportunities for years to come.