From Friendster and MySpace, to Facebook and TikTok, the evolution of popular social media sites has been swift and continuous over the last 20 years. What started as a fun new way for younger people to connect online has become an everyday staple for users across generations – including a way to make money. Today, an estimated 3.6 billion users across the world are logging on to some form of social media or networking site on a regular basis.
“Social media has allowed me to make connections with people from all walks of life,” said social media thought leader and best-selling author Ed Latimore. “I’ve made friends with an interesting array of like-minded individuals whom I admire and also admire me.”
But while social media began as a networking site, it has evolved into something much more robust.
“Social media originally began as free dating sites,” says RJ Garbowicz, CEO and founder of the social networking site Webtalk. “It evolved into social networking, which then evolved into the social media we know today, as companies began to focus on engagement and monetization.”
For many – individuals and companies alike – social media has become critical for audience engagement, as well as advertising. Many individuals and brands have turned to social media as a tool to grow a dedicated following, as well as make money.
“To make money, you need to have two things: something to sell and people to sell it to,” said Latimore. “Most people are capable of putting together an informative digital product that solves a problem or teaches a skill. The real problem is getting that product in front of an audience. This is where social media shines. It allows you to build a dedicated and engaged audience that will not only buy your products, but sing praises of your products to their friends.”
Wayne Steidle, CEO of ScanIt, describes this evolution from social networking to “networthing,” explaining, “Social media platforms have morphed into advertising behemoths that track a user’s viewing habits in order to ‘push’ ads that are considered ‘relevant, user specific, products and services.’”
The monetization of social media marked a significant change in how these platforms are used. It’s impossible to log onto a social media site and not come across some sort of advertisement, a brand trying to engage with its consumers or an influencer touting their latest partnership.
This is especially true in our current climate. The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced even more people online to work, shop and connect with loved ones. Businesses big and small have had to increase their online presence and video chats have replaced conversations over coffee.
“In the current state of the economy, online networking is truly the best, and often the only way, to do professional networking and business expansion,” says Webtalk’s Garbowicz. “However, it has become increasingly more difficult to generate income on social media without having to invest in targeted advertising to sell products and services. This is intentional as social media apps work to increase their revenue and profits.”
Fortunately for big companies and solitary influencers alike, new technology is constantly being developed to improve marketing opportunities.
Webtalk, for example is working to be the rolodex for millennials, offering users a 2-in-1 personal and professional platform to organize contacts and the content that is shared with them.
“The largest problems with online networking are both keeping relationships segmented so that personal and professional lives do not cross, and keeping relationships organized to maintain their value,” explains Garbowicz. “Webtalk is the only networking platform to do both by helping users maintain and grow relationships and even paying back 50% of all advertising revenue to its members, while providing long-term professional value.”
On the other hand, technology like Scanit provides brands with a way to link their non-social media advertising, such as TV, digital signs, and billboards, with their social media presence.
“Companies can utilize traditional QR codes for static print media or use something like ScanIt’s Dynamic codes to embed in any TV, digital sign or display,” explains Steidle. “Most social media apps already have a QR reader installed, which makes technology like ScanIt’s Dynamic code reader an easy addition.”
Despite the massive changes we’ve seen in such a short period of time, social media is nowhere near the end of its evolution. Experts expect brand advertising to utilize more visual-based content, even moving into the virtual and augmented reality realm to engage users.
“The fastest growing traditional media in America is ‘Out of Home Digital Advertising.’ These digital displays, as small as an iPad and as large as a billboard, are located everywhere you go,” points out Steidle. He expects to see companies taking advantage of the technology that is already out there, by connecting their social media to these digital advertisements and opening up the opportunity to connect with millions more viewers.
While social media has certainly come a long way, one thing is clear: It’s not going anywhere any time soon.