Thursday, November 29, 2012

An Analysis of Social Media and its Productive Potential

By Tom Malone
MSBA Class of 2013

There have been a number of articles concerning the internet and it’s effect on countless aspects of human life; from changing commerce, communication, and even how we maintain relationships amongst friends.  The internet has become an integral part of human life on the whole. Like an organic being, it has grown from simple beginnings and processes to a creation of man that has a vastly complex nature and intricate rules, neither of which we can fully explain. Nor can we predict its evolution, as it grows and grows due to the dedicated and sometimes unwitting care and development every user gives it.

Program Director McHie and class
Among the many branches that have grown from a simple mustard seed of binary code has been that of social media. Social media had its roots in the communication medium of email, which grew into instant chat and file sharing, and finally taking a further step into such systems as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and so many other programs which connect human beings on so many levels.

As a student of the CUA MSBA program, I found myself re-evaluating the internet, and specifically social media, under the light of an analysis informed by business practice and ethics. If the end of business and business men and women is to help the growth of the economy and help bring society to a higher standard of living and producing, a principle which I have learned and cherished at this program, then how can the internet play a part? This nebulous, ever growing creation of mankind does not share the same rules as commerce or economics. In economics, in order to produce a product that people need or desire, we learn that a considerable amount of time, effort, and resources are needed and expended to create it, and in most cases these ingredients are never renewed.
Yet here is where the internet becomes something incredible to us as producers and creators: there is no true consumption of resources when something is put onto the internet. Granted, one could argue that time is required on the part of the individual creating, or that monetary compensation might be required on the part of those who create digital sites and information. In reality, however, the scale of difference negates any such argument. To build a chair, I use wood and tools that cannot be used by anyone else. To write this article, all I require as an author and creator of digital information is an access point and the impetus to write. This in turn leads to another amazing aspect of the nature of the internet and this digital age: there is no impediment to my creativity and production. As a chair builder, I may not be able to access a supply of wood, but as a writer (in this case), nothing stops me from sharing my ideas and helping others who may benefit from them or receive enjoyment from them. 

The social media landscape
Given these two amazing aspects of the internet, how can we, students of business and future helpers of mankind through the medium of commerce, turn social media to man’s true economic well-being? 

 Social media, as of now, seems to serve only one possible tool to the consumer and the producer: information. Through social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, producers and marketers are able to track the lifestyles and interests of countless people. With that information, they create and market a product that will be of use or enjoyment to the people they aim to serve.

To me, however, these social media sites do not appear to have fulfilled their economic purpose or potential. Information and connectivity are only the first stepping stones these sites have for man and economy. However, two principles of commerce and economics seem to me to be the key for unlocking further potential for social media sites: integration and gain.

 Integration, when done effectively, has always increased the productivity and quality in any tool or product of man. By viewing social media under an analytical lens, we can find an idea, or even another process of the internet, which can be grafted together in synthetic and symbiotic way. Imagine if, on one site, on one screen you were able find information, view friends statuses and messages, and purchase items that directly correlate to you, and not a market segment? Another thought: is it any coincidence that Google owns YouTube, has its own email site, search engine, and is beginning to provide free, quality internet to cities through their Google Fiber program? These close connections within one system are clear examples of the direction towards integration.

 The second aspect, gain, is, quite arguably, one of the axioms (if not the axiom) of economics, and the more difficult of the two previously mentioned concepts to employ in social media. To illustrate the point further, take the case of Facebook. Through Facebook, a user has access to friends, family, and innumerable groups, all of which provide him or her with information at a moment’s notice. Even though information is gained, to follow economics strictly, there is no gain; the user receives no material or financial advantage, and neither do the owners or shareholders of Facebook. They receive hope that their users will respond to tailored ads on their pages, but there is no real income gained, as opposed to, say, Coca-Cola, when they gain another regular customer who purchases their products. Thus, Facebook and other social media sites do not aid the economy in a very real way, even though many view them as services. It is to this end that I believe we, as students or participants in digital business or digital media, must focus our efforts. We must find a way to truly implement gain in social media, and turn social media into a true source of vitality for the economy and society. 

Tom Malone
MSBA Class of 2013

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