It’s Social Media Day 2013 (now officially recognised in Missouri) and in the week leading up to this day I have been pondering the question posed by Mashable “What does social media mean to you?”. I have been spending the day in various comfortable locations in my apartment attached to one of my many digital devices enjoying social media and using it. From my couch and my laptop using one of my many social media tools I explore the answer to the question.
The first time I recall experiencing social media was in high school. We didn’t have money for a computer at home and thus had no internet connection. We had the internet at school but that was for using search engines, not anything more exciting. I was at friends house for a movie night, he had an internet connection and I jumped on IRC and my friends and I took turns chatting with random people from other countries. I had a pile of penpals in school so the chat experience felt familiar in a way, but amplified. I could experience people from places I had only seen on television in an instant.
The personal benefit of social media for me really began when I moved interstate for work. Alone in an unfamiliar city I was both tourist and resident with new experiences to share. My family and friends were (are) thousands of kilometers away and social media became an easy and cost effective way to share photos and stories. It started with a Windows Live Blog space, then it was MySpace and then Facebook and Twitter. I could see updated photos of my family and friends, and in turn share the wonderful experiences of being in a new city without waiting for the post. While I continued to write letters social media took over as a more efficient and economic medium for connecting with my loved ones.
Eventually that benefit of connection moved into my professional life. I created my LinkedIn profile to keep connected with my business networks and then Twitter. As an MBTI introvert and self confessed social-phobe the online networks are a way for me to interact with people I know, and meet new people that doesn’t infringe on my comfort zone. I can make a digital connection and get to know someone before meeting them in person. I can also connect and converse with people from other countries and time zones about topics or events of common interest. I especially love social media at conferences and events. Whether I am there in person or just following along on the iPad I can still get little nuggets of wisdom, converse with delegates and make new connections in an easy and comfortable format.
So, what does social media mean to me?
For me it means ‘connection’.
Social media allows me to reach out into the digital ether and connect with my family, friends, networks and absolute strangers if and when I choose. I feel the richness of those connections every day as I can see photographs of my niece and nephews playing, have conversations with peers in my intranet network or follow a chat on Twitter and connect with new people as a result. I continue to find new ways to explore those connections and reap the tangible and intangible benefits.
How I have spent Social Media Day is a tribute (okay, a lazy tribute, but still) to what it means to me. I am home, comfortable and safe, in some cases far away, yet able to follow and engage in all the activity.
The step I haven’t really explored is taking that connection from the digital world to the real world (RL). While I see social media meetups come about, such as the one for Social Media Day today in Melbourne, I usually think to myself “That looks fun, I should go along” and then my nerves and natural inclination to steer away from crowds of strangers gets the better of me. This is something I am working on and perhaps I will take the next step soon. If not soon, there’s always Social Media Day 2014.