When I decided I wanted to study digital communication, particularly the mechanizations of social media, I got a whole lot of interesting reactions from my family and friends. Some believed social media to be the hot new topic after the dot com furor. Others’ responses ranged from mild curiosity to blatant skepticism on its potential to help me land a job.

In the first week of my first semester at the department of Emerging Media Studies at Boston University’s College of Communication, it was pretty clear that most of my classmates resonated my sentiments. Some of them, like me, had a certain amount of exposure to working in the field of social media for business purposes while others had a keen social research interest from the academic standpoint. But everyone agreed that it was a subject intriguing enough for us to go all in. So I guess, I wasn’t crazy after all!

At this point of the digital revolution, most people are acquainted to a certain extent with social media, if not entirely been swept off their feet by the phenomenon. We humans are social by nature. And social media is just another way of congregating, albeit in the comfort of our own digital bubbles. It has taken over our lives, defining how we communicate and maintain relationships. We use social media in some or the other form, perhaps more than one platform and most likely on a daily basis. We are tethered to our mobile devices and depend on the strength of the wi-fi for our general happiness. Our days start and end with snoozefeeds. And that, says a lot about how times have changed since we basically communicated with our buddies in the playground with two cans tied with a string.

A social media user’s psyche is geared to garner maximum attention from the audience. This is true irrespective of whether you are an individual whose primary goal is to stay connected with your community or share what’s making your world go round; or, if you are a business entity looking to build your brand, strengthen your follower base or monetize your offerings.

Hand drawing business strategy concepts

While everyone wants to get on board the social media bandwagon, not everyone knows how to make the most of the technology.

Individual users probably don’t need to worry about attracting, increasing or retaining their follower base. However, the same cannot be said for businesses or institutions relying on their digital footprint to propagate their brand. As new technologies emerge, communication patterns evolve and users from all over the world chime in, businesses are clamoring to remain in the forefront of their audience’s minds. Hence the need to study the phenomenon and its varied “promising” avenues from different perspectives.

So the question arises: Is social media really all that it’s cut out to be? Is it even worth one’s time, money and mindshare?

Amy-ShanlerSocial media is easily confused with social networks and internet-aided digital communication. And understandably so, since we use them more and think about them less. With increasing mobile access and mediated, multi-threaded online interactions, the various aspects of value are growing less and less discernible. However, there is more to it than just the medium or surrounding paraphernalia. At the core, is the “social” element – the people themselves, playing multiple active roles as content creators, curators, consumers, and relayers.

“Social media is less of a ‘media’ and more a ‘digitally interconnected universe’,” says Amy Shanler, associate professor and director of PRLab – the student-run public relations agency at BU’s College of Communication. “Considering things are constantly changing on social networks, it can be managed through a cyclic, multi-step, iterative process involving research, strategy and planning along with content creation, collaboration, and analytics.”

“What it means is that the best content isn’t about you. It’s about what your audience is looking for,” clarifies Professor Shanler, who has over 20 years of industry experience managing communications activities a range of organizations and industries, including retail, technology, business, health care, and entertainment. “Audiences today are tech-savvy, actively vocal, and as invested with your content as you are.” She believes companies looking to derive value from their social media pursuits should align their goals to seamlessly connect with those of their target audience.

Managing social networks with a specific goal in mind is both a science, and an art. More importantly, it is about managing ourselves within our social networks and staying on our toes to make the next big leap. Here at BU COM’s Emerging Media Studies program, we get to deep dive into the various facets of user psychology, media use, emerging trends and the dynamics of digital communication. This June, our annual graduate student conference #Screentime will delve into various topics around the affordances and constraints of mediated life. Connect with us to share your thoughts or to find more information around the subject.

Me againSai Indira Priyadarshini | @indmish

Originally from Bangalore, India, I’m an industry-oriented digital communications and social media marketing enthusiast. I’m constantly soaking in new trends while peering at the nuts and bolts of emerging technologies and their impact on people’s everyday lives. Questioning everything and learning from first principles is my mantra and Boston University’s advanced Emerging Media Studies program has been instrumental in propelling my curious mindset. Connect with me on LinkedIn and share your thoughts on my blog.

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