WASHINGTON, October 10, 2013 – Every year, a TIME 100 event occurs, drawing super-influencers from around the world in efforts to pinpoint the major trends defining the current generation. This October, several members of the famed 100 met in London for a special side event centered on a core experience they all shared: Time: The growing importance of social media.
Sure, social networks (particularly the Big Three of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) are playing bigger roles than ever when it comes to communication and marketing. But the Time 100 panel showed the more complex effects of our current social obsession. Zaha Hadid is a famed architect, Victor Pinchuk is a wealthy philanthropist, Liya Kebede is a former supermodel and current activist, while Rene Redzepi is a renowned chef - not exactly a meeting of peers. But as the discussion progressed, it became clear that social media was having an equally powerful impact in the lives of each influencer.
A Brave New Social Media World
Under the moderation of TIME editor Bobby Ghosh, the panel quickly found their common ground. Activism can be furthered through social efforts. Smartphones have become as commonplace at restaurant tables as forks. Architects not only exchange ideas through social networks, but also read reviews.
The conversation underlined the growing reach of social media, which is quickly working its way into even the most mundane of sectors. The most powerful capabilities of social circles in both the profit and nonprofit world include:
Public Opinion: Social media has changed the way that people react. Now, everyone from politicians to yes, architects, can find out what other people think about their work in a matter of hours or less. Criticism is not limited to a select few, but group opinions can also prove harsh. However, this also enables swift response to negative issues.
Constant Updates: Like it or not, people are now connected to their family and friends all the time. With mobile social media, finding out what people close to you have been doing all day is as easy as reaching into your pocket. This takes some of the mystery out of life - but it also makes harder to lie.
Workforce: Nonprofits, communities, companies and governments can now recruit top talent from around the world through social media channels. This creates seriously huge recruitment pools, but it also increases the odds of finding someone who is just perfect for the job. It also means that applicants can find out a whole lot about an organization before they sign up - include some things leaders may not want them to know.
Widespread Communication: It may seem obvious, but social networks have opened up the world. Posts can now reach around the world, inspiring agreement, new ideas and - in unfortunate political climates - serious conflict. Social media has become a major international mover, and demands response by apprehensive governments struggling with lightning-fast trends.
Social Media: Building the Good and Accepting the Bad
These social factors are changing the world, but there is no clear-cut opinion on whether this is a good thing or a bad. From the viewpoint of maternal health activists like Liya Kebede, the net result is assuredly positive. “Social media is solving most of our problems. You don’t have to wait long [to get the message out], it’s inexpensive, and the accessibility is incredible,” she said at the panel. For workers like architect Hadid, social media allow them to receive the input of an entire city, which better informs their key decisions.
But not all the impact is so sweet. Chef Redzepi complained that smartphones had begun interfering with the fine dining experience, distracting people who would otherwise wish to be left alone. Other effects may prove more menacing: Health studies have shown that peer influence can reach over social networks and make adolescents more likely to engage in questionable behavior, like drinking or smoking.
In volatile situations, social discussions can inflame passionate groups and make them more prone to unwise acts.
Social media is here to stay, so we have to take the bad with the good and try to find solutions for the most worrisome trends. Fortunately, from the Time 100 to next-door neighbors, we also have a great way to talk about it.
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