The relationship between social media and communication


The impact of social media on the way we communicate is significant. Whilst it’s created new opportunities for connection and collaboration, it also poses risks and challenges. 

The integration of social media and communication

Social media began with the advent of the internet and email in the 90s, which revolutionised the way people communicate. The first social networking site, SixDegrees.com, was launched in 1997, followed by Friendster, MySpace, and LinkedIn. However, it was the launch of Facebook in 2004 that marked the beginning of the era of social media as we know it today.

Since then, social media platforms have grown to encompass a variety of features, including text-based messaging, photo and video sharing, and live streaming. With the widespread adoption of smartphones and mobile devices, social media has become an integral part of our daily lives, allowing us to communicate and connect with people around the world in real-time.

However, the rise of social media has also brought changes in our communication skills. While it has made communication faster and more convenient, it has also led to a shift in the way we interact with each other.

Positive impacts of social media on communication

  • Worldwide, easy communication: social media has made it easier to connect with people regardless of geographic location or time zone. Whether it's through messaging apps like WhatsApp, video calls on Zoom and Teams, or social media platforms like Facebook or TikTok, we can now communicate with friends, family, and colleagues worldwide.
  • Creation of communities: social media has enabled us to create and join communities of like-minded individuals, whether it's a forum for discussion of a specific topic or a professional network. This has opened new opportunities for collaboration and learning, as well as for making new friends and connections.
  • Ability to share: social media has given a voice to those who otherwise may not have had a platform. It has allowed people to share their opinions and experiences with a wider audience and has facilitated the spread of important information on a range of issues from politics to the environment.

Negative impacts of social media on communication

  • Digital distraction: we all know how difficult it is to stay focused on a task, given the constant notifications and updates from social media. This leads to a lack of attentiveness and poor communication skills in real-life situations.
  • The potential for miscommunication: without non-verbal cues like tone of voice or facial expressions, it’s all too easy for messages to be misinterpreted.
  • Bad behavior: due to anonymity, trolling, bullying and harassment are unfortunately now commonplace on some social media platforms.

Social media's impact on non-verbal communication

Non-verbal communication, which includes facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice, is an important aspect of human communication. However, with the prevalence of text-based messaging and the use of emojis and emoticons, we have developed new ways of expressing ourselves without the need for non-verbal cues. These forms of communication may not always convey the intended meaning and can too often be misinterpreted or misunderstood. Social media has also led to the rise of visual communication, with widespread use of photos and videos. While this type of communication can be more expressive than text, it can also be edited or manipulated, leading to more miscommunication.

Social media's influence on relationships and communication

On the one hand, social media makes connecting with loved ones easier, no matter where in the world you are. It's also created new opportunities for meeting new people and forging relationships, whether it's through dating apps or social networking sites.

However, social media can also have a negative impact on relationships. For example, "digital distraction", where people become so absorbed in their phones or computers that they neglect face-to-face interactions. Also, social media can be a breeding ground for cyberbullying, harassment, and other negative behaviors that damage relationships and communication.

Social media can also create unrealistic expectations for relationships. People often post only the highlights of their lives on social media, leading followers to feel inadequate or jealous which can put pressure on relationships.

The role of social media in business communication

  • Increase in opportunities: with the rise of social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, businesses now have more opportunities to connect with customers, and to market their products and services.
  • Increase in collaboration and networking: businesses can now, use social media to find partners or employees, or join communities of like-minded individuals.
  • Damage to reputation: the downside of social media is the risk it can pose to businesses through negative reviews or comments on social media platforms. Businesses need to be vigilant in monitoring their social media presence and responding to feedback in a timely and professional manner.
  • Issues of privacy: while social media can be a powerful tool for marketing and communication, businesses must be mindful of legal issues surrounding the right to privacy. It's important for businesses to have clear policies and guidelines in place for social media use, and to ensure that employees are trained on these policies.

Social media will continue to shape the way we communicate in the years to come. By staying informed and mindful of the risks, we can ensure that social media is used in a way that enhances, rather than detracts from, our ability to connect and communicate with others. A communications degree can offer students deeper insights into the core fields of communication and guide them in pursuing a wide variety of career opportunities in the social media space. Enquire about The IIE Bachelor of Arts at Varsity College and a Student Advisor will contact you to tell you more.

The Independent Institute of Education (The IIE) is South Africa’s largest registered and accredited private provider of higher education. At Varsity College, an educational brand of The IIE, we understand that no two students are the same or learn the same. That’s why we make sure a student’s education is shaped around them; how they like to learn, what they are passionate about, what makes them tick, and what makes them thrive. Our Education by Design approach allows students to grow into their best, and creates a space where they can live, learn and play – their way.