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Social media 2012: Top 5 takeaways

Shane Schick

Last year, when political activists organized themselves via Facebook and Twitter during the Arab Spring, there was a sense that social media had entered a new era, but 2012 was literally when sharing technology went where no tweet or “like” had gone before.

The NASA Curiosity Rover snapped photos and posted information on various services from Mars, even going so far as to “check in” or mark its location on a site called Foursquare in October. That moment was a good symbol of how extensive the reach of social media has become, but there were several other highlights over the last 12 months that are worth keeping in mind as we watch for new developments in this space during 2013:

An IPO is not a friend request: Facebook’s disastrous entry into financial markets was a good reminder that questions around revenue and business models cannot be ignored indefinitely. The service enjoys an enormous user base but monetizing that in a sustainable, responsible way should become Facebook’s new mission. The company has avoided the stigma that greeted the merger of AOL and Time Warner at the start of the dot-com bust in 2001, but only just.

Viral videos lead to awareness and action: The world once reveled in watching a popular YouTube video called “Charlie bit my finger!” whose content was pretty trivial. That changed in 2012, when clips like “Kony 2012” and footage of bullied NYC bus driver Karen Klein sparked widespread discussion and, in Klein’s case, US$700,000 in donations that allowed her to retire. The Kony 2012 video may not have ousted Ugandan dictator Joseph Kony, but the increased profile of his atrocities showed that YouTube had an impact far beyond banalities.

Memes can come true: Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” gaffe became the talk of Twitter. Pop hits like “Call Me Maybe” and “Gagnum style” were spoofed so often on Facebook and YouTube it was sometimes easy to forget the source material. “Texts from Hilary” prompted an actual response from Secretary of State Clinton on Tumblr. Experts once believed social media would become the primary source of news and information. Instead, it has become the primary source of satire.

A picture is now worth 1,000 shares: Social media began as a fairly text-heavy medium, with blog posts, tweets and status updates. The past year stood out for marking a transition to platforms that largely favoured images, whether it was microblogging platform Tumblr, the online scrapbooking service Pinterest, or photo-sharing apps like Instagram or Yahoo’s updated Flickr.

All rights reserved: Instagram’s revised terms of service caused enough of an uproar that the company quickly backtracked while a bogus copyright notice about content posted on Facebook showed up in so many status updates the social site had to publicly debunk it. Until 2012, many social media users didn’t seem to be aware there was any fine print when they posted, commented or contributed to these services. Expect 2013 to be the year they start reading that fine print in much greater detail – and in some cases, demand a rewrite.