Social media has evolved from basic tools and Web sites used by professors and computer geeks into a behemoth that is fundamentally changing how people connect and converse with corporations, governments, traditional media, and each other. Until the advent of social media, organizations and traditional broadcast media had a stranglehold on the message. Most had the ability, and the desire, to ensure that communications were a simple monologue or, at the most, a very controlled two-way conversation. Without a widespread methodology for individuals to communicate information or opinions about an organization, commentary was limited to a small sphere of influence, mainly done through one-to-one communications—whether in person, on the phone, through the mail, or, more recently, via e-mail. While people would still get together and talk about political issues, brand name products, and their favorite meal at their local restaurant, the conversation was not scalable; it just simply had no way of reaching the masses.
The broader conversation was the job of the marketing and public relations teams. With sufficient resources, marketing could develop communications that could reach millions through television, radio, and print publications. At the same time, public relations professionals were garnering the attention of traditional media outlets, getting their message out through established news outlets. In both cases, the job focused on pushing messages ...