Social media originally was intended to connect people. To bring people together. To share their lives with those they cared about most.

Today, social media is so intertwined in our lives that we forget that it’s still really an infant medium. Myspace was the first to launch in 2003. Next came Facebook in 2004, Twitter in 2006, Instagram in 2010, Pinterest and Snapchat in 2011 and Periscope in 2015. Yep, the oldest network is only 13 years old! And the newest have only been around for a matter of months.

In fewer than 15 years, social media has dramatically changed the way people acquire and disseminate information. It’s caused people to come together, but it’s also led to further isolation. While new ideas can be shared and discussed, social media providers have designed algorithms that often only show what they think you want to see, instead favoring viewpoints they feel you best relate to. They do that to keep you on their site; to make the site stickier, so you’ll stay around longer and ingest more of the “paid” posts they think you’re most likely to respond to.

Yep, they’ve connected people, and businesses of all sizes have taken notice! Every business uses social media in some way. Some are very successful, some are still feeling their way, trying to figure out which platform works the best and which tool to use to reach the consumers who want to engage with them and their product.

While social media may be in its infancy, it’s certainly caused a stir in the business world. Here are a few of the opportunities it has created:

1. Targeting has never been easier. Social media has, for the first time, offered marketers the opportunity to develop materials and get them to the exact customer they’re looking for. When it comes to targeting, Facebook is the one to beat. They have mountains of data on each and every user. And they can match marketers’ needs to those users, one at a time. National financial institutions easily can target just to millennials. Real estate agents and restaurants can market by age, gender and/or zip-code. Try doing that with radio, television, print or outdoor.

2. Two-way communication leads to engagement. Remember the banner ad? While still around, numerous studies have proved them ineffective because consumers have developed “banner blindness.” They are immune to those ads. Even “sponsored content” is suspect. But businesses now can engage in conversations with consumers like never before and offer meaningful content to stimulate interaction. Review sites keep businesses on their toes, and those who use sites like Yelp and Facebook effectively own up to their mistakes publicly and take care of customers in the most visible way, increasing trust.

3. Real-time customer service. I just experienced this first-hand with Comcast. While telephone wait times have increased and the outsourced call centers are off-putting to most consumers, Comcast, and others, have put a large focus on their social media customer-service teams. A direct message to Comcast recently was much more effective in solving a contract/billing issue than their phone support. Airlines and large retailers also have increased their online customer service, in some cases lowering costs and, in many cases, increasing satisfaction.

In just over a decade, social media has grown from a way for bands to connect to their fans (Myspace) and for people to share the most mundane information with their friends, into a super-targeted marketing medium that can’t be overlooked by businesses of any size!

Our long-time social media columnist is now a leading social media consultant. You can reach him at