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Vol 19, No. 10, October 2015   |   Issue PDF view/purchase
Social Media Literacy: One step ahead or one step back?

What comes to mind when you see the term: social media? For some, it is an everyday interaction with your phone and for others, you are wary of this term and cannot help but notice its presence everywhere. Just how significant is social media in our daily lives? How do we measure the effectiveness of social media? Is it wise to avoid any contact with social media or should we face it head on and try to tap on its virality? Across the world, large institutions, companies, and organizations are often fascinated by social media and the wonders it brings but many are still perplexed at how social media works – do we take one step ahead or one step back?


In 2008, Barack Obama took a huge win in the U.S. Presidential Election using Facebook to advertise his campaign. The second election in 2011 that secured his votes came along with the use of Twitter, another viral and popular social media platform. Top leaders around the world started realizing and tapping the potential of social media and how it connects to people. The wonder of social media did not occur the second a Facebook page is created and followers on Twitter do not mysteriously appear once you create a profile. The science behind such virality is what researchers are all trying to answer – the formula that would turn likes and retweets into actual action.

Arab Spring – a revolution fuelled with all aspects of social media that was conceived during the chaos showed the pros and cons of the effects. Information went viral on the internet with thousands of pictures, videos and audio files being shared daily. The amount of data collected during that period of time surged like never before. Many questioned how effective the revolution was because issues were still proliferating. Social media had people highlighting activism events and work like never before but complication arise with the bombardment of raw information that are often taken out of context leave people wondering if social media actually blurred the people's vision.


Many companies around the world have started to take into account the importance of social media and its pros on consumer interactions, branding and tapping on the virility of consumer engagements online. However, pharmaceutical companies are often skeptical and cautious about their exposure on social media.

IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics chose to delve into data analytics of social media and life science companies. In a 2014 report, IMS made the case for social media and caution against too much caution. Out of the top 50 pharmaceutical companies, only 23 uses social media as a platform, and only 10 utilize all three popular sites – Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The IMS report ranked Johnson & Johnson at the top, partially because of its strong consumer-health business. The consumer aspect of the business drove GlaxoSmithKline to second place, Pfizer to fourth, and Novartis to fifth.

Social media has not only incorporated itself integrally in the extended healthcare delivery methods, it also opened doors for connecting patients intimately with pharmaceutical companies, profoundly influencing their research, commercial programs and investments.


Entering the world of academia, social media plays an interesting role. Before Facebook and Twitter existed, Wikipedia made the waves across the world as an Internet Encyclopedia. Once frowned upon as a less worthy or unreliable source of information is now used by students, professors, professionals and almost anyone that has access to the Internet. Many students are now advised to visit Wikipedia for general understanding of a subject matter or for a brief understanding of a topic. Some students are also advised to contribute by editing pages of their interest as a contributor as part of their curriculum. Wikipedia has since recruited volunteers to check on all submitted contents proving an increase in the reliability of information yet, critics are still a little skeptical to cite Wikipedia sources.

One of the caveats with such content sharing sites is the authenticity and reliability of such sources and information – who is qualified to check the information? This is why a handful of people are still wary of the usage of social media due to how fast information gets disseminated especially with the speed of social media sites without going through a rigid filtering process. However, this does not stop people from taking in information they deem right.

To sum it up, dabbling with social media is often risky but very rewarding when a good strategy is in place. A good social media strategy comes hand in hand with sufficient social media literacy. In this day and age, information is chunked out every second of the day and being able to discern, analyze and contextualize data into bite-sized pieces for target audiences to ingest would be beneficial to all. With that said, I would suggest taking a step forward with social media because it is inevitable but this step will be one that has no turning back.

Written by: Clarrie Si Qian Ng

Clarrie Si Qian Ng is pursuing her Master’s degree in Asia Pacific Policy Studies at the University of British Columbia. She is interested in deciphering the use of social media in political communication.

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