The Pew study found that in the last six years the number of Americans using social networking sites has surged. In 2005, just 8 percent of adult Internet users reported using social networking sites. Earlier research by The Nielsen Company also found that Americans spend nearly a quarter (22.7 percent) of their time online on social networking sites and blogs, up from 15.8 percent the previous year (a 43 percent increase).
Like any other new technology, social media brings enormous opportunities and benefits. The ability to communicate and interact instantaneously on a global scale 24/7 enables businesses to reach their customers directly and individuals to voice opinions on any topic they see fit.
Yet as the opportunity to tweet, message, share and “like” grows, so do the risks. For example, in recent months social media has been used as a key form of communication in the Occupy Wall Street protests, as an enabler of the grassroots uprisings in the Middle East, and as a tool used by rioters to incite and coordinate civil disorder in the United Kingdom. Two U.K. men were actually jailed for four years each for inciting disorder via social networking sites.
Just one disparaging tweet on a company’s product or service has the potential to trigger a viral reputation meltdown if a business does not provide an immediate and effective response. Social networking sites raise customer awareness on a global scale, in some cases even helping people to make a claim for a faulty product or for a personal injury.
A recent Consumer Reports survey also found that social media use by households is exposing them to a range of risks, including virus thefts and identity theft.