The terms "social media" and "social networking" are often used interchangeably to refer to web-based tools and technologies that support online communication and information sharing. They turn communication into interactive dialogue (Wikipedia).
The term social media encompasses various tools and services, including:
- microblogs (e.g. Twitter)
- content sharing services (e.g. flickr, Youtube, Vimeo),
- social networking sites (e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn, Ning)
- social bookmarking (e.g. Delicious)
- location based services (e.g Foursquare)
Web 2.0 is often used as a collective term for the range of technologies and tools that allows users to interact and collaborate with each other using social media.
The more well known services such as Facebook have reported a substantial increase in the number of registered users and are increasingly used by individuals and organisations to create networks in which they share information, opinion and intelligence (http://newsroom.fb.com/Key-Facts).
The growth in the use of social media reflects the changing nature of the world wide web. In the 1990s the web was largely used as a broadcast medium through which users passively consumed information. Now, it offers scope for interactive communication. As Jos Creese, then President of the Society of Information Technology Management (Soctim 2011), observes:
The web is no longer about technology. It is about delivering lower cost services designed around the user. Any public service organisation, therefore, which is not fully integrating the potential of web delivery in financial and customer service strategies, is likely to be under-performing in both areas.
Writing in a Guardian blog, Barr (2011) highlights the possibilities for service users and carers:
Presenting information in a smart, user friendly and attractive manner is becoming an increasingly important dimension in providing any front line service, with websites acting as the public's window to service providers.