The Evolution Of Social Media Marketing

Social media is an expanding ecosystem of websites, applications, platforms, and electronic devices that allow people to converse and communicate mutually. It’s a digital galaxy where users create online communities to share information, exchange ideas, and circulate personal messages.

Online communities took the lead in encouraging the social networking of individuals, groups, and institutions. It was the beginning of the modern “ICE” age, paving the way for the Information, Communication, and Entertainment explosion. 

The potential struck businesses for promoting brands and services on various social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. If companies could share content tailor-made for specific audiences using different platforms, they could create brand awareness and boost customer conversions on a mega scale. Social media marketing was taking wings. 

Around 90 percent of marketing executives consider social media to be a key component of marketing strategies. Studying the evolution of social media gives us a better perspective on how successful businesses leverage technology for research, data analytics, brand imaging, lead generation, and customer retention to stimulate e-commerce.

Social Media: Tracing its Evolutionary History

1971: Digital transmission of messages becomes reality

American computer engineer Ray Tomlinson successfully sends an electronic message (world’s first email) from one computer to another in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

1986: Automation of a subscriber list expands the reach of a message 

University student Eric Thomas invents Listserv, the world’s first attempt at automating a mailing list that could add and remove subscribers. It could template and automatically forward a message to all the members on the list. 

1988: World’s first chat network becomes operational

Finnish IT professional, Jarkko Oikarinen, creates the IRC (Internet Relay Chat), a protocol that enables more than two users to exchange text messages over the internet in real-time. 

1997:  World’s first social networking service comes into being

American entrepreneur, Andrew Weinreich, launches, the first-ever social networking site that could profile friends, family, and acquaintances, and forge friendships among users. At its peak, the site was hosting a million users. It would be years before the internet could match the infrastructural needs of expanding social networks.

2002: First wave of modernization impacts social networking services

Canadian computer programmer Jonathan Abrams became the pioneer of modern social media by launching Friendster, a U.S. social networking site. The site’s USP was that the network would continue to expand from friends to friends-of-friends. Users could share pictures, videos, messages, and comments. Active today, Friendster has a subscriber base exceeding 90 million, mostly of Asian origin.

2003: Social networking services target businesses 

The business fraternity enters social media with a bang through LinkedIn, a networking service that gets employers and job seekers to post their profiles and resumes to make themselves visible to recruiters and other professionals.

2004 to 2008: Harvard students’ brainwave churns the social media ferment

When Mark Zuckerberg and fellow students got together to create the Harvard-exclusive social network for college students, nobody thought that Facebook would grow as a network connecting 2.5 billion people. The USP was that users could write messages on another’s wall and tweak visibility through privacy settings like “only friends” “friends of friends” or “everyone.” Content sharing, instant messaging, live chat, and other innovations grew Facebook’s impressive array of features. 


2005: Online video streaming becomes integral to social networking

The creation of YouTube by a group of ex PayPal employees was a revolution of sorts in the history of social media because video hosting and sharing became a reality for millions of netizens. You could watch, upload, download, and embed video links in online blogs, forums, and networks.

2006: Microblogging weds social networking to create the “SMS of the internet”

Twitter arrives on the scene, introducing hashtags for highlighting trends and topics and popularizing microblogging (sharing information in snippets).

If Facebook networks you to family, friends, and acquaintances known mainly to you, Twitter networks you to a broader community of known and unknown  individuals through news, ideas, and trending topics.

2009: Social media networking penetrates the community of mobile users

Whatsapp triggers a revolution in social media networking by connecting mobile users through text messaging, voice calls, video calls, and through the sharing of images, documents, and user location. In 2019, more than 1.5 billion users in 180 nations are enjoying WhatsApp’s features free without annoying ads.

Evolving social media marketing was powering the business growth engine

Over the past five decades, we’ve seen the rise of social media and the escalation of social networking among communities and businesses.

Marketing was shifting from the era of mass production and product differentiation phase, to arrive in the modern age of personalization of products and services targeting specific audiences.

The technology was the catalyst propelling the evolution of social media marketing. Let’s see how technology became the social media marketing enabler of the revolutionary kind.

The advent of the internet triggers a paradigm shift from  print marketing to digital marketing

Print marketing domination ends

In the 1980s, when computers were evolving, and desktop publishing was in its infancy, there was a surge in the popularity of print marketing. Following the introduction of the mass browser, Netscape Navigator, internet usage saw user base increasing phenomenally to 70 million netizens. The mass adoption of the net and the growth of social media had a cataclysmic impact on marketing

Growth of email, search engines, and e-commerce stores

The 1990s saw the growth of email, the creation of search engines like Yahoo and Google, and the establishment of e-commerce sites such as Amazon and eBay, which brought transformative changes in marketing.

Print advertisements, telephonic sales, TV commercials, and radio jingles were prevalent. Yet, email steadily grew as an outbound marketing tool. Search engines became the fountainhead of information on products and services, making everything accessible from the comfort of one’s home.

The beginning of search engine optimization (SEO)

Search engine optimization took the driving seat with keyword stuffing, meta-tagging, and backlinks for escalating search rankings. Another critical marketing development was the “server push” capability of the Netscape browser, which made it easier to render documents, spreadsheets, and images. The marketer’s quest for promoting product visibility was finding fruition.

Marketing was replacing physical data management with digital big data technology

The era of print, celluloid, and optical storage and retrieval of data gave way to information in digital form.

Big data became the most sought after resource for marketers. Inbound marketing understood the potential of exploiting big data, and social media sites made it possible for users and marketers to share much information on public and personal interest.

Businesses got a shot in the arm because marketers, using big data to drive marketing campaigns, could discern patterns of consumer behavior in social media. Data visualization and database management techniques could help in demystifying customer concerns.

Marketers could access big data-driven predictive analysis to understand consumer behavior and connect more effectively with the customer. Big data has made it possible to develop an array of precision marketing tools specializing in social media.

The iPhone helps marketers penetrate social media and human consciousness  

The world had to wait for Apple to transform the humble phone into an iPhone for smartphones to indeed arrive and change marketing.

Today, half of all net users access the internet through smartphones, creating a humongous market that has become the cynosure of all marketers’ eyes. With an explosion of downloadable apps, social media use grew exponentially. Social media marketing, sensing the potential, started acquiring more depth and precision in audience targeting.

Suddenly, if anything caught your fancy, you had only to reach for the smartphone, and Google a query for search engines to display what’s best and brightest on the internet that mirrors your search intent.


We’ve seen how social media and social networking kept pace with growing technology, and how marketers never lost an opportunity to highlight the product’s presence in social media channels to spur business growth.

When your target audience hangs around social media and is capable of engaging businesses like never before, it makes sense to understand your customers better and tailor products and services that engage and spur conversions.

We are in an era where customers are driving change. For the marketer, there’s no better strategy than social media marketing to spark a conversation with the buyer, establish a relationship, and build brand loyalty.

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