What is Social Media?
Today, social media, or what is collectively internet-based social networking applications, is one of the most powerful tools to connect with friends, family and a whole host of people, who may or may not be a part of your everyday life. As many high school- and college-aged individuals already know, it offers users a means to share their lives with others 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Athletes wishing to grow their stats on and off the field, however, need to understand the role of social media and ultimately, how to effectively use it to their benefit.

Although you may have grown up already using it, social media really took shape with the rise of Web 2.0 in the early 2000's following the dot-com bubble. Our understanding of the internet at the time was transforming. What was once a static platform for -- among other things -- information publication was now considered far more dynamic. This Web 2.0 was thriving with user-generated content and rich participation. The internet was no longer considered a one way street for users to consume information like traditional media. Users could now create their own content -- right or wrong/ true or false -- and share it with the world to be discussed, debated and even redistributed through altogether different channels. Online communities were quickly being built around this and became the foundation of what is social media.

All this information sharing and constant communication has proven to be a highly lucrative endeavor with top social networking sites cultivating massive global memberships. Current social media sites include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Flickr, YouTube, Pinterest, Linkedin, Tumblr, Google+, and even Yelp. Each one of these has their own specific niche, some of which are more general, while others are geared to specific networks or content, such as blogs, photo or video. The membership rates for these sites is astonishing with many internet subscribers taking an active role in online communities not only daily, but continuously throughout the day and night.

Much of this growth can be attributed to the advent of the smartphone and a true mobile web experience. Working in conjunction, droves of internet communities no longer found themselves tied to a computer. Everywhere they went was an opportunity to share with their online cohort unconditionally. The freedom this held opened the world to itself with users essentially dictating the shape of the internet, and that freedom this technology presents is what many upcoming high school and collegiate athletes need to understand in terms of the benefits and the dangers.

Don’t put your personal life and future career path in jeopardy. Discover the in’s and out’s of social media and how to place your best foot forward. Understand your role in building yourself not just as a brand, but a top-tier brand, and accept responsibility for managing the success of that brand. Garner the attention you deserve, and most importantly, know the risks now before it’s too late because what you put out there can affect you for far longer than you could imagine.