Someone asked me the other day "What are the really good things about social networks?" it made me stop and think. Like you, I use social networks on a regular basis. I make connections, find out interesting stuff, and let others know what I do. I've never really considered why I find social networks so useful. So here are three things that I think are really handy:
1) Speed. News stories often break on Twitter, which is why all journalists have Twitter accounts, and alerts set up on their topics of interest. However, speed is just speed. It's not analysis. Social media is really useful in alerting you to something that just happened, so that you can look into it on more detail. If you're the kind of person who needs to know stuff first, social media is brilliant. But there's a caveat. Because you don't usually know the source of the information, there may be no validity check. It's probably better to say that social media can alert you to something that may have happened, and you need to find a trusted source to be sure.
2) Structure There's more and more random information flying around the web. Social media tends to facilitate hubs and groups of interest that provide structure to that information. Again, you need to be aware of the possible bias of the curator. However, getting a current view of a topic you don't fully understand is much easier than it used to be.
3) Mood Finding out what people think about an issue is also made much easier by social networks. Online campaigns and petitions are now seen as reliable indicators of the public mood. Once again, the usual warnings apply, but if a few hundred thousand people feel strongly enough about an issue to comment online, there must be something going on.