With more than 3.9 billion people using social media daily, more than half of the global population is active online. It is further estimated that on average we spend 2.5 hours a day on social media channels alone. 

Social media was initially primarily used as a method of connection and entertainment; however, it has since diversified into an unmatched offering pandering to all aspects of daily life, whereby anyone with an Internet connection and possibly a username has access to news, product purchasing, streaming, education and an income.

While the sign-up is free to this one-stop all-in-one life-store, that doesn't mean it won't come at a cost.

The T&Cs for social channels are almost always ignored by users (consumers businesses alike) and often, users sign over a significant amount of power towards social platforms: Data mines are a key weapon in any social strategy and holds insights into the make-up of the consumer.

Consumers were shocked by some platforms' changes in user agreements earlier this year; however, millions had already accepted most of these terms without a second thought; the backlash against one messaging service was odd because whichever social platform you're using, you have likely already provided significant information and given the platform permission to use freely, anyway.

It's why that item sitting on an online store's wishlist or left in a basket at check-out appears endlessly as an advert when mindlessly scrolling through the web. Your information is used to cater to you and sell more aggressively.

As a consumer, you're not paying to use social media channels, so what benefit is the channel getting other than your data to pre-empt sales? Ultimately, you are the product sold to marketers and brands.

As social media's popularity grew and the audience strengthened, brands, business decision-makers and even politicians have come to use it as an avenue to both push and pull an agenda.

Everyone with an active account has something to give or gain from being online and many have tried to wield the power of influence that comes with it. We have seen politicians and political parties been banned for violating terms or inciting viral violence, proving that even the most powerful users have limited clemency via online social platforms.

Social media users (brands, politicians or consumers of content) all need to realise the power of the platforms resides with the platforms and that they have the power to veto freedom of speech and use, based on their T&Cs.

So be sure to read the T&Cs carefully, particularly if social media provides your main source of business and communication with your audience. Remember, they can also change these T&C's relatively easily and you have the option to stay or go ... but when your livelihood depends on the platform it can be a tough decision.

The past year has highlighted not only how fast but how effectively social media and apps can change our daily lives. They can become completely embedded in our behavioural routines.

Consumers quickly subscribed to online platforms. Be it for ordering food and having it arrive via contactless delivery, or having prescribed medication prepacked and at your door before the end of every month, entire schedules can be planned and implemented from a smart device.

All sorts have all been ordered and purchased via WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook Marketplace, apps and websites, and sales are often spurred by social media.

While social media has always been used as a platform of communication, it has most recently developed into a tool of resilience. With nearly half of South Africa's small businesses at risk of closure given the impact of the lockdown, a simple Instagram page, when effectively used, can be the lifeline that a business needs.

As an example of social media developments, Instagram understood the need to further develop its platform during the pandemic and introduced Shop, which provides businesses the opportunity to directly link merchandise to the post available for purchase.

Small businesses are able to use this tool as an additional e-commerce channel when creating posts on product and service offerings.

While social media has the power, it's the people who have given it to them; and as the platforms develop, they begin to connect that power to opportunity. Be more conscious about the platform and its terms of use.

Remember, the power of a social platform remains in two places: the platform owner and also in the hands that hold the device on which it's loaded and the user's ability to create human interaction.

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