Going Global: How Social Media Formed an Active Audience

When we talk about globalisation (interconnectedness) and popular culture, we can’t leave the impact of social media out of the discussion. Although the platforms are popular today, the term is believed to have been coined during the late 90s, according to Nexis and Factiva. However, the expansion of social media can only be seen later somewhere around 2005.

From 2005 onwards, social media started taking the world by storm, changing the way we connect. Kelli S. Burns (2009) emphasised that social media has affected the modern world and changed the way we perceive people and products. Passive consumption has been challenged by the drastic use of technology and people have become ‘active consumers’. With just a click, people can ‘like’, ‘share’, ‘comment’ and even more, to approve or disapprove, thereby becoming active contributors to a product or celebrity’s image.

Nine years later, this stance of an active audience is also supported by Gillespie (2018). Although he argues that an ‘authoritative force’ drives social media, he has emphasised on the transparency of social media and that the audience should be given even a greater active role, thus proving that the social media audience till 2018, was active to quite an extent. Whereas in the twentieth century, ‘passive consumption’ was the main trend.

There has been a shift from the twentieth century to twenty-first-century globalisation that has made the audience more active. In 2008 alone, a study conducted by Forrester Research reported that social media is used by 75% of adults in the United States alone. And all over the world, 3.96 million active social media users is a huge number with the count continuously booming. As of July 2020, we can see the number of social media users and their expected annual growth.

Social media statistics, as of July 2020. Copyright: We Are Social, Hootsuite, via SmartInsights

However, we owe the number of these social media users to another major technological event, which is the digital cameras and smartphones becoming omnipotent. From the statistics below by Statista via Oberlo, we can see the rise of smartphone users from 2016 to 2021.

The number of smartphone users in the world. Copyright: Statista, via Oberlo

But what exactly is popular culture and where does it fit into the picture? According to Szeman and O’Brien (2017), popularity is governed by massive consumption. Popular culture today stands for media that can reach a wide audience and also be successful on a huge economic scale. Keeping that in mind, social media has instilled ‘mass culture’– production of content for a huge, unknown audience, depends on electronic media as the carrier.

Thus, electronic carriers have formed the base for twenty-first globalisation. Furthermore, Abidin (2018) has highlighted social media as a factor for microcelebrities as well as Internet celebrities, both of which have appeared in the twenty-first century. This justifies the importance of social media presence, despite the reputation of public figures. However, an active audience has more power to drive a person toward fame. Therefore, the connection between an active audience and brand image in the twenty-first century is one that cannot be denied.


Abidin, C. (2018). Internet Celebrity: Understanding Fame Online (SocietyNow) Emerald Publishing Limited.

Burns, K. S. (2009). Celeb 2.0: How Social Media Foster Our Fascination with Popular Culture (New Directions in Media). Praeger.

Gillespie, T. (2018). Custodians of the Internet: Platforms, Content Moderation, and the Hidden Decisions That Shape Social Media. Yale University Press.

Statista. (2020, August 20). Smartphone users worldwide 2016–2021. Retrieved 27 November 2020, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/330695/number-of-smartphone-users-worldwide/

Szeman, I., & O’Brien, S. (2017). Popular Culture: A User’s Guide (International ed.). Wiley-Blackwell.