Social Media is everywhere. There is no escaping it.
Twenty years ago there was a raise in households buying PC's. This encouraged more and more people to get on the Internet. Then there were PC's for each individual within the household. Now there is a never ending grow of people purchasing SmartPhones, which almost carry out all of the functions of your standard PC. This is making it easier for everyone to be on the Internet on the go. It is now hard to find a point during the day where you cannot access the Internet.
What do people look at whilst on the Internet? – Social Media.
Everyone is constantly online talking to their friends, sharing what they're doing and finding out what other people are up too. It's happening all day, every day. Social Media never sleeps.
What is Social Media?
The best way to define Social Media is to break it down. Media is an instrument on communication, like a newspaper, radio or television. Therefore Social Media would be the social instrument on communication.
In Web 2.0 terms, this would be a website that doesn't just give you information, but it will interact with you as you receive the information. These interactions can be as simple as asking for your comments or letting you vote on an article. It can even be as complex as Flixster recommending movies to you based on the ratings of other people with similar interests to you.
Try and think of regular media as a one-way street where you can read a newspaper or listen to a report on television, but you have very limited ability to give your thoughts on the matter. Social Media, on the other hand, is a two-way street that gives you the ability to communicate too. This allows you to express your opinions and thoughts on any matter and have them open for discussion with other people.
Is Social Media and Social News the same?
It is very easy to confuse Social Media with Social News because we often refer to members of news teams as
“The Media”. To make matters worse, we also get confused with the fact that a Social News site is also a Social Media site as it falls into that broader category.
Saying that Social News is the same as Social Media is like saying that Cars are Transport. A Car is a type of transport, then again so are Bikes, Boats and Planes. So while Social News is a form of Social Media, so are Social Networking and Wikis.
Here are some examples of Social Media Websites:
Social Bookmarking: Delicious, Blinklist and Simpy. You interact by tagging websites and search through websites bookmarked by other people.
Social News: Digg, Propeller and Reddit. You interact by voting for articles and comment on them.
Social Networking: Facebook, Twitter, Hi5 and Last.FM. You interact by adding friends, following people, commenting on profiles, joining groups and having discussions.
Social Photo and Video Sharing: YouTube and Flickr. You interact by sharing photos or videos and commenting on user submissions.
Wikis: Wikipedia and Wikia. You interact by adding articles and editing existing articles.
What is it?
Social Networking is based on a certain structure that allows people to both express their individuality, opinions, emotions and thoughts whilst meeting people with similar interests. The structure will usually include having profiles, friends or followers, blog posts, widgets and quite often something unique to the site itself. For example on Facebook you're able to “Poke” someone, on Twitter you can “Re-Tweet” someone and on “Bebo” you can share love once a day.
Profile: This is where you fill out an online portfolio regarding basic information about yourself. It gives you a chance to upload a photo of yourself, mention where you live, how old you are, your interests and some personality questions. The questions are usually something quite standard such as “What is your favorite Film / Book / Color?”
Friends: We've all got friends and there is no doubt that your friends are already on these sites. Friends on your Social Networking sites are trusted people of the site that are allowed to post comments on your profile or send you private messages. You can also keep tabs on how your friends are using Social Networking, such as when they post a new picture or update their profile. This is how we stay connected.
Friends are the bread and butter of Social Networking. I should point out that not all Social Networking sites will refer to your friends as “friends”. For example on Twitter they are known as “followers” and on LinkedIn they are known as “connections”.
Groups: Most Social Networking sites will use groups to help you find people with similar interests with you. It can also be used for to engage in discussions on certain topics such as Global Warming or The Lost Series.
A group can be named anything from “Reepham High School '08” to “Kittens” to “One Direction Fans”. They are both a way to express your interests and connect with like-minded people. I should also point out that not all Social Networking sites name them “Groups”. For example on Facebook they are known as “Networks” and on Google+ they are known as “Circles”.
Discussions: One of the primary focuses on groups is to create interaction between users in the form of a discussion. Most Social Networking sites support all discussions, providing they're appropriate. You will find that most of them allow you to post added content such as Photos, Videos or Songs which are related to the subject.
Blogs: Blogs are a feature that some Social Networking sites will have. These will not be as extensive as a WordPress or Blogger, but they are still there for you to keep people updated. Consider it as a longer Status or Tweet. Sometimes there are moments when you'd like to share something reasonably long but just don't want to start up a full time blog. This is where the blog feature comes in handy.
Widgets: Another way of letting people know what you're interested in is through Widgets. Some Social Networking sites have what we call a 'Widget Gallery'. From here you can select which Widgets suit you and post them on your profile. This allows people to take polls for example, or experience a new piece of music. Even fill out a questionnaire that you've devised.
Why Start Social Networking?
Social Networking, as I've said, is everywhere. There are so many people already on Social Networking sites and more and more people sign up each and every day. Besides texting and phone calls, it is the most advanced and common way to connect with your friends and family. It's phenomenal and not just for personal use. Thousands of business have flourish because of Social Networking. It's free advertisement and enables you to create a reputation for yourself. You're able to promote yourself, explain upcoming offers, deals and general news.
Most of us have hobbies or things that we are highly interested in such as Films, Books, Games, Sports and Music. Social Networking allows us to reach out to other people who share the same interests. It's a great way of discovering new things. You will find that people will similar interests might like something else also, which in turn, will gain your interest. For example if you and someone else share the same interest for the band 'Enter Shikari', you might find that they also enjoy other bands of a similar genre that you have not heard of.
Am I too old to start Social Networking?
You're never too old to start Social Networking. If you're worried about it being too difficult or technical for you to use, then don't be. Social Networking sites are designed to be simple and easy to use so that they can widen their audience to everyone. There isn't an age limit to Social Networking. It is advisable not to let children on without parental supervision but other than that go ahead and sign up!
You will find that there are specific groups dedicated to people of certain generations. This could be anything from “Music from the 60's” to “Are you scared of you computer too?”. There will be other people of a similar age if not older than you, who can help you with certain problems or issues you might be having with Social Networking. If you have children or grandchildren, ask them for help. Social Networking has become almost second nature for children these days and so therefore they should be able to guide you through everything that you need to know.
How do I get started with Social Networking?
Just like going to a party, going camping or joining a book club, Social Networking can be a lot of fun.
It can be very productive for your business and or career, just like attending business seminars or a business conference. Social Networking means different things for different people. Everyone has their own gains from it but you'll never know what you can achieve or experience through Social Networking until you give it a try for yourself.
The most common Social Network, Facebook, has reached over One Billion users as of September 2012. This includes celebrities such as Actors, Comedians, Musicians, Bands, Scientists and Athletes etc. Businesses are also on Facebook. For example Game, the gaming industry retailer, has got a main Facebook page and one set up for each individual branch or location. Game uses this to promote what deals are currently on, when you can pre-order new items and general news to its friends and followers.
Facebook however isn't alone. There are many other Social Networking sites that cater to general interests such as MySpace, Google+ and Twitter. Then there are those that cater to specific interests such as Flixter which is a Social Network for Film Lovers.
What Social Network is right for me?
The first question you have to ask yourself is; 'What do I want to gain from Social Networking?'
Are you looking to discuss films with someone? Are you looking to be able to stay better connected with your friends? Are you trying to promote your business? Are you trying to gain internet fame? Are you unsure and just want to find out what all the hype is about?
What ever the question is, you need to think about what you expect to gain from it.
If you're looking to gain a reputation or trying to self promote your business then Social Networks such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace are great for advertising yourself. Social Networks such as LinkedIn and Google+ are better for gaining good business contacts and connections.
If you're passionate about music there is a great Social Networking site called 'Last.Fm'. It combines the idea of a personalized radio station with Social Networking which therefore allows you to create your own playlists and will suggest music to you based on your tastes and interests. It also allows you to listen to playlists that have been created by your friends, this is particularly helpful for when you're at a party and need quick access to a good selection of tunes!
Unfortunately while there are plenty of different Social Networking sites which cater to most interests and needs, there isn't one specifically catered for everything. This is where the user created groups on sites such as Facebook come in handy. Facebook comes with a search box; this enables you to look up anything that is on Facebook. If you're trying to find a group to discuss the pollution in the sea, I guarantee that there will be a Group or Page dedicated to such conversations.
If you're just looking to meet a wide variety of people and not just those interested in a specific interest then I would recommend a general Social Networking site such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace or Hi5.
As you have learnt from this article, there are many different forms of Social Networking. You just now need to sit down and put in some time to find the right one for you or your business. You should start by defining your objectives. Please also be prepared to be flexible within the early days of Social Media. Remember that Rome wasn't built in a day!
Above everything though, make sure you enjoy it!