“social media” is all the buzz, with more and more individuals and companies embracing it as a way to communicate. But what exactly is it?
Although social media tends to reach a wide audience, it’s not “mass media.” With mass media – for example, television, radio and newspapers – there are few opportunities for social interaction. A television show may let you vote for your favourite singer, a radio program may have a call-in show and a newspaper may have personal classifieds, but on the whole it’s hard to jump in and have your say.
Social media, on the other hand, is all about social interaction. Using social media software and the Internet, anyone can broadcast a message. You don’t even need to know how to code a web page. It’s easy to join communities that share specific interests, read what others are posting and then post replies in real time.
Social media includes blogs, podcasts and Internet forums – but some of its most famous incarnations are Facebook,Twitter and LinkedIn. All three are accessible on both computers and mobile devices (such as smartphones), so they can travel with you wherever you go.
Launched in 2004, Facebook (facebook.com) had its origins in a Harvard dorm room. The founders opened it up to Harvard students, then to students at other universities and, eventually, to everyone aged 13 and up. In six years, it has attracted 500 million users worldwide. It has also inspired a movie, The Social Network, released in October 2010.
Every Facebook user has a “profile,” where they can choose to share information about themselves, their education, work experience and interests, as well as photos.
An important part of the profile is the “wall,” where you and your friends can chat back and forth about everything from world politics to the weather. You can also use the wall to post links to news stories and videos and comment on them. The default home page in Facebook is the “news feed,” where you can quickly skim through everything posted on your friends’ walls. status updates
“What’s on your mind?” is the question Facebook asks every user at the top of their wall. That’s where you enter a “status update” that tells your friends (or, if you choose, every Facebook user) what you’re thinking and doing. For more private communications, Facebook offers a “messages” feature that works more like email – sent only to the people you choose.
Facebook wouldn’t be a “social media” site without friends. You can use a search tool to find out if your real world friends have Facebook profiles, and then send out friend requests. Once a friend has accepted your friend request (depending on their privacy settings), you can access your friend’s profile and post to their wall.
A day of brainstorming at podcasting company Odeo led to Twitter’s creation (twitter.com) in 2006. Today, this tool – originally developed as an internal service for Odeo employees – sees traffic of about 65 million tweets every day. That’s 750 tweets every second. With more than 100 million users, growing rapidly, Twitter has also made headlines for enabling communication during significant political events, such as the 2009 election protests in Iran.
Messages posted on Twitter are called “tweets” (or “retweets” if they’re posted again by someone else) and they are limited to 140 characters in length. To help squeeze more information into that limited space, a number of websites (such as bit.ly and is.gd) have sprung up offering URL shortening services that enable people to tweet website links.
Friends, family, businesses and favourite celebrities may all have Twitter accounts. You can search for people and, when you find someone whose tweets interest you, you can become their “follower.” Their tweets will show up on your Twitter home page, with the most recent tweets appearing at the top of the list. In return, people can choose to follow your tweets.
# and @
Sometimes Twitter seems to have a language all its own. The # symbol followed by a topic is a way of indicating your tweet is about that topic. The @ symbol followed by a Twitter user name is the conventional way to refer to someone else.
Check out topics that are currently being discussed by a large number of Twitter users in the “Trending: Worldwide” section of the home page. There’s also a new feature that lets you set your location and see “Local Trends.” Then – because Twitter is “social media” – you can join the conversation.
Designed primarily for professional networking, rather than socializing, LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) was launched in 2003 and has more than 75 million registered users. The site allows its members to build a contact list of people they know and trust, and to introduce people within that contact list who may be interested in doing business together.
A LinkedIn profile spells out the user’s credentials, including education, past and current positions and, perhaps most importantly, recommendations from other LinkedIn users. It’s designed to be a resource for employers looking for potential job candidates, so many profiles are as detailed and businesslike as resumes.
A contact on LinkedIn is known as a connection – and users are expected to invite only those they actually know to become their connections. Users are, however, encouraged to ask their connections for introductions to their connections – people one degree of separation away who may become useful business contacts. You can also join groups to expand your circle of connections – for example, alumni groups, groups maintained by
professional organizations or groups of people with similar interests.
From a job seeker’s perspective, LinkedIn allows users to search job postings, review hiring managers’ profiles and find key information about a company, including current employees and new hires they may be able to connect with through existing contacts – all free of charge. LinkedIn will even suggest jobs you may be interested in based on your profile. Employers can post jobs and engage LinkedIn’s more sophisticated hiring solutions – for a fee.
Network Activity and Inbox
Like Facebook’s status updates, LinkedIn has network activity updates that enable you to share opinions and interesting links. And like Facebook’s messages, LinkedIn has an inbox that allows users to exchange personal messages.
An InterActive experience
Social media – whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn – is an interactive experience that enables you to engage in dialogue on any topic imaginable with people around the world. It’s a new way to renew friendships and make connections, for business or pleasure, and it truly is changing the way people communicate in the 21 st century. •
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