What is social networking?
Social networking primarily refers to the use of social media platforms to connect with other users, promote a business and/or engage with users online. Scrolling on Instagram and liking a post, choosing to follow an influencer or small business, joining a Facebook group or commenting on a post—these are all examples of social networking in action.
Getting started with social networking begins with creating a virtual personal or business profile (depending on your needs) on any given platform. Examples of leading social networking websites and applications today include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, Pinterest and YouTube.
Once you’re signed up, the next step is connecting with other online users on the same social media platform. From there, an individual or small business can start sharing content, either in the form of text or multimedia such as images and videos. The goal of this sharing of information is to get others to connect with your profile or business, and eventually have them commenting, liking and sharing your content with others.
What is social networking used for?
Social networking can be used for a variety of reasons, including personal, educational and professional. Individuals can use these platforms for socializing with friends and family, staying up-to-date with news and trends, connecting with experts, or simply connecting with new people globally. From a professional standpoint, social networking is a great tool for promoting businesses, professional networking or facilitating collaborations. Regardless of the particular use, social networking helps individuals and businesses foster and build relationships.
It’s proven to be an effective marketing strategy, allowing brands to promote and market goods and services, while also building brand awareness. By leveraging social networking platforms, businesses of any size can reach a larger audience and build relationships with their target market, new customers and loyal fans. These networks provide a unique social media marketing opportunity for businesses to interact directly with their target customers, or to use influencers to spread the word and increase brand loyalty along the way.
Beyond personal use or business, social networking can be a powerful way to encourage social good and change, too. Through social networks, individuals are able to connect with and support causes they believe in more easily, and can use their voice to raise awareness around important social issues. From environmental concerns to social justice causes, social networking connects people with similar aims and interests and can be the impetus to spur groups of people into action.
5 types of social networking
There are many forms of social networking available today, here are some of the most popular types used for professional and personal purposes:
Microblogging involves posting short messages, such as tweets on Twitter or posts on Tumblr. These types of social networks provide users with a platform to express their thoughts and opinions in an open forum. Microblogging fosters communication that allows other users to share information, comment on posts and create discussion from the original thread.
2. Social networking sites
Social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram allow users to create profiles and connect with other people. Individuals and businesses can use these platforms to post updates and share photos, stay in touch with friends, search for jobs and more. They can also be used as marketing tools to build brand awareness and run advertising campaigns targeting a potential audience or market.
3. Photo sharing sites
Platforms like Flickr and Instagram are used to upload and share photos with others. These social networks enable users to view images and comment on them, or even post their own. Posts can be personal, or used to share promotional photos or product images to gain interest in a small business.
4. Video sharing sites
YouTube, Vimeo and TikTok are social networks that allow users to upload, share, and watch videos. These social networks provide a platform for users to explore different topics, find entertainment or simply socialize with others. They also often enable commenting, and sharing. Similar to the social networking sites mentioned above, video platforms offer an engaging setup of business marketing as well.
5. Discussion forums
Discussion forums such as Reddit and Quora are social networks where people can ask and answer questions, discuss topics of interest and even debate issues. This type of social network enables users to find answers or share what they know with others. They also allow for the creation of virtual communities for like minded individuals to come together to start conversations and learn new information or trends. For businesses, this is a great way to show off expertise and authority in a given field.
Social networking and social media marketing
Social networking has become a key component of social media marketing. Through social networks, businesses can reach a larger audience and foster trusting relationships with their customers. Additionally, social networks provide an opportunity for brands to interact directly with their target customers on a more regular basis.
Businesses can use social networks to spread awareness about their products or services, offer discounts and promotions, and even provide customer service as well as online reputation management. They can also be used to create engagement and generate leads by connecting with potential users who may be interested in what the brand has to offer. Last but not least, social listening and monitoring social signals on these networks provides an excellent opportunity for businesses to engage with their audience and collect feedback on their products or services.
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Social networking guidelines (to stay safe online)
While social networking can be invaluable for the sharing of information and building communities, there are a number of guidelines to keep in mind when interacting with a public, online platform. These include:
1. Don’t share personal information with strangers. Never share sensitive information such as bank accounts, phone numbers and passwords with someone you don’t know online.
2. Be aware of potential scams. Don’t respond to messages from suspicious sources. Many platforms allow users to report suspicious or spammy messages.
3. Don’t create inappropriate or offensive posts. Whether it's images, texts or videos, make sure to check the exact content posting guidelines of the specific social media site you’re using first. These can also change over time, so stay updated if you post frequently and of course, be sensitive to your followers.
4. Change your passwords often. On top of that, be sure to use complex combinations of numbers, symbols and letters—and never share this password with anyone.
5. Block and report harassment. If you see something, say something. Be sure to block or report any users who are harassing, bullying or making threats. On the same note, learn how to tackle internet trolls.
6. Manage your privacy settings. Ensure that only trusted contacts can view your social network content. If you do set your account to public, for business reasons, you’ll need to make sure your account and comments are consistently being monitored.
The potential cons of social networking
While social networking provides us with a powerful source of information and a forum for relationship building, there are a number of potential drawbacks associated with it. Being aware of these can help you navigate and manage your social networking safely, both as an individual and as a business.
From addiction, to cyberbullying, to the spread of misinformation and concerns about privacy—these risks of excessive and unregulated social networking are well known. In response to many of these, there are now a number of social networking regulations that have been implemented across the US and other countries to tackle these concerns.
Social networking regulations
To get a better understanding of rules and regulations for social networking in your area, the following resources can help:
General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (for residents of EU)
California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) (for residents of California)
The Children’s Online Privacy Protect Act (COPPA) (for residents of the US)
The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) (for residents of Canada)