What Is Social Networking?

Social networking explained in simple terms

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Social networking — the use of a website or app to connect to friends, family, and people who share your interests — has become one of the largest and most influential components of the web, but despite how prevalent it is in the Western world (especially among the younger crowd), not everyone uses it or understands it

The open-ended nature of social networks may only add to the confusion. Once signed into a social network, having answered a few basic profile questions, it's easy to sit back and wonder what you are supposed to do next.

Social Networks: A Simple Understanding

Perhaps the easiest way to understand social networking is to think of it like high school. You had friends in school and you knew quite a few people even if you weren't friends with all of them, but it's likely that you didn't know everyone.

If you ever moved to a new school, or if you can imagine moving to a new school, you start out with no friends. After attending classes, you start meeting people, and as you meet them, you begin associating with those that have similar interests.

Getting started with social networking is much the same as starting a new school. At first, you don't have any friends, but as you join groups and begin meeting new people, you build a friend list of those with similar interests.

Attending a job fair to learn more about businesses in your area, is also a form of social networking. You may have heard that social networking is important in finding a job. This is true in that knowing people (social) and communicating with them (networking) can help you land a job possibly easier than someone who isn't going down that route.

In the context of the internet, this is what social networking is, except online.

Social networking is based on a certain structure that allows people to both express their individuality and meet people with similar interests. Below are a few common components found in most social networking websites.

A Public Profile

This is your own little piece of digital real estate where you tell the world about yourself. Profiles contain basic information like a photo (usually of yourself), short bio, location, website, and sometimes questions that can describe your personality (e.g. your favorite actor or book).

Social networks dedicated to a special theme like music or movies might ask questions related to that theme. In this way, dating websites can be seen as social networking websites because they network you with other people who are looking for the same things you are.

Friends and Followers

Friends and followers are the heart and soul of social networking - after all, that is precisely the "social" component. 

They are the members of the website that you trust to the point of letting them post comments on your profile, see what you've posted online, and send you messages.

See these popular social media posting trends for a fun look at what people like to post on social media websites.

It should be noted that not all social networks refer to them as friends or followers. LinkedIn says they're "connections," but all social networks have a way to designate trusted members.

Home Feed

Since the goal of social networking is to connect and interact with others, some type of "main" or "home" page on almost every social network is meant specifically for a live feed of updates from friends.

This gives users a real-time glimpse of everything their friends are sharing.

Likes and Comments

Lots of social networks have made it easy for users to "like" another user's content by tapping or clicking something like a thumbs up or heart button. It's an easy and straightforward way to put your personal stamp of approval on something that a friend posted but without having to comment something specific.

Sometimes, this is used as a simple acknowledgment of what was posted. This is especially helpful considering some social networks don't show you who has seen what you posted.

A primary focus of groups is to create interaction between users in the form of comments or discussions, which is why most social networks support commenting on nearly every type of post.

Each comment within the frame of a single post can be referred to as a thread. Over time, the main/home page of the social networking site can easily gather hundreds or thousands of threads.

Groups and Tags

Some social networks use groups to help you find people with similar interests or engage in discussions on certain topics. A group can be anything from "Johnson High Class of '98" or "People Who Like Books" to "Doors Fans." 

Social networking groups are both a way to connect with like-minded people and a way to identify your interests. 

Sometimes, groups are called by other names, such as the "networks" on Facebook.

As an alternative to groups, lots of social networks have turned to tagging that lets users categorize their posts according to their topic.

Social networks will either automatically generate a tag when you type a pound sign (#) before a keyword (called a hashtag) or require you to enter several keyword terms in a specific tag area.

These tags become links, and when you click or tap them, they take you to a new page where you can see all of the most recent posts from everyone who included that tag in their posts.

Why Start Social Networking?

Social networking is a nice form of entertainment, is great for meeting people with similar interests, and is definitely useful for staying in touch with old friends/acquaintances.

It can also be a very effective promotional tool for businesses, entrepreneurs, writers, actors, musicians, or artists.

Most of us have hobbies or things that we are keenly interested in, like books, television, video games, or movies. Social networks allow us to reach out to others that have the same interests.

Which Social Network Do I Join? Am I Too Old?

You are never too old to get involved in social networking, and there are plenty of popular social networks to choose from, including niche social networks that focus on a specific theme or style of posting.

If you're stumped on which social networking to join first, have a look at this list of the top social networks to get a glimpse of what each one offers. Try one out and see what works for you. You can always leave and try something else if you don't end up loving it.

Once you've embedded yourself in a social media platform, consider grabbing a social media management application.