The web is abundant with services that provide the masses with networking, both personal and professional. Social networking is a booming segment of the Internet that can connect you to friends and family, potential clients and business opportunities, and if you have a desire to be an Internet star, your fans.
Traditionally, websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus are thought of as social networking services; however, don’t overlook more media driven services such as YouTube and Instagram. Although their focus is on photos and videos, their social benefits are just as important as the others.
The Big Three
Facebook is the current king of social networking. The service is somewhat private, its users choosing what to share with their followers. This sort of ‘walled garden’ approach works well in most cases, however Facebook’s ever changing security and sharing settings can keep a user guessing what is public and what is private. With over a billion users, Facebook’s span is global but yet it works very well reaching local communities.
Most of its members use the service to find and connect with friends and family members but it can be extremely useful to local businesses. Facebook makes it very easy to create a page for reaching out and connecting to customers. Every business, small or large, can benefit from this free source of advertising.
Nearly as popular is Twitter. Celebrities and corporations, politicians and private citizens use it – all in varying ways. In contrast to its larger competitor, Facebook, Twitter is primarily an open network, meaning that you can check out most feeds without signing up or following a particular user.
Twitter combines the ease and simplicity of text messaging with a virtually endless online distribution network. Limited to 140 character posts called ‘tweets’, Twitter has the capability to reach millions of users. A tweet can take on the spirit of that old shampoo commercial tagline “they told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on and so on” turning a short and simple post into marketing gold through ‘retweets’.
Google Plus (or G+ to its devotees) is the new kid on the block. It has a fresh user interface and clean design. Its adoption has been slow over the first year of its existence but has proven itself as a worthy competitor, attracting many photographers, musicians, and celebrities.
Following people on G+ is a bit different from Facebook or Twitter in that a system of ‘circles’ is used to categorize them. You can have a circle for family, a circle for close friends, one for coworkers – the choices are up to your creativity. This is a benefit because it is very easy to pick one or more circles to share content with. In fact, if you like, you can share your content publicly as Twitter does. The recent addition of G+ Groups is also a great way to connect with other users who share similar interests.
Social Media as Social Networks
Along with the big three social networking giants are a combination of smaller offerings as well as some services that might not be so readily included in the social networking arena.
YouTube, the top of the heap for video content, certainly needs to be included in the social networking discussion. Yes, most people follow the endless onslaught of links to cat videos and the latest Internet meme, but it also has a great feature that many people miss – subscriptions. Love a particular video? Check out the uploader’s profile page. Chances are they have much more entertaining content.
If you like what you see and you want to be sure to see more as it is published, log into YouTube and subscribe to the publishers feed. From that day forward, whenever you log into YouTube you will be presented with the latest videos published by the people you follow. Interact with other fans and publishers by commenting on and rating their content. Presto! Social networking in action!
Not to be excluded are photo sharing services such as Flickr and Instagram. These services provide their users with a significant storage space for uploading and sharing photos for free. Flickr has been around since 2004 but the one time leader in the photo sharing space has seen a decline in recent times, along with its parent company Yahoo. Recent changes in Yahoo management have garnered resurgence at the service.
Flickr tends to cater mainly to traditional photography. If you are a shutterbug you will find plenty to look at. There is a great community and a good commenting system where discussions take place around the published photographs. Users can establish groups and collections making it easy to stay connected to friends who share a love of all kinds of photographs from across the globe.
Instagram, recently acquired by Facebook, is near the other end of the photography spectrum. Where fine photography is predominant at Flickr, lower resolution and highly manipulated mobile photography is the thing at Instagram. Primarily a mobile service, Instagram allows its users to take, modify, and share photos in less time than it would take a photographer to pull a camera out of its carrying case.
The Instagram app, available for iPhone and Android devices provides instant gratification to its users and their followers. Want to share a picture of your morning coffee with a thousand of your closest friends? Why not throw a filter and blur effect on it first? It will be the most dramatic looking cup of coffee –ever. Kidding aside, Instagram is simply fun. It is reminiscent of the Polaroid cameras of the past. Quick and fun photography!
The Options are Endless
There are plenty of niche social networking services out there. Some, like Foodspotting, can make anyone a food critic. Services like Waze, connect commuters on their daily treks to work functioning as a crowd sourced GPS system. Rest assured, if you think there might be a service that fits your need, it is most likely already out there and waiting for you to join.
The bottom line is, there are many services on the web that provide a multitude of benefit. If you are looking to connect on a personal level, find out what your friends use. That would make the most sense. If you are more of a trailblazer, try out something new and bring your friends along for the ride!
Businesses, both small and large should take advantage of as many of these outlets as possible. Many exist on the big three; Facebook, Twitter, and G+ but Instagram, YouTube, and other services sitting on the fringes of social networking have great uses as well. You may not think a YouTube video would be good for your business but it very well can be. Plant your tent stakes where your customer base is and take advantage of what these services have to offer.
Also check out:
- LinkedIn – If Facebook is your personal presence on the Internet; LinkedIn is your professional one. Geared toward business and professional content, LinkedIn gives you a place to list your work history, certifications, education, and professional profile. Think of it as a virtual living resume. LinkedIn’s ‘killer-app’ is the ability to link with colleagues and other business connections providing a virtual referral network.
- About.me – About.me isn’t as much a social network as the others, however it does one thing very well. It provides a place where its users can link all of their online identities, websites, and biographical information (as much or as little as you would like to share) all in one place on one page. It is a virtual business card where you can point your visitors to virtually any of your online profiles.
- Myspace – The former leader in social networking has reinvented itself, drawing bands and artists and featuring their music. Myspace had declined to the verge of getting read its last rights but has bounced back in impressive fashion.
- Path – Much like Facebook, Path offers a closed community for friends and family. Path limits your number of friends to 150 in an effort to encourage users to connect only to close contacts. Think of it as a more intimate version of Facebook.
- EyeEm – A mobile photo sharing service much like Instagram, EyeEm offers a very nice user interface with plenty of filters and effects.