Social Networking

Social Networking is the use of internet-based social media programs to make connections with friends, family, classmates, customers and clients. Social networking can occur for social purposes, business purposes or both through sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Yelp. Social networking is also a significant target area for marketers seeking to engage users.[1]

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are websites that are frequently talked about in the news, online, and in conversation. When trying to define social networking, one might think of beautifully decorated webpages that describe someone and what they like to do for the purpose of making friends. But a social networking definition cannot be complete without talking about the other aspects of these websites. Social networking websites are a collection of webpages that are user generated using a form. The information put into the form is then published on a generated page. From that point on, the user can customize the page, adding pictures, video, MP3s, and other media that are all the choice of the user. But social networking sites aren't just for regular people looking to make friends. Social networking sites are perfect for businesses too. There are features on these sites that allow a particular page to indicate whether it is for personal or business use, which shows other businesses which pages to look at. There are also search engines, so any keywords optimized on a business page will come up with a search of that particular keyword.[2]

When the Web became popular in the mid-1990s, it enabled people to share information in ways that were never possible before. But as limitless as the possibilities seemed, there was a personal aspect that was lacking. While users could create home pages and post their own content on the Web, these individual sites lacked a sense of community. In the early 2000s, the Web became much more personal as social networking websites were introduced and embraced by the masses. Social networking websites allowed users to be part of a virtual community. These websites provide users with simple tools to create a custom profile with text and pictures. A typical profile includes basic information about the user, at least one photo, and possibly a blog or other comments published by the user. Advanced profiles may include videos, photo albums, online applications (in Facebook), or custom layouts (in MySpace). After creating a profile, users can add friends, send messages to other users, and leave comments directly on friends' profiles. These features provide the building blocks for creating online communities. These websites also provide an important linking element between users that allows friends to communicate directly with each other. Because people often have friends from different places and different times in their lives, social networking sites provide an opportunity to keep in touch with old friends and to meet new people as well. Of course, this means that people you don't know may also be able to view your profile page. Therefore, if you join a social networking website, it is a good idea to review the privacy settings for your account. And more importantly, remember to always use discretion in what you publish on your profile.[3]

The Social Networking Landscape
Social Networking Landscape
source: Brian Solis

Social Networking for Personal and Professional Use[4]
The definition of online social networking encompasses networking for business, pleasure, and all points in between. Networks themselves have different purposes, and their online counterparts work in various ways.

Social Networking for Personal Use
Many people join a social network because their current friends and family are using the service and they want to stay in contact. Once you've been using a social networking site for a while, you'll inevitable come in contact with other people you know, or knew long ago. These networks are great places to catch up with old friends, share current and old photos, and find other friends whom you may have lost contact with along the way.In this case, the definition of social networking includes nostalgia and reconnecting.

Social Networking for Professionals
Professionals have always networked in one way or another. Whether it's a business meeting, a conference, or a larger industry event, meeting other people who are involved in the same profession is a necessity. Social networks, especially those like LinkedIn that cater to businesses and professionals, provide another platform to meet career peers and influential people in the industry. Putting yourself out there in a social network and spreading the word of your business is easy to do, and can result in catching the attention of many people in your profession.

Types of Social Networking Services[5]
This section attempts to order the current range of Social Networking Services (SNS) available, and cover the two main formats – sites that are primarily organised around users' profiles and those that are organised around collections of content. However, it’s important to remember that services differ and may be characterised by more than one category. Users are also quite happy to subvert the intended use of platforms to suit their own interests. Educators setting up private groups in order to make use of collaborative space and tools are a good example of this.

  • Profile-based SNS: Profile-based services are primarily organised around members' profile pages. Bebo, Facebook and MySpace, are all good examples of this. Users develop their space in various ways, and can often contribute to each other’s spaces – typically leaving text, embedded content or links to external content through message walls, comment or evaluation tools. Users often include third party content (in the form of ‘widgets’) in order to enhance their profiles, or as a way of including information from other web services and SNS.
  • Content-based SNS: In these services, the user's profile remains an important way of organising connections, but plays a secondary role to the posting of content. Photo-sharing site Flickr is an example of this type of service, one where groups and comments are based around pictures. There are many people of course who have ‘empty’ Flickr accounts – people who have signed up to the service in order to view their friends' or families' permission-protected pictures. Shelfari is one of the current crop of book-focused sites, with the members ‘bookshelf’ being a focal point of their profile and membership. Other examples of content-based communities include for video-sharing and, where the content is created by software that monitors and represents the music that users listen to. In the latter case, the content is primarily the user's activity – the act of listening to audio files.
  • White-label SNS: Most SNS offer some group-building functionality, which allows users to form their own mini-communities within sites. Platforms such as PeopleAggregator and Ning, which launched in 2004, offer members a different model, based on the creation and membership of users' own social networking groups. These sites offer members the opportunity to create and join communities. This means that users can create their own “mini-MySpace’s”, small scale social networking sites which support specific interests, events or activities.
  • Multi-User Virtual Environments: Sites such as Second Life, an online virtual world, allow users to interact with each other’s avatars – a virtual representation of the site member. Although the users have profile cards, their functional profiles are the characters they customise or build and control. There are also hybrids of these and social-networking sites, such as Habbo Hotel and Cyworld.
  • Mobile SNS: Many social network sites, for example MySpace and Twitter, offer mobile phone versions of their services, allowing members to interact with their networks via their phones. Increasingly, too, there are mobile–led and mobile-only based communities. MYUBO, for example, allows users to share and view video over mobile networks.
  • Micro-blogging/ Presence updates: Micro-blogging services such as Twitter and Jaiku allow you to publish short (140 characters, including spaces) messages publicly or within contact groups. They are designed to work as mobile services, but are popularly used and read online. Many services offer ‘status updates’ – short messages that can be updated to let people know what mood you are in or what you are doing. These can be checked within the site or exported to be read elsewhere. They engage users in constantly updated conversation and contact with their online networks.
  • People Search: People search is another important web development. There are various kinds of social and people search, but sites like Wink generate results by searching across the public profiles of multiple social network sites. This allows search by name, interest, location and other information published in profiles, allowing the creation of Web-based "dossiers" on individuals. This type of people search cuts across the traditional boundaries of social network site membership, although the data that are retrieved should already be public.

Pros and Cons of Social Networking[6]

Pros of Social Networking

  • Ability to connect to other people all over the world. One of the most obvious pros of using social networks is the ability to instantly reach people from anywhere.
  • Easy and instant communication. Now that we're connected wherever we go, we don't have to rely on our landlines, answering machines or snail mail to contact somebody. We can simply open up our laptops or pick up our smartphones and immediately start communicating with anyone.
  • Real-time news and information discovery. Gone are the days of waiting around for the six o'clock news to come on TV or for the delivery boy to bring the newspaper in the morning. If you want to know what's going on in the world, all you need to do is jump on social media. An added bonus is that you can customize your news and information discovery experiences by choosing to follow exactly what you want.
  • Great opportunities for business owners. Business owners and other types of professional organizations can connect with current customers, sell their products and expand their reach using social media. There are actually lots of entrepreneurs and businesses out there that thrive almost entirely on social networks and wouldn't even be able to operate without it.
  • General fun and enjoyment. A lot of people turn to it when they catch a break at work or just want to relax at home. Since people are naturally social creatures, it's often quite satisfying to see comments and likes show up on our own posts, and it's convenient to be able to see exactly what our friends are up to without having to ask them directly.

Cons of Social Networking

  • Information overwhelm. With so many people now on social media tweeting links and posting selfies and sharing YouTube videos, it sure can get pretty noisy. Becoming overwhelmed by too many Facebook friends to keep up with or too many Instagram photos to browse through isn't all that uncommon. Over time, we tend to rack up a lot of friends and followers, and that can lead to lots of bloated news feeds with too much content we're not all that interested in.
  • Privacy issues. With so much sharing going on, issues over privacy will always be a big concern. Whether it's a question of social sites owning your content after it's posted, becoming a target after sharing your geographical location online, or even getting in trouble at work after tweeting something inappropriate — sharing too much with the public can open up all sorts of problems that sometimes can't ever be undone.
  • Social peer pressure and cyber bullying. For people struggling to fit in with their peers — especially teens and young adults — the pressure to do certain things or act a certain way can be even worse on social media than it is at school or any other offline setting. In some extreme cases, the overwhelming pressure to fit in with everyone posting on social media or becoming the target of a cyberbullying attack can lead to serious stress, anxiety and even depression.
  • Online interaction substitution for offline interaction. Since people are now connected all the time and you can pull up a friend's social profile with a click of your mouse or a tap of your smartphone, it's a lot easier to use online interaction as a substitute for face-to-face interaction. Some people argue that social media actually promotes antisocial human behavior.
  • Distraction and procrastination. How often do you see someone look at their phone? People get distracted by all the social apps and news and messages they receive, leading to all sorts of problems like distracted driving or the lack of gaining someone's full attention during a conversation. Browsing social media can also feed procrastination habits and become something people turn to in order to avoid certain tasks or responsibilities.
  • Sedentary lifestyle habits and sleep disruption. Lastly, since social networking is all done on some sort of computer or mobile device, it can sometimes promote too much sitting down in one spot for too long. Likewise, staring into the artificial light from a computer or phone screen at night can negatively affect your ability to get a proper night's sleep.

Emerging Trends in Social Networking[7]
While the popularity of social networking consistently rises, new uses for the technology are frequently being observed. Today's technologically savvy population requires convenient solutions to their daily needs. At the forefront of emerging trends in social networking sites is the concept of "real-time web" and "location-based". Real-time allows users to contribute contents, which is then broadcast as it is being uploaded—the concept is analogous to live radio and television broadcasts. Twitter set the trend for "real-time" services, wherein users can broadcast to the world what they are doing, or what is on their minds within a 140-character limit. Facebook followed suit with their "Live Feed" where users' activities are streamed as soon as it happens. While Twitter focuses on words, Clixtr, another real-time service, focuses on group photo sharing wherein users can update their photo streams with photos while at an event. Facebook, however, remains the largest photo sharing site—Facebook application and photo aggregator Pixable estimates that Facebook will have 100 billion photos by Summer 2012. In April 2012, the image-based social media network Pinterest had become the third largest social network in the United States.

Companies have begun to merge business technologies and solutions, such as cloud computing, with social networking concepts. Instead of connecting individuals based on social interest, companies are developing interactive communities that connect individuals based on shared business needs or experiences. Many provide specialized networking tools and applications that can be accessed via their websites, such as LinkedIn. Others companies, such as, have been steadily developing a more "socialized" feel to their career center sites to harness some of the power of social networking sites. These more business related sites have their own nomenclature for the most part but the most common naming conventions are "Vocational Networking Sites" or "Vocational Media Networks", with the former more closely tied to individual networking relationships based on social networking principles.

Foursquare gained popularity as it allowed for users to check into places that they are frequenting at that moment. Gowalla is another such service that functions in much the same way that Foursquare does, leveraging the GPS in phones to create a location-based user experience. Clixtr, though in the real-time space, is also a location-based social networking site, since events created by users are automatically geotagged, and users can view events occurring nearby through the Clixtr iPhone app. Recently, Yelp announced its entrance into the location-based social networking space through check-ins with their mobile app; whether or not this becomes detrimental to Foursquare or Gowalla is yet to be seen, as it is still considered a new space in the Internet technology industry.

One popular use for this new technology is social networking between businesses. Companies have found that social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are great ways to build their brand image. According to Jody Nimetz, author of Marketing Jive, there are five major uses for businesses and social media: to create brand awareness, as an online reputation management tool, for recruiting, to learn about new technologies and competitors, and as a lead generation tool to intercept potential prospects. These companies are able to drive traffic to their own online sites while encouraging their consumers and clients to have discussions on how to improve or change products or services. As of September 2013, 71% of online adults use Facebook, 17% use Instagram, 21% use Pinterest, and 22% use LinkedIn.

See Also


  1. Defining Social Networking Invetopedia
  2. What is Social Networking Brick Marketing
  3. Understanding Social Networking Techterms
  4. Social Networking for Personal and Professional Use Carrie Grosvernor
  5. Types of Social Networking Services Social Tech
  6. Pros and Cons of Social Networking Lifewire
  7. Emerging Trends in Social Networking Wikipedia

Further Reading