In case you’re 80 years old, just arrived from off-planet, or somehow built a time-machine in the past and used it to arrive here (the “future”), here’s a quick rundown on the four biggest social media sites, what they’re good for, and…some other stuff, maybe.
The world leader in social media at the moment, Facebook has roughly 750 million users. Facebook allows you to set up a profile with information about yourself, your background, your interests, and so on. You can then find your friends on there (and they’re probably on there—750 million users and all that). It’s a great way to keep in touch with friends from other towns, to share links to things you’ve found on the web, or to comment on friends’ posts.
You can also send private messages (sort of like e-mail), post pictures, join groups, create event invitations, interact with pages for business, play games, and so on. In fact, there’s so much to do that people spend more time on Facebook than on any other web site. It’s kind of a big deal.
Twitter has exploded in the last two years or so. Today there are more than 200 million registered accounts, and more than 200 million tweets are sent every day (up from 90 million a day in September 2010). It’s very big with many celebrities, such as Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, but there are plenty good ol’ regular people that use it, too. See this handy infographic for the Twitter story.
But what is it? It allows you, in 140 characters or less, to say, well, anything you want, pretty much. These messages you send out are called “tweets.” While Facebook is usually comprised of networks of people you actually know in real life, Twitter allows you to follow (or be followed by) complete strangers. Since there’s no sharing of personal information as with Facebook, this is not a problem (of course, you can protect your account so only people you know can see it if you’re really paranoid about it).
The length restriction actually leads to a lot of creativity, and many people’s tweets are very entertaining. It’s also a great way to share links with people. It can be very fast-paced though, especially if you are following a lot of people, but this is also one of its strengths—it’s very much a real-time application. On the whole, pretty cool, but maybe not for everyone.
LinkedIn is the professional social network. Oriented to the business world, LinkedIn allows you to create a profile wherein you can share your work history, education, promotions, awards you’ve won, and so on. Companies, too, have LinkedIn profiles. Essentially, it’s a giant networking platform that allows you to make connections with others in your industry. It’s a great way to find a job, and it’s a great way for employers to find employees. Fun? Not so much. Useful? Extremely.
Not always included in the social media conversation, YouTube should be. Videos are uploaded by people, watched by people, commented on by people, and shared by people. What’s not social about that? And make no mistake, video is huge. 71% of Americans who use the Internet visit video sharing sites, and YouTube is by far the biggest of these. And almost 40% of mobile web traffic is now streaming video. Granted, it’s mostly videos of cats, but still…
YouTube can in fact be a great marketing tool. Some companies have seen huge spikes in business by having their videos go viral (being shared many thousands of times in a short period). Even if your response is below the viral stage, it’s a cheap, simple way to share video content. And best of all, YouTube videos are easily embeddable on Facebook. You can also tweet a link to your followers about your latest video. Have a video of a presentation you did for work? Embed it on your LinkedIn profile. C’mon, it’s the Internet! It’s all connected!
So there you have it. The big 4 of social media…for now. It’s a rapidly-shifting landscape. Two years ago, we would’ve been talking about MySpace instead of Twitter. And Google+ is just on the verge of being fully open to the general public, with business pages coming this fall. Whatever the platforms, one thing is certain: social media is here to stay.