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social networking

What is social networking?

Social networking is the practice of using a dedicated online platform to maintain contact, interact and collaborate with like-minded individuals, peers, friends and family. Popular social networking sites -- such as Facebook, Yelp, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok -- enable individuals to maintain social connections, stay informed and access, as well as share, a wealth of information. These sites also enable marketers to reach their target audiences.

Social networking sites have come a long way since the first social networking site, SixDegrees.com, was launched in 1997. Today, the world is rapidly adopting newer social networking platforms. According to DataReportal, a Kepios analysis from January 2022 indicated that there are more than 4.62 billion social network users worldwide.

How does social networking work?

The term social networking entails having connections in both the real and the digital worlds. Today, this term is mainly used to reference online social communications. The internet has made it possible for people to find and connect with others who they may never have met otherwise.

Online social networking is dependent on technology and internet connectivity. Users can access social networking sites using their PCs, tablets or smartphones. Most social networking sites run on a back end of searchable databases that use advanced programming languages, such as Python, to organize, store and retrieve data in an easy-to-understand format. For example, Tumblr uses such products and services in its daily operations as Google Analytics, Google Workspace and WordPress.

What is the purpose of social networking?

Social networking fulfills the following four main objectives:

  1. Sharing. Friends or family members who are geographically dispersed can connect remotely and share information, updates, photos and videos. Social networking also enables individuals to meet other people with similar interests or to expand their current social networks.
  2. Learning. Social networks serve as great learning platforms. Consumers can instantly receive breaking news, get updates regarding friends and family, or learn about what's happening in their community.
  3. Interacting. Social networking enhances user interactions by breaking the barriers of time and distance. With cloud-based video communication technologies such as WhatsApp or Instagram Live, people can talk face to face with anyone in the world.
  4. Marketing. Companies may tap into social networking services to enhance brand awareness with the platform's users, improve customer retention and conversion rates, and promote brand and voice identity.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of social networking?

Social networking can be a double-edged sword. On one end, it provides unsurpassed social benefits, yet it can also make people more vulnerable to the spread of misinformation, as well as privacy and security threats.

Social networking offers the following benefits to consumers and businesses:

  • Brand awareness. Social networking enables companies to reach out to new and existing clients. This helps to make brands more relatable and promotes brand awareness.
  • Instant reachability. By erasing the physical and spatial boundaries between people, social networking websites can provide instant reachability.
  • Builds a following. Organizations and businesses can use social networking to build a following and expand their reach globally.
  • Business success. Positive reviews and comments generated by customers on social networking platforms can help improve business sales and profitability.
  • Increases website traffic. Businesses can use social networking profiles to boost and direct inbound traffic to their websites. They can achieve this, for example, by adding inspiring visuals, using plugins and shareable social media buttons, or encouraging inbound linking.

Social networking also has the following downsides:

  • Rumors and misinformation. Incorrect information can slip through the cracks of social networking platforms, causing havoc and uncertainty among consumers. Often, people take anything posted on social networking sites at face value instead of verifying the sources.
  • Negative reviews and comments. A single negative review can adversely affect an established business, especially if the comments are posted on a platform with a large following. A tarnished business reputation can often cause irreparable damage.
  • Data security and privacy concerns. Social networking sites can inadvertently put consumer data at risk. For instance, if a social networking site experiences a data breach, the users of that platform automatically fall under the radar as well. According to Business Insider, a data breach in April 2021 leaked the personal data of more than 500 million Facebook users.
  • Time-consuming process. Promoting a business on social media requires constant upkeep and maintenance. Creating, updating, preparing and scheduling regular posts can take a considerable amount of time. This can be especially cumbersome for small businesses that may not have the extra staff and resources to dedicate to social media marketing.

What are the different types of social networking?

While there are various categories of social networking sites, the five most common types are the following:

  1. Social connections. This is a type of social network where people stay in touch with friends or family members through online profiles and updates, or find new friends through similar interests. Popular examples include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Yelp and Myspace.
  2. Professional connections. Geared toward professionals, these social networking sites may include a general forum where professionals can connect with co-workers or offer an exclusive platform based on specific occupations or interest levels. LinkedIn and Twitter are the most common examples.
  3. Sharing of multimedia. Various social networks provide video- and photography-sharing services, including YouTube and Flickr.
  4. Informational. This type of social networking includes communities of people who are looking for answers to everyday problems. Fostering a sense of helping others, members provide answers to questions, conduct discussion forums or teach others how to perform various tasks and projects. Popular examples include Reddit, Quora and DoItYourself.com Community Forums.
  5. Educational. Educational social networks promote remote learning, enabling students and teachers to collaborate on school projects, conduct research, and interact through blogs and forums. Google Classroom, LinkedIn Learning and ePals are popular examples.

Examples of social networking

Every established organization advertises on social networking these days. Here are four examples of social networking websites:

  1. Yelp. Picking a restaurant, dentist, doctor or hair salon is not always easy, so social networking sites like Yelp offer crowdsourced customer reviews of these types of businesses or providers.
  2. Pinterest. Bookmarking sites like Pinterest enable users to share photos and organize links to a variety of online resources and websites. Similar to a digital scrapbook, Pinterest enables users to save specific "pins" to "pinboards," making it easier to search for specific topics and share them with followers.
  3. Rover. A popular pet-sitter services portal, Rover enables pet owners to connect with pet sitters, dog walkers and pet-boarding services.
  4. Airbnb. Airbnb helps travelers search for a place to stay based on their preferences, including multishared spaces, shared spaces with private rooms and entire properties. Places on Airbnb are mostly rented out by homeowners.
10 top social networking websites
These 10 popular social networking websites share millions to billions of users.

What are the top 10 social networking sites?

Although there are numerous social networking websites, the following sites are the most popular:

  1. Facebook. Facebook users create profiles, share information, send messages and post status updates on their "walls." Ranked the most active social networking platform by DataReportal, Facebook has more than 2.9 billion active users. In 2021, the company was renamed Meta to reflect its business beyond just social media.
  2. YouTube. This popular video-sharing website enables users to share, upload, and post videos and vlogs. According to Global Media Insight, YouTube has more than 2 billion monthly active users.
  3. WhatsApp. This free instant messaging app lets users send text messages, make video and voice calls, and share documents. According to WhatsApp, it has more than 2 billion users worldwide.
  4. Instagram. This free social media platform enables users to share long- and short-form videos and photos. It is primarily designed for iOS and Android smartphone users, but a desktop version is also available. However, sharing and uploading of content is only available through the Instagram app. Also owned by Meta, Instagram has over 2 billion monthly active users as of December 2021, according to CNBC.
  5. TikTok. This app is used for sharing and making personalized short videos. TikTok caters to a younger audience and is well known for being a lively and fun-to-use social networking platform. According to the Business of Apps newsletter, TikTok has more than 1.2 billion users as of the end of 2021.
  6. Tumblr. This microblogging site enables users to publish multimedia and other content types inside short blog posts. Users can also follow other users and make their blogs private. According to FinancesOnline, as of February 2021, Tumblr has more than 518 million user accounts.
  7. Twitter. Launched in 2006, this social media platform enables users to share their thoughts and opinions with a broad audience by posting messages known as "tweets" that contain up to 280 characters. According to DataReportal, as of January 2022, Twitter has more than 436 million users.
  8. Pinterest. The Pinterest bookmarking site enables users to save and organize links to favorite online resources and destinations through "tagging." According to Pinterest Inc., the platform has 431 million global monthly active users as of December 2021 -- a 6% decrease over the previous year.
  9. Reddit. Founded in 2005, Reddit provides a diverse collection of forums and subforums -- also known as "subreddits" -- on a variety of topics, including sports, breaking news and technology. Here, users can comment on each other's posts, as well as share news and content. According to Reddit, it has more than 50 million daily active users. This translates into 430 million monthly users as of 2019, according to The Small Business Blog.
  10. Snapchat. This multimedia app can be used on smartphones running Android or iOS. Founded in 2011, Snapchat enables users to send pictures or videos called "snaps" to friends. These snaps vanish after they have been viewed. According to Snap Inc., Snapchat has 319 million daily active users as of the end of 2021.

Even though the terms social media and social networking seem interchangeable, they aren't. Learn how these two terms differ when it comes to use cases.

This was last updated in April 2022

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