Explore the different kinds of social media available today.
I’ve talked a lot about Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, but there are a lot more social media than just these, and they all service slightly different purposes and user bases.
Examining Different Types of Social Media
Social media are those websites, services, and platforms that people use to share experiences and opinions with one another. They cover everything from social networks, where users share the details of their own lives, to social bookmarking services, where users share sites and articles they like.
The first type of social media is the social network. Social networks are unquestionably the most popular type of social media in use today.
A social network is a large website or service that hosts a community of users and facilitates public and private communication between those users. Social networks enable users to share experiences and opinions with each other via short posts or status updates.
Some social networks, such as school or alumni networks, are devoted to a specific topic or community. Other social networks, such as Facebook, are more broad-based, which allows for communities within the overall network to be devoted to specific topics.
Because of their multifaceted offerings, social networks appeal to a broad base of users. Young and old people alike use social networks, as do people of all genders, races, and income and education levels. Social networks help us keep up to date on what our friends are doing and keep our friends updated on what we are doing. Social networks also help establish a sense of community based on shared experiences at school, in the workplace, or at play.
Most social networks revolve around users’ posts or status updates. Users keep their friends informed of current activities via these short text or picture posts and read updates posted by friends via some sort of news feed. Everybody keeps up to date with what everybody else is doing.
Many social networks also offer other means of user-to-user communication, including private email and one-to-one instant messaging. Most social networks also include various forms of media sharing, including digital photographs, videos, and the like.
Media Sharing Networks
A media sharing network like Pinterest or Instagram is a social network that focuses on images instead of text messages. There is less one-to-one communication and more general photo and video sharing. A media sharing network is like Facebook without all those bothersome words and sentences.
In a media sharing network, users post their own photos and videos or links to images on various web pages. Their friends and followers then view, comment on, and share those posts with other people. The most popular images go viral and are shared by thousands of interested users.
Because we’ve evolved into a very visual society, media sharing networks are becoming increasingly popular, particularly among users of mobile devices. It’s easy to snap a picture with your smartphone and then post it to your network of choice. (For that matter, photo sharing on general social networks, such as Facebook and even Twitter, has become a very big part of the overall social experience.)
When you separate the short text messages or status updates from a social network into a separate feed, you have a microblogging service. Some microblogs, such as Twitter, exist primarily to distribute short text posts (and the occasional photo) from individual users to groups of followers; other microblogs, such as Tumblr, are more focused on posting images and longer text-based content.
Microblogs do not offer many of the community features found on larger social network sites. Most microblogs don’t offer topic-based groups, photo storage and sharing, and the like. The primary service they offer is public message distribution.
With a typical microblogging service, registered users post short text messages, photos, or videos. Other users sign up to follow the posts of individual members and receive notifications when someone they follow makes a new post. Microblog posts are used to convey personal information and opinions; businesses also use them to make commercial announcements.
Many of the most-followed microbloggers are celebrities; fans follow their posts to learn more about the celebrities’ activities. Major news organizations also use microblogs to post breaking stories, whereas individuals post details of their personal lives to interested friends and family followers.
Message Boards and Comment Sections
Many websites offer online message boards or comment sections where users can interact by leaving their comments about general topics or specific articles. You can find message boards or comments sections on many general-interest and news-oriented sites, as well as on sites that focus on specific topics.
A message board is a public forum. Users can start a new topic or comment on an existing one. Comments are organized into threads, with each successive user adding his comments to those comments left by previous users. It’s not real-time interaction, but it is a continuing discussion.
The advantage of frequenting a given site’s message board as opposed to using a larger, more general social network is that you know you’re interacting with people who like the same things you do. Message boards create a community of like-minded users, not unlike a traditional club or group, but not limited by physical boundaries. If you’re a model kit builder, for example, a kit-building message board helps you keep in touch with kit builders from around the world.