Social Media - Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+It is hard to go  a single day without hearing about social media in the news and around us. Websites, TV, and radio stations are constantly asking you to like, follow or friend them. You may also have seen the @ symbol everywhere and overheard people talking about hashtags. If you’re confused by all this, you’re not alone. In this post, I’ll help you understand social media and show you the tools you need to use them for your personal and business lives.

Social media/networking is the general term for how we communicate and share information with those around us.  On the surface, it allows us to receive updates from our friends, share photos and videos, and build new relationships in business. It is important to understand because it is increasingly becoming the standard way to interact with others. Many users have abandoned their email addresses completely in favor of facebook and some businesses use Twitter heavily to keep in touch with their customers.

Although you may be overwhelmed by the number of social websites available, there are only 4 to which you need to pay attention. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+ are the big players and I’ll go through each one briefly to give you an understanding of their roles and strengths.

Facebook – where your friends are. 

Facebook was launched in February 2004. In its early days, it was limited to users of colleges and universities, however, it soon became the social network of choice for the majority of the general population. As of this writing, there are more than 800 million users worldwide; 17 million of those users are in Canada! There are many reasons why so many people flock to this huge social network. Primarily, Facebook is where you can find most of your friends. This is also where most people share personal information about themselves along with photos and videos. In fact, Facebook hosts more than 100 billion photos – that’s 20 times the size of popular photography site Flickr.com. Generally, to view the photos and videos, you need to be part of the users friend network. If you’re looking to stay current with your friends, or find old friends, Facebook is where you should be.

Twitter – confusing and powerful.

Twitter was launched to the public in July, 2006. While Facebook is where you would share personal information with a close group of friends, Twitter is for broadcasting short messages to the rest of the world, aka “The Twittersphere.” There are approximately 140 million users, tweeting around 340 million tweets per day. A tweet is simply a short message no longer than 140 characters in length and can consist of “@mentions” and “hashtags”. Think of @mentions as the name of the person you’re talking to (or mentioning) and the hashtag as the subject. Therefore a tweet to me might look something like: “hey @TheAminAhmed, I love your blog. Helps me stay current with technology. #lovetolearn.” As you can see, Twitter is great for sharing your thoughts, but it is also a powerful tool for businesses. Many companies use it to communicate with their customers as an alternate support channel. Some companies will send promotions through Twitter, while others will use the search feature to find new customers. What makes Twitter so confusing also makes it full of potential – there is no one correct way to use Twitter.

LinkedIn – a social network for grown-ups. 

LinkedIn was launched in May, 2003. As the oldest of the big 4 social networks, it is also one mostly used for business and professional networking. With approximately 135 million users, LinkedIn is a great place to build and nurture your professional relationships. Think of it as your digital Rolodex. It has been said that everyone on this planet is connected to one another by six degrees of separation. LinkedIn is useful for meeting new people since it shows you how many degrees apart you are from them based on your network of contacts. For instance, performing a random search for a graphic designer would provide hundreds of results; however, with LinkedIn, you can ask for an introduction if that person is within your 2nd or 3rd level of connection. In addition to managing your contacts, you can also keep abreast of relevant industry news. Since LinkedIn is geared towards professionals, most of the news you see is targeted towards your line of work. Lastly, there is also a great community of users that are willing to help answer any questions you have. LinkedIn Answers is free to use and more reliable and targeted than general answers elsewhere on the web.

Google+ (Google Plus) – the new kid on the block. 

Google+ is relatively new to the social media game. Launched in September, 2011 Google’s vision for Google+ is “Real life sharing, rethought for the web.” According to Larry Page, there are over 90 million users worldwide. And as you know, Google knows a thing or two about organizing data. Just as Gmail revolutionalized the way we look at email, Google+ is trying to change social interactions and search. New to social networking, Google+ introduces the idea of Circles. Just as in real-life, you may not want to share the same information with all your different social circles, so to does Google+’s Circles allow you to share different information with different groups of people. In addition, Google+’s Hangouts allow you to have spontaneous video chats with up to 10 participants. Lastly, since Google is all about search, Google+ is tightly integrated with your search results. For instance, when you search for restaurant reviews, the results may include comments from someone in your circle. Image searches may also bring up images shared by a contact of yours. As a result, Google has done a great job of integrating all the different elements of the web into a neat and intuitive interface.

Social media/networking has become a regular part of our lives – both online and off. However, by having a basic understanding of the strengths and roles of each network, you will be better able to leverage these powerful tools in your personal and business lives.

Which network do you use most? Is there one that you couldn’t live without? Let me know in the comments.

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