A social network is a website designed to build virtual relationships between users based on common interests, activities, backgrounds, or real-life relationships.
Social networks can be thought of as digital communities.
Every social network is a little different. For example:
- Facebook is designed to mirror real-life relationships.
- Twitter is a shout-out style social network that encourages interaction between users who frequently do not know eachother in real life.
- LinkedIn is a place where professionals can keep up changes within their industry, polish their professional brand, and even look for a new career opportunity.
- Tumblr is a micro-blogging platform that encourages users to follow and interact with other user's blogs.
- Instagram is a social network where users share photos and comment on other user's photos.
What all social networks have in common is that they are built to allow users to create connections with other users and to encourage users to share content they find to be valuable or compelling with other users.
Frequently Asked Questions
While there isn't complete agreement as to whether sites like YouTube, Flickr, and Reddit are or aren't social networks, some of the largest social networks we can all agree on are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr.
While everyone knows that social networks are used extensively for personal relationships, social networking sites are also used extensively for professional purposes. There are three primary ways social networks can give your career or your business a boost:
- Build your professional network: LinkedIn is specifically designed for this purpose. However, depending on your industry, virtually any social network can help you build your professional network. For example, photographers would do well to use Instagram and Flickr to highlight their best work, videographers should use YouTube to demonstrate their skills, designers can use Tumblr to share their work with the world, and it's almost a job requirements that anyone working in the tech industry maintain an active Twitter profile.
- Enhance your brand's visibility: It is free to create a company profile on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and many other social networks. Doing so gives you an opportunity to interact with the users of these platforms and to enhance your brand. If you aren't convinced, take a look at Taco Bell on Twitter for an idea of how to use Twitter effectively.
- Advertising: Social networking sites know a lot about their users. They usually know their age, geographic location, and many of their interest. As a result, social networks provide a place where businesses can run highly targeted advertising campaigns.
If your interested in determining which social networks are the best fit for your career or business read our article about using social media for business.
The first website that was recognizable as a social network by today's standards was called Six Degrees and was created in 1997. Users of the service could add contacts whether they were users of the site or not. Those who weren't part of the network would receive an invitation to join. Users could also make posts which were visible to their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd-degree connections. Six Degrees went offline in 2001.