What Is Social Networking?

Social Networking

Investopdia / Julie Bang

What Is Social Networking?

Social networking refers to using internet-based social media sites to stay connected with friends, family, colleagues, or customers. Social networking can have a social purpose, a business purpose, or both through sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Social networking is also a significant opportunity for marketers seeking to engage customers. Facebook remains the largest and most popular social network, with 2 billion people using the platform daily, as of Feb 1, 2023. Other popular platforms in the U.S. are Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, TikTok, and Pinterest.

Key Takeaways

  • Social networking uses internet-based social media platforms to connect with friends, family, or peers.
  • Some of the most popular social networking sites in the U.S. include Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, WhatsApp, and Twitter.
  • Marketers use social networking to increase brand recognition and encourage brand loyalty.
  • Social media can help connect people with businesses for various needs.
  • There are disadvantages related to social media, including spreading misinformation, concerns posed by user anonymity, and the high cost of using and maintaining social network profiles.

How Social Networking Works

Social networking involves the development and maintenance of personal and business relationships using technology. This is done through the use of social networking sites, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

These sites allow people and corporations to connect with one another so they can develop relationships and share information, ideas, and messages.

For Family and Friends

Family members and friends can reconnect and remain connected through personal social networking sites like Facebook. They can share photos and status updates on everyday or important life events. People can also connect with unknown individuals who share the same interests, goals, or experiences. Individuals can find each other through groups, lists, and hashtags—an indexing function that groups topics.

For Marketers

Marketers commonly use social networking to increase brand recognition and encourage brand loyalty. Social media marketing helps promote a brand’s voice and content. It can help make a company more accessible and prominent to new and existing customers.

For example, a frequent Twitter user may learn about a company for the first time through a news feed and decide to buy a product or service. The more exposed people are to a company’s brand, the greater the company's chances of finding and retaining new customers.

Marketers use social networking to improve conversion rates. Building a following provides access to and interaction with new, recent, and longtime customers. Sharing blog posts, images, videos, or comments on social media allows followers to react and engage, visit a company’s website, and become customers.

Major Social Networking Platforms


Facebook is a social network that allows users to connect with people, businesses, and organizations. They can post updates and respond to the posts of others. They can share photographs and links to online content. Users can chat live and upload and share videos.

Users can also communicate directly with each other via Facebook Messenger. They can join groups with similar interests and be notified of friends' activities and pages they elect to follow.

Facebook was designed to be open and social. However, while the platform encourages publicly available content, it also has privacy controls that can restrict access to, for instance, friends.

Facebook was created in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg while he went to Harvard University. Today, it is owned by Meta Platforms (of which Zuckerberg is CEO). Facebook is the world's largest social network, with about 2 billion daily active users.


Instagram is a social network that focuses on sharing visual media like photos and videos. It's similar to Facebook in that users create a profile and have a news feed. It allows them to upload media that can be edited with filters and organized by hashtags and geographical tagging. Posts can be shared publicly or with followers.

Users can browse other users' content, view trending content, and follow others. Additionally, they can add the content others upload to their personal feed. Over time, Instagram has added new features, such as Instagram Stories, Instagram Reels, and access to shopping.

Like Facebook, Instagram encourages users to keep their content publicly accessible and lets them set access to approved followers only.

Instagram has its own direct messaging feature. In addition, Facebook Messenger has been incorporated by Instagram so users can direct message Facebook contacts while on Instagram.

Instagram was founded in 2010 by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. In 2012, it was acquired by Meta (formerly Facebook). Instagram boasts 6.18 billion visits per month.


Twitter (now X Corp, but its brand remains the same) is a social network that allows people to communicate with short messages called tweets. The social platform limits tweets to 280 characters. Users post tweets that may be useful, interesting, or even inflammatory for readers.

Many people use Twitter to find people and companies posting appealing, important, or newsworthy content and follow them to receive their stream of tweets for updates.

Tweeting is sometimes referred to as microblogging. It's distinguished by users' ability to scan and distribute content quickly, conveniently, and efficiently. This may account for its popularity with those who want (or need) to get lots of messages out to the world and those who want to follow these social or newsy types.

Twitter is used by professional and citizen journalists, politicians, celebrities, marketers, and more. It was founded in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams. It is owned by X Holdings, one of Elon Musk's holding companies.


Pinterest is a social networking site that promotes image saving and sharing using a virtual pinboard. It's an innovative platform that facilitates cataloging and organizing meaningful information for individuals.

With Pinterest, account holders find images by browsing the web or Pinterest itself. They then pin (or save) those images to an online pinboard. Multiple pinboards can be set up and organized based on a topic.

Once they've created and built their boards to catalog ideas and interests, users can access them whenever they want. Clicking on the image reveals related information.

Like other social networks, Pinterest users have a feed that exhibits images according to their interests. They can interact by "liking" images, following each other, and posting comments. There's also a feature that provides private messaging.

Pinterest was created by Ben Silbermann, Paul Sciarra, and Evan Sharp in 2009. Pinterest, Inc. owns it, and its CEO is Bill Ready. Pinterest reported approximately 450 million monthly active users globally for 2022.

Special Considerations

There isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to social networking marketing strategies. That's because every business is unique and has a different target demographic, history, and competitive marketplace.

Social networking companies want businesses to pay for their advertising. That's why platforms often restrict a business's reach and the number of responses it may receive through unpaid posts. For example, if a company has 500 followers, followers may not all receive the same post.

The constantly evolving nature of social networking makes it challenging to keep up with changes and influences a company’s marketing success rate.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Social Networking

Social networking can affect individuals and corporations positively and negatively. That's why it's important to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of using these social media sites before getting too heavily involved.


  • Social networking allows individuals to make and stay in contact with family and friends that distance and lost connections would otherwise prohibit.
  • People can also connect with unknown individuals who share the same interests and develop new relationships.
  • Social networking also allows companies to connect with new and existing clients.
  • Companies can create, promote, and increase brand awareness through social media.
  • Companies can capitalize on customer reviews and comments promoting products, services, and brands. The more customers post about a company, the more valuable the brand authority can become. This can lead to greater sales and a higher ranking by search engines.
  • Social networking can help establish a brand as legitimate, credible, and trustworthy.
  • Companies may use social networking to demonstrate the quality of their customer service and enrich their relationships with consumers. For example, if a customer complains about a product or service on Twitter, the company may address the issue immediately, apologize, and take action to make it right.


  • Social networking can facilitate the spread of misinformation about individuals and companies.
  • Due to its online nature, falsehoods can spread like wildfire. This became increasingly prevalent after 2012. One study found that misinformation is 70% more likely than factual information to be shared on Twitter.
  • The detrimental impact of misinformation can create a virtual headache for a company's public relations (PR) department.
  • The anonymous aspect of newfound personal relationships requires caution.
  • Building and maintaining a company profile takes hours each week. Costs add up quickly.
  • Businesses need many followers before a social media marketing campaign starts generating a positive return on investment (ROI). For example, submitting a post to 15 followers does not have the same effect as submitting the post to 15,000 followers.
  • Allows people to connect with others, including friends and family

  • Companies can reach new and existing clients as well as build and strengthen their brand

  • Corporations can demonstrate their customer service excellence

  • Helps spread misinformation

  • Complaints about companies can spread and create public relations issues

  • Costs to advertise and develop corporate profiles can be high

  • User anonymity can require caution

Examples of Social Networking

Almost every product or service you use is backed by a company with a social media presence. It's virtually impossible to think of any major corporation that doesn't operate, market, and advertise on social networks.

Tapping into social media is not only a good business practice, it's necessary if you're going to succeed in the corporate world. Here are two examples of companies that are doing it right.

Taco Bell

Popular fast-food chain Taco Bell has more than 1.5 million followers on Instagram and nearly 2 million followers on Twitter. The company knows how to engage people on social media, posting content about its menu offerings, employees, and restaurants. Taco Bell also posts light-hearted tweets and Instagram posts that garner thousands of replies, retweets, and likes.

Taco Bell lobbied for a taco emoji by creating a petition on Change.org in 2014. The company spread the word on social media. The petition garnered 33,000 signatures from Taco Bell enthusiasts. Apple released the taco emoji in October 2015 when it released iOS 9.1.

Kylie Jenner

You don't have to be a corporation to use social media expertly. This is, after all, the age of the influencer. For example, Kylie Jenner has more than 387 million followers on Instagram, 36 million on Snapchat, and 40 million on Twitter.

The young influencer and reality television star uses social media platforms to boost her image and brand name. She is also an entrepreneur who uses social networking to promote her business, Kylie Cosmetics.

The beauty brand earned her a spot on Forbes' list of self-made women, young billionaires, and the Celebrity 100 of 2020. Want proof of her reach? The company's lip kits sold out within 10 minutes of the star tweeting the link to her followers in February 2016.

What Is the Purpose of Social Networking?

Social networking connects individuals and businesses by allowing them to share information, ideas, and messages. Companies also use social networks to create and strengthen brand recognition, promote products and services, and answer customer queries and concerns.

What Are the Benefits of Social Networks?

The benefits of social networks include their ability to help people connect and stay in touch with family, friends, and new contacts; the opportunity they offer businesses to market their brands; their ability to spread useful, even vital, information instantly to individuals and institutions.

Why Are Social Networks Important?

Social networks are important because they allow people to develop relationships that might not be possible due to distances of place and time. They also help boost business productivity when used for public relations, marketing, and advertising purposes.

What Are the Top 10 Social Networking Sites?

Some top social networking sites are Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, WeChat, TikTok, Facebook Messenger, Douyin, QQ, and Sina Weibo.

The Bottom Line

Social networking involves using online social media platforms to connect with new and existing friends, family, colleagues, and businesses. Individuals can use social networking to announce and discuss their interests and concerns with others who may support or interact with them.

Businesses can use social networking to build a brand, sell products, grow a customer base, and strengthen customer relationships and service.

Social networking may have certain disadvantages, but its benefits—including giving individuals and companies a method to spread messages instantly—make it a technology that will continue to be used and developed for years to come.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
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  4. MIT Sloan School of Management. "MIT Sloan Research About Social Media, Misinformation, and Elections."

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  6. Twitter. "Taco Bell."

  7. Change.org. "The Taco Emoji Happened!"

  8. Snapchat. "Kylie Jenner."

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  10. Twitter. "Kylie Jenner."

  11. Forbes. "Kylie Jenner."

  12. Elle. "Kylie Jenners' New Lip Kits Sold Out in Less Than 10 Minutes."

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