What Is Social Networking?

Social Networking Definition

Investopdia / Julie Bang

What Is Social Networking?

The term social networking refers to the use of 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 2.91 billion people using the platform on a monthly basis, as of Dec. 31, 2021. Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest are among the next most popular, according to Statista.

Key Takeaways

  • Social networking is the use of internet-based social media platforms to get and stay connected with friends, family, or peers.
  • Three of the most popular social networking sites in the U.S. include Facebook, Instagram, 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 the spread of 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 events in their lives. People can also connect with unknown individuals who share the same interests, goals, or experiences. Individuals can find each other through groups, lists, and the use of hashtags.

For Marketers

Social networking is commonly used by marketers 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 to new customers and more prominent for existing ones,

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

Facebook is a social network that offers users the opportunity 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 video.

Users can also communicate directly with each other via Facebook Messenger. They can join groups with like 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 3 billion active users.

Instagram

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 users 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 other users. They can add others' content 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 but it also 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 in Instagram.

Instagram was founded in 2010 by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. In 2012, it was acquired by Meta Platforms (the former Facebook). Today, Instagram has around 1.5 billion active users.

Twitter

Twitter is a social network that allows people to communicate with short messages called tweets. Tweets are limited by the social platform to 280 characters. Users post tweets that may be useful, interesting, or even inflammatory for readers.

Others use Twitter to find people and companies posting appealing, important, or newsworthy content. Once users discover others who pique their interest, they can follow them and receive their ongoing stream of tweets in their feeds.

Tweeting is sometimes referred to microblogging. It's distinguished by users' ability to scan and distribute content quickly, conveniently, and easily. 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 such socialistas (or vital sources of crucial information).

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 Twitter, Inc. and its CEO is Parag Agrawal. In 2021, Twitter had about 430 million users. That number is expected to rise to almost 500 million by 2025.

Pinterest

Pinterest is a social networking site that promotes image saving and sharing using a virtual pinboard. It's an innovative platform that facilitates the cataloguing and organizing of 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 catalogue ideas and interests, users can access them whenever they want. Clicking on the image reveals related information.

As with 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 for private messaging.

Pinterest was created by Ben Silbermann, Paul Sciarra, and Evan Sharp in 2009. It's owned by Pinterest, Inc. and its CEO is Bill Ready. As of 2022, Pinterest has approximately 433 million active users.

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' 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 also influences a company’s marketing success rate.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Social Networking

Social networking has the ability to 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.

Advantages

  • 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.
  • They can use social media to create, promote, and increase brand awareness.
  • Companies can capitalize on customer reviews and comments that promote products, services, and their brands. The more that 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.

Disadvantages

  • 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.
Pros
  • 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

Cons
  • 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 1.4 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. Kylie Jenner has more than 314 million followers on Instagram, 36.4 million followers on Snapchat, and 39.6 million followers on Twitter.

The young influencer and reality television star uses her 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 helps boost business productivity when used for public relations, marketing, and advertising purposes.

What Are the Top 10 Social Networking Sites?

According to Statista, the top 10 social networking sites as of January 2022 were Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, WeChat, TikTok, Facebook Messenger, Douyin, QQ, and Sina Weibo.

The Bottom Line

Social networking involves the use of 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 and otherwise 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
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