It is impossible not to have heard, at least once, about social networks, about sites and applications such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. These social networks are actually websites that allow people to interact with each other.

This term is used to describe a platform like Facebook but also a site like Digg or Wikipedia. So what exactly are social networks (social media)?

The term is so vague that it can be used to describe virtually any site on the Internet today.

Some people have a narrower view of social media, thinking that it is only about the larger social networks (eg Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Other people believe that blogs do not fall into this category.

Thus, each person has their own opinion about what falls, or does not, in the category of social networks. But first, we need to know about the general concept of these terms to get a clearer and more precise understanding.

What exactly is social media?

Rather than defining these terms using a lot of complicated and hard to understand words, we will break each word down to define it. To begin with, we can take each word individually.

  • The term "social": refers to interacting with other people by exchanging mutual information
  • The term "media": refers to a communication tool such as the Internet (while television, radio, and newspapers are examples of more traditional forms of mass media).

From these two separate terms, we can extract a basic definition:

Social networks are communication tools on the Internet that allow people to interact with each other by sharing and exchanging information.

It may seem like a vague definition – but remember, social media is actually a very broad field.

Common features of social networks

The following list of common features are the clues that help you easily identify a social media site:

  • Personal user accounts: If a site allows users to create their own accounts that they can log into, then this is an early sign that it could be used for user interaction. Although it is possible to share information or interact with other personae online and anonymously, you must first create a user account, which is the standard procedure.
  • Profile pages: since social media is about communication, a profile page is absolutely necessary to represent a person. Often. this includes personal information about the user, such as a profile photo, biography, website, recent posts feed, recommendations, activity log, etc.
  • Friends, followers, groups, hashtags and more: Individuals use their accounts to connect with other users. They can also use them to subscribe to certain information sources.
  • News feeds: users of a certain platform connect with other users, on social networks, basically to exchange information or to get information from them. This information is updated for them in real time through the news section.
  • Personalization: Social media sites typically give users the flexibility to configure their account settings, customize their profiles to look a specific way, organize their friends or followers in any way they want, and manage the information they see in the news section.
  • Notifications: Any site or application that informs users about certain information is definitely part of the social networking category. Users have full control over these notifications and can choose which types of notifications they want to receive.
  • Updating, saving or posting information: if a site or app lets you post absolutely anything, with or without a user account, then it's a social network! Whether it's a simple text-based message, a photo, a YouTube video, a link to an article, or anything else, if these things are possible, then it's clearly a social network.
  • Like buttons and comment section: There are two most common ways we interact on social media – through buttons that represent a “like” or “appreciation” and through the comment section where we can share our thoughts and opinions.
  • Evaluation, ranking or voting systems: In addition to likes and comments, a lot of social media sites and apps rely on the effort of the community, who review, rate, and vote on information or topics they know about or have used. Even your favorite shopping sites or movie review sites use this social feature to increase their traffic and bring in potential customers.

The main problems related to social media

Social media isn't always about having fun with your friends or the celebrities you admire and companies you follow. There are a lot of known issues that most major social media platforms have not been able to fully fix despite their best efforts.

  • Spam: Social media facilitates the emergence of spam comments (the "bombardment" of irrelevant content) - both by real people and bots. If you have a Yahoo mail account, you may already be constantly receiving spam emails, which end up in the specific folder thanks to a smart filter.
  • Cyberbullying / Cyberstalking: Children and teenagers are the most affected by online bullying because they take more risks when it comes to posting on social media. And now that we're all connected on social media through our mobile devices, most platforms make it possible to share our locations, opening the door for cyberstalkers to stalk us.
  • Manipulation of self-image: what a user posts about himself on social media is only a small part of his life. His followers will thus have a completely different vision from the real one. This leads to the need to compare people and lower self-esteem. What many people don't realize is that users have the power to completely control what they want and don't want to post on social media to build their own self-image, whether it's real or not.
  • Privacy / Security: Many social media platforms are "hacked" from time to time despite having good security measures in place. Some platforms don't even offer all the privacy options users need to keep their information as private as possible.
  • Information overload: it's not unusual to have over 500 friends on Facebook or follow over 1,000 accounts on Instagram. It's almost impossible to keep up with so many accounts constantly posting content all at the same time.
  • Fake news: Fake news sites promote links to completely fake fake news on social media to drive as much traffic as possible to various target platforms. Many users have no idea that those news are fake.

Differences between Social Media and Social Networking (Social Media vs. Social Networking)

As mentioned before, a lot of people think that the terms social networks and social networks have the same meaning. Although the difference is subtle, social media is actually a sub-category of social media.

The easiest way to understand the difference between social media and social networking is to take the terms mediate and network separated.

Media (Social Networks) refers to the information you actually share – whether it's a link to an article, a video, an animated GIF, a PDF, or a simple post.

The Network (Social Network), on the other hand, is about your audience (followers/friends) and the relationships you have with them. Your network can include people like friends, relatives, colleagues, mentors, and even strangers.

These two definitely overlap, which is why it can get a little confusing. For example, you can share media on your social network to gather likes and comments. But you can also just vote a post on Reddit, which is a social platform, to help the community and give your opinion about it, without the intention of building relationships with other users, as in the case of social networks.

To help you better understand this concept of social network (social media), we will answer some questions, received most often about this topic:

Are blogs part of the social media category?

Blogs are part of the social media category, despite the fact that people tend to put them in a separate category these days. In fact, blogs are one of the oldest forms of social media and dominated the Internet long before you had the option to add friends and follow people on social media.

Blogs are considered to be part of the social media category. Tumblr, WordPress, and Blogger are just a few examples of big blogging platforms that are very active.

Can traditional forms of media be considered social media?

Television, radio and newspapers are not part of social media. At least not yet.

Social media doesn't just give you information, it interacts with you while giving you that information.

Think of mainstream media as a one-way street where you can read a newspaper or listen to a report on TV, but you can't give your opinion or opinion on a particular topic. Social media, on the other hand, is a two-way street that gives you the opportunity to be informed and express yourself at the same time.

What will social media look like in the future?

It is difficult to predict anything exactly, but one thing is clear about the future of social networks, and it will be much more personalized and with higher quality content. Over-sharing will no longer be such a big problem, and filtering out irrelevant information will certainly become a much more familiar aspect.

Instagram is a social media platform that is truly at the forefront of social media evolution, and we believe it will stay that way for a long time, given that there are always new updates and new features to discover.

Other big social networks like Snapchat and Facebook have seen their traffic decline quite a bit in recent years and it is likely to be quite difficult to get back to the level they were at some time ago. Users (the new generations) are looking for new and updated applications with better functions.

The pressure to get lots of likes and comments on regular social media posts also plays a huge factor, suggesting that this need for attention isn't going away anytime soon, and posting stories, whether on Instagram, Facebook or any other platform that added this feature, could be the future of social media.