The definition of online social networking encompasses networking for business, pleasure, and all points in between. Networks themselves have different purposes, and their online counterparts work in various ways. Loosely speaking, a social network allows people to communicate with friends and acquaintances both old and new.
YourDictionary.com defines a social networking site as "A website that provides a virtual community for people interested in a particular subject or just to 'hang out' together." While this is an accurate description, a more detailed definition of online social networking would also encompass all of the ways people can connect.
Online networks such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and LinkedIn all offer users a variety of ways to increase their networks, share notes and various types of media, and connect on a variety of levels.
Some of the ways people can network on these sites include:
- Having current friends or connections suggest other people you may want to network with
- Sharing photos, audio and video files, written works, links, and other media
- Posting a resume or work experience for job searching and recruiting
- Promoting a brand or service to those who may need the product or service
Social Networking for Personal Use
Many people join a social network because their current friends and family are using the service and they want to stay in contact. Once you've been using a social networking site for a while, you'll inevitable come in contact with other people you know, or knew long ago.
These networks are great places to catch up with old friends, share current and old photos, and find other friends whom you may have lost contact with along the way.
In this case, the definition of social networking includes nostalgia and reconnecting.
Social Networking for Professionals
Professionals have always networked in one way or another. Whether it's a business meeting, a conference, or a larger industry event, meeting other people who are involved in the same profession is a necessity.
Social networks, especially those like LinkedIn that cater to businesses and professionals, provide another platform to meet career peers and influential people in the industry. Putting yourself out there in a social network and spreading the word of your business is easy to do, and can result in catching the attention of many people in your profession.
For businesses and career-minded folks, social networking becomes one more promotional tool in the arsenal for an overall business plan.
Establishing Yourself on a Social Network
Definitions of social networks can vary depending on what the network itself offers. One thing that all social networking websites have in common is the ability for users to post a profile. These profiles are basically lists of information that you wish to share with your connections.
Profiles serve to give friends and acquaintances basic information about you at a glance. They list things like your profession and work history, current contact information, likes and dislikes, and your location. Most of this information is protected and can be optional, though it does serve to help others find you more easily.
Growing and Changing
Social networking is not a static thing. Networks are growing and changing all the time, with new ones popping up at a fast rate. Many networking websites are geared towards users with specific interests and needs, while others encourage everyone to join.
Since this form of networking is always evolving, the definition of a social network will also be fluid. At its heart, however, an online social network is a meeting place for people to extend their reach and stay in contact with their connections.