Forms and Types of Social Media

Social media concept on a smartphone

There are many types of social media which have blossomed as Internet usage has increased over time. Users have varying reasons to visit these social media outlets; promoting a business or keeping up with friends are just two. You might have only heard of a couple types of social media, but continue reading to find out about a few that you may not know about.

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Social Networking

Social networking is considered a more casual form of social media. The purpose of social networking sites is to socialize with friends, classmates, or other people. Facebook is the largest example that almost everyone is familiar with. Most social networks work this way: you find a friend, add a friend, read friends blogs or notes, see what friends are up to with real-time updates, and unite with like-minded people. Some sites are general while others, like the website LinkedIn, connect you with people you can network with in the same professional field.

Varied Demographic Base

Since social networking sites can be used for both business and pleasure, they can have a very wide demographic for their user base if they're an "all purpose" site like Facebook or a more defined demographic for a site more focused like LinkedIn. For example, Facebook's largest age demographic is 25 to 34-year-olds and 76% female, while the website LinkedIn's largest age demographic is people aged 30 to 64 and it's only about 44% female.

Forums and Message Boards

If you have visited a website for your favorite hobby, you've no doubt seen forums and message boards. These are unique portions of the website that allow visitors to interact with each other with their opinions, advice, and help. The average user of a forum will largely mirror the demographic of the interest group that the forum is dedicated to.

Users Share Interests

One thing that makes the forum special is you know what to expect: if you join a forum about video games, you will see mostly topics about video games. Forums are a great way to find people who have similar interests as you, such as gardeners using the message board on the National Gardening Association site. Forums are not only focused on personal entertainment and hobbies. You can find forums focused on business topics and for most niche industries. A good example of a company forum for customers is the one run by Apple.

Microblogging Websites

Microblogging is a new phenomenon in recent years and is a "cousin" of texting. Within a certain amount of characters, usually 160 to 280, you can upload quick thoughts to your mobile device for others to see. Through the cell phone or over your computer, a microblogger can express thoughts, feelings, and events immediately. Twitter is the most well-known microblogging site with over 336 million active users. Microblogging can be used for both personal and business means and it's particularly popular with journalists as one can provide up-to-the-second updates on current events.

Average Users

Like most social media platforms, the average user will depend on the focus of the site. The average Twitter user is in the 18 to 29 age demographic and the gender demographic is about even with men coming in slightly higher than women.

Blogging Websites

Blogging sites have also become more than just sites to post your latest thoughts. With the addition of comments sections, blogging sites like Medium and Tumblr can become interactive social networking hubs for people to discuss their latest blogs. You can create long form blog posts on these sites that include images and video and engage in conversations with readers in the comments. The audience of typical blogging sites tends to skew young, with about half of Medium's users in the 18 to 34 group and 16 to 24 for Tumblr.

Young influencer vlogging about top while sitting at home

In the past, sites like Medium been seen as more personal and a place for people to express themselves but they've become attractive to marketers as a platform to reach a wide audience. That's not surprising since at least 4.5 million hours are spent reading posts on Medium each month.

Bookmarking Sites

Since there is so much information on the web - be it news, data, or other resources - assimilating them in one place that's referenced for you personally would be a daunting task if you attempted to do it manually. That's where sites like Digg thrive. You can provide links that you find useful by "digging" them and letting other Diggers read them. This could be anything from a news story to a funny video you saw. Over time, sites like Digg and Mix (formerly StumbleUpon) can provide you with links based on your likes and what you've read. This form of social media is can be used for either business or pleasure depending on the focus of the site. Some focus heavily on entertainment whereas others may be attractive to journalists.

Who Uses Bookmarking Sites?

The average user of bookmarking sites will tend to mirror the focus of the site. For example, Digg is heavily used by professionals interested in news and current events with a demographic that skews male (76%) and 18 to 34 is the largest age group (41%). Pinterest, on the other hand, is a form of bookmarking site that relies on creating images (pins) of the curated content. Pinterest is heavily focused on lifestyle topics and over 80% of its users are women and most users are 40 or younger.

Media Sharing Sites

You don't always have to read a social media site. With networks like YouTube you can watch videos or view images and videos on Instagram. You can do just about everything you can on the other sites because media sharing sites allow comments and friends and profile pages. Almost anyone can upload a photo or video, though you must adhere to copyright laws.

Personal and Business Use

Media sharing sites are used for both personal and professional pursuits and if a topic exists, you can probably find it on a site like YouTube. Businesses use these sites to share media related to their brands and engage with consumers, run contests, and provide educational material.

User Description

Like most sites the average user description will vary based on the site. For example, YouTube's average user is a male between 35 to 55 years old whereas almost 70% of Instagram's users are women and the highest age demographic is 18 to 49.

Man Taking Photos Of Burger With Smartphone

News and Discussion Sites

Another popular place to network on the Internet is news and discussion sites. These sites are similar to a bookmarking site in that you will find collections of links, but the focus on these sites is discussion. Reddit and Quora are two examples and both feature forums for almost every hobby, profession and news topic you can think of. Whether it's discussing the latest episode of a TV show, the political news of the day or best places to eat locally, you can probably find others to "talk to" on discussion sites like Reddit and Quora.

How Discussion Sites Are Used

Discussion sites are immensely popular for personal use and you can find thousands of daily active discussions on everything from entertainment to philosophy. For example, as of March 2019 Reddit has approximately 1.2 million "subreddits" which are topic-focused communities. Discussion sites can also be used by businesses to perform tasks like market research or have discussions with others in your field on relevant job-related topics.

User Demographics for Reddit

Individual discussion boards on a site will vary widely in terms of their demographics but in general on the largest discussion site, Reddit, the user base is about 69% male and 64% ages 18 to 29 and about one-third between 30 and 49. Most have a college or advanced degree.

Happy multi-generation family using smart phone

Review Sites

When it comes to business, a powerful form of social networking is review sites like Yelp, Google Reviews and TripAdvisor. These sites are designed for consumers to post about their experiences, positive and negative, with businesses. Consumer review sites have become a powerful force for online local search and 64% of consumers say they check Google Reviews and 45% check Yelp when looking for a business. Ninety-four percent of reviewers who regularly use these sites claim a bad review will make them avoid a business. Therefore if you're a local business and you ignore bad reviews, your business is at risk.

How Sites Are Used

Businesses can use these sites to respond to consumers and boost their appeal online to potential customers. Likewise, consumers use them for personal productivity and research to find the best services for their needs.

Average Users

To get an idea of an average user, Yelp tends to have a higher urban audience, about 40% are 18 to 34 and 37% are 35 to 54, and 60% have a college degree or higher. The spread between males and females were about even with more importance placed on reviews by women. Google Reviews' demographics are fairly similar to Yelp's.

Gig Economy Sites

Another site that isn't commonly thought of as a social network are the participants in the "sharing economy." This refers to any business that uses the internet to create social and business connections between people looking to sell a service and buyers. Examples of gig economy sites are the ride-sharing programs Lyft and Uber, the pet-sitting and dog walking site Rover, and the home rental site Airbnb.

Sites Facilitate Business Relationships

What makes these social networks is they are set up to facilitate business relationships that can be as simple as needing a lift to your job or as complex as renting a high-rise condominium from its owner for a vacation. In addition to the ability to purchase a service, these sites tend to have review sections that allow users to rate their customers and vice versa.

Demographics Based on Services

Like many other social networking sites, who uses these sites varies by the type of service it's focused on but to give a general idea here are the demographics from some of the most heavily trafficked sharing economy sites:

  • The largest age group using ride sharing services are 18 to 29-year-olds (45%), who are urban (37%) and earn a high income (41%).
  • On the flip side, drivers who use services like Lyft and Uber to sell their services are about 40% white males aged 30 to 49 years old.
  • Over half of the drivers, male and female, are over the age of 40 and over half (53%) have at least a college degree.
  • Airbnb has over 150 million users across the world, with about 54% female.
  • The fastest growing age group among Airbnb users are seniors although about 60% of people who have booked a room through Airbnb overall were millennials.

Hobby Gathering Sites

If you're a voracious book reader, you'll love posting your lists of recommended novels on Goodreads. Or if home improvement and interior design are your passions, the discussions on Houzz can be incredibly helpful. Hobby gathering sites are social networks where people congregate to discuss a specific pursuit, whether it's music (, Listnd) or film (Letterboxd) or anything else you love. While these sites are primarily used by people for personal enjoyment of their hobbies, businesses that are web savvy can leverage the platforms to find "super fans" to help promote their artists and advertise their products. These sites are also good places for businesses to do market research by reading forums and viewing user lists to see what trends are popular and feedback on their work.

Anonymous Social Networks

While many social networks that are used often allow you some anonymity in posting, there are ones that are 100% dedicated to complete anonymity among users. Examples of anonymous social networks are Whisper, 4Chan, and After School. Since the users are anonymous, it's difficult to come up with an average user profile but these sites tend to be heavily trafficked by younger users and skew towards more males than females. While some believe these sites provide a forum for people, particularly adolescents, to ask difficult questions in a safe place where their identity is unknown, they are also rife with cyberbullying and trolling behavior.

Boy using laptop on sofa and sister texting in background

Gaming Networking Sites

Gone are the days when kids sat alone and played video games by themselves. Multi-player gaming is a huge market, and this activity is absolutely a social one. You can play with users from all over the world on not only console games but mobile games as well.

Game Examples

Popular games like Fortnite have over 78 million active players internationally competing both individually and together on teams. Fortnite players are primarily in the 18 to 34 age demographic, about three-quarters are male and spend about six to ten hours a week playing. Twitch is a streaming network for video game players that has similar user statistics with about 81.5% male, 55% between 18 and 34 and about 15 million daily active users. Other types of social gaming networks including MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) favorites like World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2 and EVE Online.

Profitable for Companies

While these networks are oriented toward personal entertainment, they are also big business. Fortnite alone brought in over 1 billion dollars in 2018. Twitch is used heavily by marketers to promote their services to the key younger demographic among its viewership.

Forms and Types of Social Media

With so many forms of social media, how do you tell what to use? That depends on your intended use. Promoting a business or product? Use them all. Just want to keep up with your friends? Try the popular ones. Just want to rant and rave? Find out who is using what the most. Whatever you choose, don't be afraid to try the next innovative thing.

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Forms and Types of Social Media