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Introduction to Social Networking

Please be aware that this entry is over two years old. Therefore, it may contain broken links, outdated information, or views and content which are no longer completely valid.

Caveats of Online Social Networking

As positive and productive as much of online social networking can appear, there are some drawbacks to using online social networks and social networking tools. A major concern has always been privacy. Because social networks encourage the sharing of personal information, there are some people out there who can use that information against you—from stalking, to harassment and cyber-bullying, to outright identity theft. Sometimes this treasure-trove of information is simply sold to other companies for marketing purposes.

Another, but less obvious privacy concern is where privacy measures can be bypassed through the use of 3rd-party applications added to user profiles on some social networks. When using these 3rd-party applications, there can be a risk of giving them too much access to your profile using predetermined default settings. There is also a risk of malicious applications slipping through the vetting process and trying to mine the profile data of users. In either case, if you use 3rd-party applications, a little caution is advised.

Lastly, sometimes using social networks can have other real-world impacts besides the above-mentioned drawbacks. There have been incidents where self-posted content has led to workplace disciplinary action. In some cases, when an employee took a sick day, they posted photos of themselves…not being sick. In other cases, admitting or posting photos of illegal activities for others to see can reflect poorly on an employer, and thus, impact the employee in a negative fashion. Discussing confidential work-related information on social networks has also come to light and has ended with severe disciplinary action or job termination.

On top of all this, social networks can and are being used in police investigations and as evidence in court case proceedings. Taking all of this into account, it is best to be aware of what you post online and who can potentially have access to it. Once something has been seen and posted online for the world (or employers or police) to see, it’s difficult for it to completely disappear.

Do You Lurk, Participate, Contribute…or Advertise and Promote?

On the social side of social networking, there are usually three distinct types of users. One type of user is called a “lurker” because they typically don’t usually actively participate—merely observe. Eventually, some lurkers become more involved in the community as they become more comfortable with how to use a social network and learn some of the unwritten rules and etiquette that come with being a part of any social group. The second group of users are those who actively participate usually comment on updates or content posted by other users. The third group can usually be referred to as leaders or contributors, as they are users who actively post content and updates, invite people to join the social network, and often help guide less-experienced users on how to navigate and use the social network.

On the promotional side of social networking, anyone who wants to promote something—be it a business, organization product, band, film, or anything else that can be promoted—can usually do this in three ways.

First, group/fan pages can be set up which users can follow. Keeping followers engaged on these pages is a fundamental component of having a presence on a social network. Content is good, but unique content is better. Frequent updates with unique content is best. This encourages people to keep coming back.

  • If the organization is in the habit of hosting real-world events, tag fans/followers in photos.
  • Offer “shout-outs” to loyal fans for doing something interesting or unique. People like being recognized and sharing with their friends that they were recognized.
  • Have contests and polls. People like friendly competitions and seeing what others think about things. One common contest idea is to have a “best photo” contest showing fans with the organization’s people or products.
  • Offer promotions, sales, and discounts to people who are only members of the group/fan page.
  • Show previews and share news for upcoming events and products. People like to know what organizations are working on behind the scenes, even if something is months away from actually arriving.
  • Participate and interact with other fan/group pages in the industry. Constructive and helpful discussions can encourage users to find more about the organization. Note that overt self-promotion and spamming are not recommended and will backfire.
  • Offer tips, tricks, and useful information related to the organization’s products or the industry in general.

Second, ad space can be purchased for a rotating spot with other ads which can appear throughout the social networking website. Typically with social networks, ads can be targeted at fans/followers/friends, or certain demographics matching certain criteria within the social network as a whole.

Lastly, some organizations are using social network API features and social media plug-ins on their websites to let visitors announce their actions on their news/update feeds. For example an update could read, “James just purchased Symphony of a Thousand Strings from The Way Cool Music Store“. Since it is more likely friends will follow what other friends are doing, this can be an effective way to advertise. However—this form of advertising isn’t always appreciated, as it does raise some privacy concerns and exploits the personal relationships of customers/clients/visitors—even if it is an opt-in feature.

The bottom line is that in order for you to get something worthwhile from using a social network, you need to participate. In order to make it worthwhile for others, you not only need to participate, but actively contribute as well.
What Social Networks Are Available?

Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, Bebo, and Orkut are a few of the most popular social networking sites. There is also quite a number of others available, as seen on a list of active social networks on Wikipedia (an online, social encyclopedia!)

Users aren’t limited to hosted social networking websites, however. There are several 3rd-party software packages and platforms that allow people to build their own social networks. Some are free, and some carry a price tag.

How to Get Started & What You Need For Signing Up

To start, simply use your computer, laptop, or mobile device (such as a smart phone or tablet) and visit a social networking website which is either popular in your locale or popular with a particular set of interests. Fill in the registration or sign-up form on the website. The form will typically ask for an email address, username and/or real name, password, and sometimes a birth date. Following initial registration, an email is generally sent to your email account with an activation link. After clicking the link, you should have access to your profile page with a simple introduction or profile setup wizard.

And there you have it. If you have made it this far into the overview into social networks, you’re obviously interested enough in social networks to find out what they are all about. However, just reading about them can only get you so far. So, having read everything here, go ahead and grab that parachute, sign up, and join in. Good luck!