Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Getting to Know the Giants of Social Media

By 2012 more than 1 billion people are expected to be online through blogs, social networks or photo/video sharing services. Social media is a great equalizer. Ordinary people are talking to each other and the businesses they patronize about what is important to them. Every day new sites are launched to enable people to broaden their conversations. Still, many stick with the sites they know—the giants of the social networking scene.

MySpace started out as the exclusive domain of young people, and after tying to become a mainstream site, went back to its roots. MySpace was the first social network to make the word “friends” (meaning contacts) part of our everyday language. While MySpace members aren’t as old or sophisticated as Facebook users, they function seamlessly in their own piece of cyber space. If you are an adult who insists on being on MySpace, ask your teenager to help you.

Facebook is big—the biggest—social networking site. Forty percent of its members are over thirty-five. Facebook offers personal profiles, calendars, movie reviews, photos, groups for every conceivable interest, targeted advertising, demographic profiling, and multiple ways to keep in touch. Members use Facebook to keep up with friends and friends of friends. It now also provides “fan pages” for setting up professional and businesses profiles.

LinkedIn is the number one social network for businesspeople and professionals. The site works on the principle of six degrees of separation. Members find and connect to their existing business contacts and then to their contacts’ contacts. Members post resumes, form networks, write recommendations, and keep their contacts updated on changes in their professional lives. When members update their profiles their new information becomes immediately available to everyone in their networks.

Twitter is an innovative, free social network that restricts messages to 140 characters. “Tweets” range from “what I’m doing right this minute” to trends and important issues. More than 100 services have sprung up that mimic Twitter, and there are many sites that augment its services. Followers can tune in to messages from other members and send targeted messages to people they follow by simply putting @ in front of the other person’s Twitter name.

YouTube is the best-known and most popular video-sharing site. It was acquired by Google in 2006 and went mainstream in 2007, appealing to both individuals and businesses. Members upload more than 65,000 videos a day. Most social networks and Websites support video. As a social networking site, YouTube features personal spaces, playlists, friends, favorites, and conversations. To assess its value, think quality over quantity; positive comments mean more than the number of views.

Flickr is right up with Facebook in terms of size. It has 11 million regular members, 30 million monthly unique visitors, and more than 1 billion photos. There are Flickr groups for almost anything you can imagine ... anything. In addition to making it easy to upload photos and other images—with carefully chosen keywords, tags, file names, and image descriptions—Flickr has no trouble attracting search engines. Tags are descriptive labels photographers and viewers can apply to photographs.

These are the big kids on the block, but in each category, there are many other sites that are attracting members and offering an increasing number of features. Biggest is not always best. It pays to explore the less-well-known social media sites to find the right fit.