Why is it that over 500million people use Facebook, and half of this amount log into their accounts everyday? Social media has become a necessity and for some an obsession, we want to find out why...

What is the point of social networking?

It's fun! It's an easy way to keep up with people that you know – especially if you don't see each other or live in different areas of the country or world. You can find out in an instant that, say, your cousin has a new job, or you can view the photographs of a friend's wedding. And you can reconnect with people you have lost touch with – old school friends, relatives, former neighbours and so on.

 

I can do all that by email, can't I?

Yes, of course. But if email is a like a private correspondence, then social networking is more of a conversation taking place in a room filled with your invited friends. Everything that the members of the group have to say can be shared with everyone else – because they 'post' their news on a page that all their connections have access to. That can be lively and stimulating and it will tend to be light-hearted.

Joining the conversation

But a social network is not just an online party or gossip circle. There are networks, and groups within networks, that focus on more narrow or more serious matters: specific hobbies such as reading or photography; political activism and campaigning; charity work; making professional or career-based connections. Any activity that is enjoyed as an online group, or that might bring people together as a group, can benefit from a social network. Obviously there will still be things that you want to say to one person in private. That too can be done on a social network (it's called private messaging, or PM for short) – but this is perhaps where email is preferable, because there is less chance of your correspondence leaking out by accident.

 

Isn't social networking for teenagers?

It was young people who first cottoned on to social networking, and yes, it is still the case that many users are in their 20s and younger. But that doesn't mean that social networking has nothing to offer you. These days the sites are used by people of all ages and from all walks of life. To give an example, the number of people over 65 who use social networking sites tripled from 2009 to 2013 in the USA – 43 per cent have now joined up.

See for youself

If you feel unclear about whether you are going to like social networking it's probably a good idea to try Facebook first. It is the most popular site globally, and you are bound to know other people who use it. But new, and often niche, sites are being launched all the time. Some take off, some don't – and it's not easy to predict which sites will be successful. Ask your friends which ones they use or try searching the site with the names of a few people who are likely users. If nobody you know is there, it probably won't be much use… at least, not yet.

Find out how to find your friends on Facebook.

Not sure how to sign up? Read our guide.

 

Do I have to pay for it?

Social networking sites are free, and that is one of their attractions. They make most of their money from the advertising that appears on the site. That advertising is automatically 'targeted' at individual users: when you use Facebook, for example, you will see adverts that reflect the interests you reveal on your page.

 

Top 5 Social Networks

1. Twitter

Use for short snappy statements, opinions and as-it-happens news.

2. Facebook

Find all your friends and family, particualrly great for staying in touch over long distances.

3. YouTube

Watch user-generated videos, comment, share opinions and converse with YouTube's vast network. You can even make your own videos incredibly easily.

4. InstAgram

This one's for your mobile device. Take pictures and share with your friends and loved ones. Instagram gets bonus points as you can edit the pictures to look vintage. Think Twitter but for images.

5. Pinterest

Create mood boards and looks, share images that relate to your hobbies and interests as well as gaining great tips and advice about the things that you love.

Are you a senior internet user? Want to learn more about social networking? Try our guide to the internet.

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