Social Media: What is it and how does it work?

Despite being described online as ‘interactive computer-mediated technologies that facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas, career interests and other forms of expression via virtual communities and', I would simply say that Social Media is the collective term for the classification of communication whereby profiles are created in order to quickly share information with among ‘users’.

It has been said that the variety of evolving stand-alone and built-in social media services makes it challenging to define them and the idea that social media are defined simply by their ability to bring people together has been seen as too broad, as this would suggest that fundamentally different technologies like mediums like newspaper and telephone are also social media - I would say that they are. The terminology is seen to be unclear, with some referring to social media as social networks or social networking services, but I would clarify by stating that the differentiation between a physical asset like a newspaper could be classed or included as a form of social media whereas anything online can be identified as a social networking service, although you could argue that a telephone service does the same thing. Hmm, let’s group that as electronic communication then shall we?

Anyway, ‘user-generated content', such as text posts or comments, digital photos or videos, and data generated through all online interactions, is the lifeblood of social media. Information is shared either openly in groups or on public searchable forums or portals or through profiles - either permission-based or freely accessible and other various ways to share the information are also available.

The History

’Social media’ has a history dating back to the 1970s. ARPANET, which first came online in 1967, had by the late 1970s developed a rich cultural exchange of non-government/business ideas and communication, as clearly evidenced by ARPANET etiquette's "A 1982 handbook on computing at MIT's AI Lab stated regarding network etiquette," and fully met the current definition of the term "social media". Usenet, which arrived in 1979, was beat by a precursor of the electronic bulletin board system (BBS) known as Community Memory in 1973. True electronic bulletin board systems arrived with the Computer Bulletin Board System in Chicago, which first came online on 16 February 1978. Before long, most major cities had more than one BBS running on TRS-80, Apple II, Atari, IBM PC, Commodore 64, Sinclair, and similar personal computers.

GeoCities was one of the Internet's earliest social networking websites, appearing in November 1994, followed by Classmates in December 1995, Six Degrees in May 1997, Open Diary in October 1998, LiveJournal in April 1999, Ryze in October 2001, Friendster in March 2002, LinkedIn in May 2003, hi5 in June 2003, MySpace. (which I consider vintage) in August 2003, Orkut in January 2004, Facebook in February 2004, Yahoo! 360° in March 2005, Bebo in July 2005, Twitter in July 2006, Tumblr in February 2007, and Google+ in July 2011. Many others have been created since with some of the most popular social media websites being Baidu Tieba, Facebook (and its associated Facebook Messenger), Google+, Myspace, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, Tumblr, Twitter, Viber, VK, WeChat, Weibo, WhatsApp, and Wikia. These social media websites have more than 100,000,000 registered users.

So, how do you reach this mammoth audience?

How does it work?

On any platform, you choose a username and password to create an account and display a brief biography and a picture - one for your display icon and one for your cover photo (not on Snapchat) - and populate as much or as little information as you want to. Having a presence on many social media channels is positive as long as there is a way to be contacted - ie if you do not post anything on it but have a telephone number, email address or website listed people can still get in touch. As well as just having a presence for organic traction, and getting recommended by people tagging you or your page, you do have the option of paying for a targeted advertising.

As there are various options on the plethora of channels, outlets and sites, here is a breakdown of some of the ways to ‘push’ content out to a public or specifically defined audience on some of the portals you may be beneficial as a business or part of an organisation:

You have the option to create and post connect on:

~ a person Profile (this works on permission-based viewing so only approved ‘friends’ can view all of the information you have set as public in your privacy settings. If they aren’t your friend, then the information they can view is limited. Friends also see your posts on their timeline);

~ a business, cause or organisation Page (people can search for your page and it will appear if it relates of includes keywords they have typed into the search field. If they Like your page (similar to being a friend apart from it not being permission-based) your posts will appear in their timeline and they can also recommend you or your business in comments);

~ or a Group of/for people who share a common interest (these can be Open, Closed, Private/Secret).

You can:
~ ‘share’ posts you want to appear on your own Profile or Page and share text posts, images and videos as well as commenting on other people’s posts and tagging other profiles and ages with ‘@‘.

~ create an Event to list on your Page or Profile and share it publicly (by keeping it Open or Sharing it) or invite friends.

~ pin a post to the top of your profile, page or group to feature it and make it more prominent.

There is only one option for Twitter - a profile.

You use Twitter to:
~ share opinion and other information (up to 280 characters) either organically or through Retweeting content from or tagging other accounts/profiles using ‘@‘ and their ‘handle’.

~ share text, images and videos and are able to tag up to 10 other profiles within an image.

~ look for posts about a specific topic by searching the hashtag (#).

~ pin posts to the top of your profile to feature them and make them more prominent.

Similar to Facebook, you have the option to create:

~ a person Professional Profile (although people can see information, they can see more when they have requested to connect with you. Once connected, they/you can see one another’s posts on the timeline) which works like a virtual CV. You can also list testimonials;

~ a Company Page (people can search for your page and it will appear if it relates of includes keywords they have typed into the search field. If they Follow your page (similar to being a friend apart from it not being permission-based) your posts will appear in their timeline);

~ a Group of/for people who share a common interest (these are permission-based so you have to request access).

You can:
~ ‘share’ posts you want to appear on your own Profile or Page and share text posts and images as well as commenting on other people’s posts and tagging other profiles and ages with ‘@‘.

You create a profile to post images that can be searched for based on hashtags.

You create a profile (individual or brand) to upload videos which are searchable based on title and tagged keywords.

A multimedia messaging app, you can easily talk with friends, view Live Stories from around the world, and explore news in Discover. Users can “chat” with their friends by sending them photos, short videos up to 10 seconds long. If you have an event or cause, you can create a filter to add to your image/video.

Social media changes the way individuals and large organisations communicate.

What and when to post - frequency

Add value to the conversation by sharing content that will make your customers' lives easier

Respond - Not every update has to stem from an original ideas. Monitor what people are talking about and what is trending (hashtagged and talked about the most) and bounce off the ideas that other people are already posting. Social media relies on conversations, so jump in and be a part of them. This is also a good way to get your account and brand more visibility.

Variety - Don’t just post hard sell posts about your services and statistics. Tell people why they should use your service and buy into you. Engage with people and use evidence like testimonials or express your more personable side.Maybe share information about current affairs and your CSR. Quotes are a great audience-grabber too as people will relate, think about and share them.

One universal fact is that social media status updates don't last long. The half-life of a tweet, for example, is around 18 minutes for most users. That isn’t to say that you post that regular or even often over a period of hours but you have to consider who your audience is and the they might look at the channels or buy into your services, products and what you are posting about.


~ Tuesdays between 8am and 9:30am and lunch around 12noon and 1pm are best for maximum impact/traction on TWITTER (Weekends are the worst times)

~ Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday between 10am and 11am are the best times to post on LINKEDIN (Weekends are the worst times)

~ 1pm until 4pm on Thursday onwards (towards the weekend) are the most productive times to post on FACEBOOK. Also weekend evenings (Tuesday, particularly morning, is the worst time to post)

~ Instagram users tend to be around on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday between 11am and 1pm and 7pm until 9pm. Wednesday is best. (Sunday is the worst day)


Fact: In the United States, a 2015 survey reported that 71 percent of teenagers have a Facebook account. Over 60% of 13 to 17-year-olds have at least one profile on social media, with many spending more than two hours per day on social networking sites.