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The Digital Student: Social media: a beginners guide

Social networks and/or social media services allow you to network with people who share interests, professions, hobbies, backgrounds or real-life connections. These services are based online and often have mobile apps to allow users to access the service on the go. There are hundreds of social networks. These range from very small and specific services that serve a small community to global networks with millions of users. While such services are often associated with just social networking, there are also professional and research uses for such technology. This page focuses on social networks and will be useful for anyone not currently using such websites.

Tip: This site has special sections for professional networking and research networking. You may want to skip to these sections if you are already familiar with social networking.


Beginners Guide to Social networks: General

The networks presented in this section are the primary multi-platform and multi-featured English-speaking social network websites.

Click on any of the social networks below to find out more about it.


Beginners Guide to Social networks: Specialist

The networks presented in this section are the primary specialist English-speaking social network websites. The sites listed here specialise in video, photography, broadcast, sharing and/or blogging.

Sina Weibo

Social Network Dictionary

Sometimes it can fee like social networking websites use their own language. This quick guide will demystify common terms:

Activity Stream/Wall

A place (usually on a user's profile) that records user activity. Examples of this include notifications about new photos they have uploaded. These streams often include the option for users to post a status update.

Status update/posts

An option for users to place a textual (or often video/image) post on their activity steam. The options within such posts vary depending on the platform but they often allow users to include their location and sometimes even mood.

Like button

An option for users to display their approval to someone else's comment or status update. The number of 'likes' a post receives is an indication of how popular the post is.


Hashtags # are used to label posts by a topic or theme. There can be no spaces or other punctuation in hashtags. Some examples include #WorldCup2014 and #BlueSky. On social media sites, hashtags are often clickable links that take users to posts on the same topic.


Whenever a user posts or creates something on social networks, the site usually gives other users the ability to comment on the post. Comments are usually textual although some platforms give the option to upload pictures.


Most social networks provide users with the option to create thematic groups or pages that users can join to discuss certain topics. On some sites, businesses and organisations interact with users through these.


When users join a social network they are able to connect with other users on the site. Inviting someone to be a friend or contact usually requires their approval and gives users additional permissions (for example, to see their full profile).


Allows you to be notified of another users updates.


Profiles are the core of social networks. It is where a user can input information about themselves, share media and share their updates.

Social network statistics

Social Media Statistics 2018 Infographic
Image courtesy of Dustin Stout