In this guide we will provide you with everything you need to know about social media. This will include our social media definition and answers to some of the most common questions asked about these popular platforms. 
 
We will cover:
  • What is social media?
  • How is social media used?
  • What are the benefits of social media?
  • How to stay safe when using social media (dos and don’ts)
  • How to reset passwords or take control of your social media accounts
In addition we’ve included a FAQ section at the end that covers some of the wider, but still popular queries about this subject. 
 
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Social Media

If you’re new to the online world, social media might seem a bit daunting. However, this really isn’t the case and with the right guidance you can make the most of everything these platforms have to offer.

They’re particularly useful for staying in touch with friends and family, which can help a great deal during the current pandemic and social distancing rules.
 
Here are the basics:

What is social media?

There’s no strict social media definition as the platforms continually evolve, but if you were to try and summarise it, you could say it is a website or app which allows individuals to share, create and view personal content and network or connect with other individuals.

The main purpose of social media is to allow users to communicate with other people using written text, images, videos and any other type of digital content.

What are the benefits of social media? 

Social media is popular because it offers many benefits to users. Some of these benefits are universal to all platforms while others relate specifically to a particular service or website. 

The main benefits to users include:

  • Keeping in touch with friends and family – this can take the form of written messages, direct/private messages, video calls and online chats. It is important to remember that some written messages are public (those written on pages, feeds or walls) and others are private (direct messages or DMs)
  • Free international video calls – these are available on many platforms and allow you to connect with individuals all over the world and call or video call them for free. You will need the relevant hardware to enable this function though (microphone, speakers/headphones and a webcam)
  • Inspirational content – much of the content posted on social media sites is available to view by the public and this can make it a great source of inspiration.
  • Instructional content – as well as inspiring users, digital content posted on social media sites can also provide instruction.
  • You can communicate with people remotely without having to meet them in person, or without having to worry about social distancing.

How to stay safe on social media

As with any online activity, security is always a concern. Most social media channels are mainly run by international corporations and it’s in their interest to make sure user data is kept safe. 

This means a great deal of time, money and effort is spent on keeping security measures up to date, but there are things you can do to ensure you stay safe at all times.
  • Set a secure password for your account that’s hard to guess – this should be something that uses a combination of letters, numbers and symbols and includes some capital letters.
  • Log out of your account every time you end a session on social media, regardless of whether you’re using a public or private computer or an app.
  • Only accept invitations to connect with people you know and not from strangers.
  • Adjust the privacy settings on your account so your profile isn’t fully public.
  • Report suspicious or offensive users/content to the website administrator.

DON'T

  • Use an easy to guess password for your account – such as your date of birth.
  • Use the same password for all of your social media accounts.
  • Give out personal information to other social media users, even if you think you know them.
  • Give out payment information or agree to meet individuals you connect with on social media unless they are already known to you personally (such as family and friends).
  • Allow unknown applications to access your account information or use your profile.

What do I need to know about Facebook security settings? 

Facebook is the biggest social media site in terms of users and offers a whole range of customisable security settings which you should look into when using the platform. 

First, settings are split into these categories:

  • GENERAL – THIS INCLUDES YOUR ACCOUNT INFORMATION, PASSWORD AND PREFERENCES
  • SECURITY – THIS COVERS TRUSTED BROWSER LISTS, TRUSTED CONTACTS AND LOG-IN PROTOCOLS
  • PRIVACY – THIS ALLOWS YOU TO SET WHO CAN SEE YOUR STUFF, CONTACT YOU AND FIND YOU
  • TIMELINE & TAGGING – THIS CONTROLS WHO CAN ADD THINGS TO YOUR TIMELINE OR TAG YOU IN PHOTOS/STATUSES (TAGGING YOU WILL POST THAT CONTENT OR LINK ON YOUR TIMELINE)
  • BLOCKING – THIS CONTROLS WHICH CONTACTS, APPS AND EVENT INVITATIONS ARE BLOCKED FROM YOUR ACCOUNT. ADDING PEOPLE TO THESE LISTS WILL PREVENT THEM FROM CONTACTING YOU
  • NOTIFICATIONS – THIS CONTROLS HOW YOU RECEIVE NOTIFICATIONS WHEN SOMEONE INTERACTS WITH YOUR ACCOUNT
  • MOBILE – THIS REFERS SPECIFICALLY TO YOUR MOBILE PHONE SETTINGS AND THE MOBILE NUMBER ATTACHED TO YOUR ACCOUNT (OPTIONAL)
  • FOLLOWERS – THIS CONTROLS WHO CAN FOLLOW YOU ON FACEBOOK AND YOU CAN SET IT SO THAT NON-FRIENDS CAN FOLLOW YOUR ACTIVITY
  • APPS – THIS DETAILS ALL THE APPS YOU USE AND THEIR INDIVIDUAL SAFETY SETTINGS
  • ADVERTS – THIS PROVIDES INFORMATION ON THE ADVERTS YOU MIGHT SEE ON FACEBOOK
  • PAYMENTS – THIS DETAILS ANY ONGOING OR PAST SUBSCRIPTIONS, PAYMENT OR PURCHASE HISTORIES, SHIPPING DETAILS AND PAYMENT METHODS (WHERE APPLICABLE)

Next, it is important that you understand how to adapt these settings to your advantage. Common tips you should make note of include:

  • Use remote sign-out to ensure unauthorised access to your account is not granted from a mobile device. To do this choose “Account Settings” and then “Account Security” where you can select an option to notify you by SMS or email whenever a new computer or mobile device attempts to log-in to your account.
  • Disable check-in features to prevent your location being made public. Go to “Privacy Settings” and then “Customize Settings” and scroll to the middle section of the page entitled “things others share”. Click “Edit Settings” and where it says “Friends can check me into Places”, deselect the box.
  • Prevent people from searching for your Facebook profile using search engines. Go to “Privacy Settings” and then “Apps and Websites”. Select “Edit Your Settings” and scroll to the last option. Click “Edit Settings” next to this section and deselect the box next to the option “Public Search”.
  • Customise who can view your photos and content by changing the security settings on your folders and timeline. Go to “Privacy Settings” and “Customize Settings”. The end of the first section will be the option to “Edit Album Privacy”. Select this and you’ll be able to assign different privacy settings to each of your photo albums stored on Facebook.

What social media etiquette should I follow?

Although social media takes place in the ‘virtual world’, real life laws and conventions still apply. 

It can be easy to write (or ‘say’) something online that you might not do in a face-to-face situation, or to forget that offence might be taken from what you say. 

his means that sometimes you might need to think twice about posting a comment that you could later regret and there have even been cases of people being prosecuted for poor social media activity.

Some good etiquette rules to follow include:

  • Do not write anything offensive or which can be construed as offensive.
  • Do not engage in arguments with other users.
  • Do not post any images, videos or content which could cause offence, or which are intended to cause offence.
  • Do not admit to, advocate or promote illegal acts in comments, statuses, messages, videos, photos or other content posted to social media sites.
  • Do not provide false information or mislead others users.
  • Report any suspicious or offensive social media activity, including virtual bullying, to the site administrator – there are usually “report” buttons clearly displayed on pages and content.

Using Social Media 

As well as being careful with your own behaviour, it’s important to understand who else is using social media and how different audiences use it. 

Who uses social media? 

Despite some platforms technically having age restrictions, the reality is that anyone of any age and at any location in the world can use social media in some form. 

Some people simply want an online chat, whilst others want to know the latest news or display their photos or connect with people that have similar interests.

What are the main social media platforms? 

The face of online social media constantly changes with new platforms coming and going all the time. Ten years ago MySpace and Friends Reunited were the big name networks but today they have both fallen out of favour in preference of the following sites:

 

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facebook

With an easy to use interface and a number of ways to keep in touch, from posting threads to instant messaging, Facebook offers the chance to share thoughts, pictures and video clips and it’s totally free to use.
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twitter

‘Tweeting’ is the name given to posting a message on Twitter, although its 280-character limit means that a concise discipline or ‘text’ style spellings are often needed. It is a good way to keep up to date with breaking news as well as reading your favourite celebrity’s thoughts on almost anything.
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instagram

Instagram is a great network for people with a slightly more visual approach as it is based around posting and linking to photos and other images and videos. These can then by ‘liked’ and ‘shared’ by other users on the platform.
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PINTEREST

Pinterest allows users to collect “boards” of images to provide inspiration for various activities. Images are uploaded and stored together by shared themes or ideas which the user defines.
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YOUTUBE

The ultimate video-sharing site, YouTube allows users to upload videos for public view and follow or subscribe to other users’ channels. These can take the form of home movies, short clips, live performances, music videos or even instructional videos that help users learn how to complete specific tasks.

How to use Facebook

After creating and signing into your account, you can complete the following processes:

  • Upload a profile photo of yourself
  • Post a status (text) update, photo or video to your personal page using the status box on the home screen or on your page 
  • Set your privacy settings to allow or restrict certain people from viewing your post
  • Add a location, emotion, image, time or tag a friend in your post (tagged friends will be notified of your post and it will appear on their page)
  • Send a private message to your friends

To find and connect with friends on Facebook is relatively easy to do.

Click on the “Find Friends” button on the top of your screen. Type in the name and press enter. Select your friend from the search results then simply click on the “Add Friend” button on their page.

You can also fill out a longer form, which asks for details such as the school the individual attended as well as their location.

You can also invite friends to join Facebook and connect with you by entering their email address in the box at the bottom of the screen and clicking ‘invite friend’.

How to use Twitter

Once you have set up your account and logged in you can post your thoughts, comments or views in short messages which are called Tweets.

By pressing “#Discover” or using the Search tab you can search for people, organisations or friends and then simply click on “Follow” on the profiles.

You will then be able to read their Tweets and they will also be able to send and receive direct messages to/from them.

How to use Instagram

Once you have signed up for an Instagram account and chosen a username that you like, you can:

  • Add a profile photo, a biography and a link to your website.
  • Link your account to Facebook and many other third-party sharing sites where you have an account by going to your Account Settings > Share Settings.
  • Start sharing photos on Instagram and across your other social networks.

These are just a few examples, but what you’ll find is that most social media platforms now have guides to direct you through setting up and using your own profiles. You can also carry out a quick search online to find out more.

Additional security advice

While notes on how to stay safe when using social media have already been covered, it is important to remember some other basic advice for general online safety.

Online safety advice

  • Never share personal or sensitive data with other users.
  • Never meet individuals you have met on the internet alone or in a private place.
  • Never pay for services which are suspicious or may be fraudulent.
  • Never respond to emails requesting your account details.
  • Never follow links in emails to websites or log-in pages as these may be fraudulent.
  • Never post anything which may be deemed as offensive or attempt to incite online bullying or aggressive behaviour.
  • Never advocate or encourage illegal activity online.

FAQs

All the above has covered some of the main questions, but in this additional FAQ we’ve listed and answered some other commonly asked queries about social media.

Is social media free?

Yes, the vast majority of social media is free to use, including all the major platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. 

However, it is important to note that accessing social media sites on your PC or mobile device will use internet services, Wi-Fi or data allowances. If you exceed the limits for this which are placed on the service you subscribe to (so your mobile network package or home broadband package) then you may incur an additional charge.

Also, some social media platforms have online marketplaces and options to purchase products that might appear in ads. So again, be mindful of this and try to only buy from trusted sites.

How many people use social media?

As of 2020, more than 4.5 billion people around the world use social media in some form. What’s more this number is continuing to rise year on year. 

What can you do on social media sites?

You can access social media on any internet-enabled device such as a desktop computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone. Most services provide their own ‘apps’ to make mobile use extremely simple and straightforward.

How do I find people to connect to on social media? 

Each network or website is different but all have search functions and ways to find people with similar interests, live in the local area etc. 

Look for a search bar or option which is usually marked by a magnifying glass symbol to begin looking for new connections.

How do I upload photos and videos on social media?

Again each site is different, but all of them make uploading a simple process, often as easy as dragging and dropping a file onto the browser and clicking on ‘upload’. The help pages of the social media site you are using can provide more detailed instructions.

How can I adjust privacy settings on social media sites?

Privacy is a big concern for many online activities but especially ones where you share any personal details.

Every reputable social media website will take safety and security extremely seriously and will provide a range of ways for users to choose how much information they want others to see, such as age, real name, email address and so on. You can change this by clicking the ‘settings’ option on your account once you have signed in.

If you’re having difficulty with this, you can find more information on this on the ‘help’ pages of the social media site you are using.

How should I behave on social media?

Online scammers can be very clever and this is why they can be dangerous. If a financial offer seems too good to be true then it always will be, and if someone you don’t know asks too many questions it should always raise alarm bells.

Common sense is always the best protection against scams no matter where you might encounter them in real life or online but there are plenty of guides available about how to stay safe online. 

The government’s Get Safe Online website is a particularly good place to look for more information and covers everything from protecting yourself to keeping your devices secur

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