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1 . Introduction

Social media is now one of the most popular activities on the Internet; offering numerous benefits to users of all ages and backgrounds.

This guide aims to define exactly what social media is, what the benefits of using it are and how you can get started with it, covering the following:

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

There is a FAQ section at the end to answer any immediate questions which you have.

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2 . Social Media

One of the things that some people find off-putting about the internet is that there are so many different buzzwords and terms that often go unexplained. The term ‘social media’ can be one of these but in fact its meaning is fairly straightforward.

2.1 What is social media?

Social media is a website or application 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.

2.2 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 (Facebook and Twitter) as well as video calls (Skype). It is important to remember that some written messages are public (Tweets and those written on Facebook pages or “walls”) and others are private (direct messages sent via Twitter or Facebook and including Facebook Chat)
  • Free international calls – these are available via services such as Skype which 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)
  • Inspiration from 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. YouTube is the go-to website for videos while Pinterest allows users to create collages or boards of popular images and Instagram allows users to submit and share personal photos
  • Instruction from content – as well as inspiring users, digital content posted on social media sites can also provide instruction. Videos on YouTube can offer direction on a range of tasks while images can also help to provide step-by-step visual guides to certain processes

2.3 How can I stay safe when using social media? H 4-shield

As with any online activity, security is always a concern. The main social media websites are mainly run by international corporations and it is 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 is 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 and regardless of whether you’re using a public or private computer
  • Only accept invitations to connect with people you know and not from strangers
  • Adjust the privacy settings on your account to ensure suitable restrictions are in place
  • Report suspicious or offensive users/content to the website administrator
  • 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

2.4 What do I need to know about Facebook security settings? H 4-facelock

As perhaps the biggest social media site around, Facebook offers a whole range of customisable security settings which users should be aware of. 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 stuff 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

2.5 What social media etiquette should I follow? H 4-handshake

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. This 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 bad 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 offense 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
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3 . Using social media

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. This 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 bad social media activity.

3.1 Who uses social media?

Anyone of any age and at any location in the world can use social media to make the most of opportunities to share things online. Some people simply want an online chat, whilst others want to display their photos or connect with people that have similar interests.

3.2 What are the main social media platforms?

The face of online social media is changing all the time as it is such a popular way to engage with others. Ten years ago Myspace and Friendsreunited were the big name networks but today they have both fallen out of favour in preference of the following sites:

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 is totally free to use.

‘Tweeting’ is the name given to posting a message on Twitter, although it’s 140 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.

Instragram 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. This social networking service is also a news website where registered community members can submit content, such as text posts or direct links. Registered users can then vote submissions “up” or “down” to organise the posts so the hottest stories rise to the top. Comments can also be posted on every story.

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.

The ultimate video-sharing site, YouTube allows users to upload videos for public view. 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.

3.3 How to use Facebook

After 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 homescreen 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’.

3.4 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. Press the pen and box symbol on the top right hand side of the screen. Each Tweet can only use up to 140 characters.

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

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

3.5 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.

3.6 How to use Pinterest

Once you have signed up for an account with Pinterest you can start uploading, saving and collecting images.

  • Select the “follow” options on boards or users to see the images they post in your feed
  • Once you have started to follow some boards you will be sent an email to verify your account – follow these instructions to ensure your account is fully operational
  • Select “Create a Board” from the dropdown selection after clicking “Your Boards” in the top right hand corner of the screen to create your own board of images
  • Select “Pin” on images that you like to add them to your own boards and collections

3.7 How to use YouTube

After signing up for an account with YouTube you can upload, share and edit your videos as well as browsing other users’ videos.

  • Type the sort of video you’re looking for in the search bar at the top to return relevant results
  • Click “upload” in the top right hand corner of the page to add your own video
  • Create your own YouTube Channel to store videos with a common theme
  • Adjust the privacy settings on your videos and channels to control who can see your videos and who they are shared with

3.8 How to use Skype

Skype allows users to communicate with one and other for free over the Internet. As well as free video calls, you can also enjoy free voice calls to international numbers through the service.

  • Download the Skype application onto your PC, laptop or mobile device and sign in with your account details when you want to use it
  • Select a contact on the left hand side to interact with them
  • Type messages into the entry box when you’ve selected a contact and click “send” or press the enter key to send them an instant text message
  • Select “video call” to connect with a chosen contact. You can then select to “show” or “hide” webcam as is your preference

Similar functions to Skype can be achieved on Apple products through an application known as Facetime. This is installed on iPhone, Mac and other Apple products and allows you to video call other users from these devices.

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4 . Other

Although the sites already mentioned are some of the biggest and most popular social media networks, there are plenty of others snapping at their heels and each has something unique to offer.

4.1 Other social media accounts

Some of the other social media accounts you may come across or want to use include:

Although Instagram is probably the most well known photo sharing social network, Flickr has been around longer and many people still prefer it. Unlike Instagram, Flickr stores photos at their original resolution size so when you share photos with your friends or family they have the option to download the original, high-quality photo.

Flickr is great for users who are concerned about safe searching because it allows for a variety of filters to ensure that the content is safe and appropriate for any age group. You need a Yahoo! Mail account to register with Flickr.

Tumblr is essentially a blogging platform with social networking built in. Users can set up an account to post a wide range of multimedia and other content in the form a blog, which is basically a kind of online diary.

The interface ‘dashboard’ makes it easy to upload content and share it, and the social aspect comes about by people making connections after finding photos, music and videos or writing about what they enjoy.

4.2 Online safety advice

While notes on how to stay safe when using social media have already been covered under sections 2.3 and 2.4, it is important to remember some other basic advice for general online safety.

  • 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 Is social media free?
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5 . FAQs

Is social media free?
How can you access social media?
What can you do on social media sites?
How do I find people to connect with on social media?
How do I upload photos and videos on social media?
How can I adjust privacy settings on social media sites?
How should I behave on social media?
How can I stay safe online?
How can I detect scams on social media?

* Where this website contains links to other websites and resources provided by third parties, these links are provided for your information only. We have no control over the contents of those websites or resources and we accept no liability for their content. Inclusion of the third party website does not necessarily represent an endorsement of their views nor does it imply a business relationship between McCarthy & Stone and the company whose website it is. We will not be liable for any loss or damage that may arise from your use of them.

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