What are Social Networks? (A Guide to Social Networking)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 19 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Social networks are online platforms that allow people to communicate with other people through messaging and sharing content. There are several types of social media networks that typically serve unique functions, such as image sharing or social messaging. Understanding how to utilise these networks can help you connect with the community and develop your career. In this article, we discuss the answer to the question 'What are social networks?', detail what social networking is, explain the different networks and review reasons for social networking in a professional setting.

What are social networks?

Discovering how social networks operate can help you answer the question 'What are social networks?' These networks, also known as social media sites, are usually web-based platforms that help businesses and individuals connect with other social users. Social networks may also be offline, though they can be limiting because only local people may have access to the network. Offline networks can include community centres, university boards and recreational clubs. Individuals usually use social media for personal reasons, while professionals may utilise it to develop their careers or market a business.

There's often a variety of social media platforms that may serve different functions. For example, some networks may focus on career development, recruitment and training, while other networks are purely for social interactions and recreational activities. There can also be networks that provide multiple services, such as selling goods, listing advertisements and creating subject-specific forums. Some network sites may offer unique benefits for businesses to market their products through their social media site.

What is social networking?

Social networking involves communicating with others to form social or business connections. There can be many benefits for individuals and businesses that utilise social platforms. Individuals who connect with others through social media sites can discover forums and groups that discuss specific topics of information. This can be an excellent way of gaining knowledge from people with expertise in a specific subject area.

Businesses conduct social networking by creating a profile on social media sites that represent the business. The business can communicate with current, past and potential customers by having an online presence on social networks. This online presence can allow businesses to connect with customers and create a personality for the business brand. Businesses network with customers through social media to boost brand loyalty, increase customer base, improve retention rates and compete with competitors.

Related: What Does a Social Media Marketer Do? (With Average Salary)

Types of social networks

Below, you can find details on the different types of social platforms:

Social connections

Social media systems that focus on social connections can be one of the more popular networking platforms within communities. This is because people have the freedom to communicate with anyone and share any content they desire. Some sites may have moderators that review content to ensure it adheres to the platform's community guidelines. Most networks that focus on social connections are versatile and may offer other functions besides connecting with friends and family. Established social network sites may provide users with tools to purchase or sell goods and advertise products.

Related: Benefits of Networking Skills and How to Develop Them

Multimedia

Multimedia social networks are platforms that focus on sharing video and picture content. Some sites may specialise in videos or pictures and offer unique tools to help manage the content. For example, some networks may only allow the sharing of pictures. These networks may provide their users with tools to manage, edit and publish photographs. The purpose of multimedia content can vary depending on the publisher of the content. Some content providers may share videos and pictures for educational purposes, while other publishers may share multimedia to entertain their viewers.

Professional

One of the most popular uses of networks can be for career development. Professional social platforms allow users to create profiles that depict their skills, passions, education and work experience. These professional network profiles are essentially detailed resumes that community members may access. Businesses may utilise professional social networks to recruit new employees or connect with similar businesses to share strategies and advice. Individuals can use these social networks to connect with professionals in their industry. This can be an excellent way for users to gain new knowledge and expertise in their profession.

Related: Become a Networking Expert in 7 Steps

Informational

Informational social media networks are platforms that specialise in providing valuable knowledge on subjects that can require expertise. These platforms allow their users to interact with each other and share their opinions on the subject. For example, there may be social networks specifically for environmental conservation. The site may discuss methods and techniques to help communities reduce their negative impact on the environment. Users may share their personal experiences in nature conservation and can detail local programs and agencies where people may volunteer. Informational social networks can essentially specialise in any subject that has an abundance of information.

Educational

Educational systems and institutes typically utilise educational social media to help students connect. These social platforms can promote learning and provide students with a familiar platform where they can engage teachers. Educational networks can allow students to collaborate on projects together, ask teachers questions about coursework and conduct research with other schools. Some educational networks can also incorporate fun activities that encourage friendly competition in a specific subject, such as mathematics or chemistry. Large schools or universities may design and implement an educational network exclusive for their institute.

Recreational

Recreational social systems are similar to informational networks, except they focus on communities with a passion for hobbies and activities. Recreational networks provide users with a platform to discuss their passions, share experiences and connect with like-minded individuals. For example, a recreational network may focus specifically on mountain biking. Mountain biking enthusiasts may utilise the network to share their favourite trails, review mountain tracks, ask questions about equipment and plan mountain biking events for the community to attend.

Academic

Academic social networks are platforms that typically allow users to share academic research. These networks can allow users to share the results of their research, ask questions about their research topic and explore past research documents. Scientists, professors, lecturers and similar academic professionals may utilise these networks to advance their knowledge on specific subjects. Academic networks may also be a useful tool for students to collect resources and information.

Offline networks

Offline social systems are often small networks that involve a local community. Most networks are online because they can connect individuals and organisations with anyone who has access to the internet, but there are some benefits to using offline networks. One benefit may be that it allows people to form a deeper connection with their community. This is because offline networks can provide a physical setting for community members to meet, discuss and share experiences. Some people prefer networking in a physical environment, rather than communicating through messages and digital content.

Why do professionals use social networking?

Below, you can find the typical reasons for using social media platforms in a professional setting:

Communicating in real-time

A major benefit of networking in both a social and professional setting is the ability to communicate instantly. Social websites can allow employees to engage in discussions instantly with colleagues, business partners, customers and clients. Communicating in real-time can shorten business processes and allow people to complete their activities efficiently.

Connecting with people internationally

International businesses that operate in several countries can use social platforms to help their employees stay connected with international branches. It can also help individuals expand their services internationally. For example, a freelance writer may gain employment through networking with a client who operates in a different country.

Related: 15 Best Careers In International Relations to Consider

Gaining new knowledge

Social media platforms can provide an abundance of information about processes, strategies, job responsibilities and career advice. Individuals who want to improve their professional expertise may review social networks and connect with professionals who can provide them with advice. Networks may also provide professionals with an insight into innovative strategies and unique processes.

Related: 23 Areas of Improvement for Employees

Finding solutions to problems

Professionals can utilise social media networks to identify solutions to a specific issue. They may review other people's experiences with a similar problem and research their solutions. It can be important to understand that some network platforms don't moderate or manage posted content. This means some information may be false or misleading. It can be a good idea to utilise trusted sources when searching for a solution on social media.

Forming business connections

Individuals who utilise professional social platforms can meet other professionals in the same industry. This can be an excellent opportunity for gaining connections in different businesses. By forming business connections, professionals may identify potential strategic partnerships that can benefit business operations.

Related: What Is a Partner Manager? With Tips to Become One

Marketing business products

Professionals can utilise social networks to market products and services. There is an abundance of benefits that social media marketing can provide, such as brand awareness and sales generation. Social platforms can also allow professionals to provide customer support, which can improve customer satisfaction and retention rates.

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