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Explaining Social Media to that Clueless Loved One

The world is fast changing. Over the past ten years the world has become a digitalised, technology-focussed place, where people talking to an inanimate object is a commonly seen occurrence, and it is considered normal to spend hours of your life But what about those who got left behind? We all know them – the mums, dads, sisters and friends who somehow missed out on the creation of Facebook and think that Tumblr is a lazy word for glass. What can we do with these people who look bewildered when someone mentions status updates or notifications? I face this problem every day when my mum sits beside me on the sofa asking irritating questions such as ‘What do you mean by “tagged” in a picture?’ and ‘Can everyone see those pictures of you?’ leading to creepy-pervert-based intense panic on her part. I’m sure we are all sick of the endless questions and confusion from our clueless loved one, so it’s about time we all dealt with the situation by finding a decent way to explain what social media is.

The Unanswered Question

We’ve seen all the definitions in the world as to what social media is, and it’s rare that any of them can make sense to someone who has no initial experience in the subject. Wikipedia defines social media as ‘Social media are media for social interaction, using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques’ which although understandable to the social media savvy among us, to someone who thinks a Tweet is just as sound that birds make this is nothing more than meaningless jargon. There’s also the issue that while someone might understand the definition they may still be clueless as to what on earth people use it for. That’s why we’ve come up with a guide that will give you a nice easy way to explain social media to your loved one.

What is Social Media?

Social media is like inviting a group of people round for a cup of tea to give you updates on their lives. Only you’re not required to make any tea. And you can even sit around in your pyjamas if you like.

So, when thinking about why people use social media we should think about why you would invite someone round for a cup of tea. Do you enjoy the conversation? Is it simply a way for you to get the gossip on someone else’s personal life? Or do you just want to impress them with what a great cup of tea you make? Social media can provide all of these opportunities without having to go to the effort of cleaning your home. Here’s a longer list of why people might use social media:

  • To share information with friends about their life. Won something, or made a really nice dinner recently? Share it with your friends.
  • To nosey in on other peoples’ private lives. Everyone loves a good bit of gossip don’t they…?
  • To impress people – this can be possible employers, complete strangers or just friends. Show off your skills or flaunt the fact you’ve got a great career. There’s nothing like celebrating how great you are.
  • Share your skills and get feedback. You’ll have that writing piece improved in no time.
  • To have fun. Answering polls and surveys, playing games, reading other peoples’ writing; what have you go to lose?
  • To gain employment. You can post your CV on the internet, or directly reply to job advertisements.
  • To learn something new. There are plenty of blogs and articles on the internet for you to learn something from, or you can interact with others on your desired subject. You may as well pick up some new skills for free.
  • To chat to people – both strangers and friends, publicly or privately.
  • To advertise/market yourself or your company. Get noticed – billions of people use social media so you may as well make the most of this audience.
  • To keep up to date with the news. You won’t even have to nick the Metro to do it.

And all of this can be done without spilling a drop of tea. If you want more, there’s also this great article on the web about what people get out of social media use. Pop the kettle on and have a read, you’ve got plenty of time now you can socialise online.

What social media sites are there?

There are loads of social media sites out there, with over a billion people taking residence online all over the world. Facebook is the most popular among these with a whopping 1.06 billion monthly active users, with Youtube not far behind at 800 million. But what are the strangely named Youtube and Facebook for? Here’s our list of the main websites, with some easy to understand explanations of what they are used for:

  • Facebook – The network for friends, well, sort of. Facebook’s the social network where people mutually connect, post updates about their life and interact with one and other. You usually connect with people you know or people you have met before (like acquaintances from school). It’s like going to a party where you hardly know anyone properly, occasionally finding they have something interesting to say, but usually just listening to them chatting about the dull aspects of their life.
  • Twitter – Talking to the world – those who follow you anyway. You follow who you’re interested in. Followers are the people who find you interesting. It’s like broadcasting your views on the radio – to specific people who want to listen. Everyone has the option to view what you’re saying if your profile is set to public.
  • Youtube – Think of it as the online version of watching a short film of little adverts at the pictures. It’s where people go to talk about their views through video, or show funny videos. You have your popular main channels where you can view all the greatest videos (comedy clips, kind of like a version of You’ve Been Framed), your documentary channels where you can see people talking about their lives, music channels where you can watch and listen to music and those channels that everyone has but never watches. Can also give feedback without having to undertake the arduous process of sending a letter.
  • Flickr –Flickr is the photo sharing network on the web. It’s like viewing someone’s photo albums, but without having to break into their house and appear like a stalker. Also like seeing someone’s photography at an art show.
  • LinkedIn – LinkedIn is like attending a business networking event online, with you connections being people you know from a business environment. It’s the professional work place of the internet.
  • Tumblr – Tumblr’s the online network where you can share information in a variety of formats. Photos, videos and music are among the things that can be shared. It’s for the person who wants to share different types of media – those ‘I love everything’ types.

Get the Lingo

My mum doesn’t know her status update from her left elbow, so if you know anyone like her you’ll be needing some way to explain what all of this jargon means without getting into a day long explanation about everything there is to know about the internet. Let’s start by imagining your account on social networks is like one big party/function to which everyone in your network has been invited to.

    • Direct messages (DM) – Like whispering something private to someone at the party, or having a conversation directed at only a set few people.
    • Inbox – Where your private messages are stored.
    • Status updates – Like making announcements, or standing drunk on a table telling everyone your private thoughts. Or just talking. Really loudly.
    • News feeds/dashboards – The noise you hear from the people at the function. Shows what they’re all talking about. (Shows their status updates.)
    • Friend request/connection request – People wanting to associate with you either in a personal or professional way. Like being asked to be involved in their function.
    • Following – Listening to what people are saying, who you either do or don’t know, but without having to look like the creepy one eavesdropping in the conversation. Nothing to do with stalking someone on their way home.
    • Profile picture – Everyone’s faces. The blank ones are the ones who forgot to put their make-up on. Some people may be in fancy dress at the function (with cars and animals as their pictures), this isn’t really appropriate on LinkedIn.
    • Bio – Like introducing yourself at a function/having the initial conversation about you. Where you explain who you are, what you do and what you like.
    • Notifications – These tell you if someone has responded to what you’re saying, or if someone has contacted you. Like the organiser of a function prodding you in the chest and saying ‘Hey, they liked what you said.’
    • Likes – Telling someone you like what they’ve said. The equivalent of laughing at someone’s joke, smiling at what they’ve said or agreeing with someone’s point in real life.
    • Favourites – Similar to likes, but on Twitter. Favourites can be brought back up so you can remind yourself of something you enjoyed. Like listing funny/interesting things that were said at the party in a diary/work notebook.
    • Comments – Responding to a point someone’s made. For instance if someone at a function announces ‘I’m tired’ your comment might be ‘Get some sleep!’
    • Retweets/share/reblog –Like sharing something great that you heard someone say.

Hopefully this is enough information to help explain social media to even the most old-fashioned of people, who has spent the last 10 years living under a rock with no access to the modern world. Or to people with about the same amount of social media awareness. In other words, my mum. How would you explain social media to someone who thinks Flickr is a candle manufacturer?

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