Maybe you heard a TV presenter ask the audience at home to tweet their opinion, or you saw ‘#QandA’ running along the bottom of the screen during ABC’s Q&A show. Ever wondered what it all means?
Social media is now a key part of modern life. It’s become a way to stay in touch, share moments with friends and family, keep up to date on news and for general entertainment. But for anybody who lived in a time before social media, it may be hard to understand what all the fuss is about.
So let’s start from the very beginning, what exactly is social media? It’s all about sharing information, ideas, messages and things like photos and videos, online via your smartphone, tablet or computer. When you think of social media, think Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
In this guide we take a brief look at the more popular social media websites, get to know what they’re about and who’s using them. We’ve also included a jargon buster – or glossary – in case you need any help with some of the terms commonly used in social media.
Thanks to its 2 billion+ monthly users worldwide, Facebook is the largest and most widely used social media site. In Australia alone, there are 16 million monthly active users and around 2.8 million of them are aged 55 and over.
Facebook provides a wonderful way to re-connect with old friends or relatives you may have lost touch with, or to keep up to date with pictures of your grandchildren near and far. You can send messages, share photos and videos, and join community groups with people who have similar interests.
Facebook initially began for personal use, but over the years it’s also become a way for businesses and organisations to promote their products or services. The more information you share on Facebook (for example, in your personal ‘profile’ or when you ‘like’ a page), the more likely you are to be targeted with ads or news reflecting your interests.
What is Instagram?
Instagram is best known for its polaroid-like square photos, as well as its editing tools and filters that can transform almost any picture into a magazine worthy shot.
Just like Facebook, Instagram is about ‘following’ people you may or may not know in person, but the emphasis is on photo and video sharing. On Instagram, you’re bound to see loads of ‘Instagram worthy’ shots of food, travel destinations, self-portraits (known as ‘selfies’), and much more.
‘Influencers’ are very active on Instagram. These are people who get paid for promoting products or services to their large numbers of followers. In 2019 Instagram caused uproar among its influencers when it decided to hide the number of ‘likes’ a photo or video receives. This means that only the person posting the picture or video can see the number of people who have liked it. Why? Instagram wants its users to, ‘focus on the photos and videos they share, not how many likes they get.’
What is Twitter?
If Instagram is all about photos and videos, then think of Twitter as being all about the conversation. People use Twitter to post short messages, called ‘tweets’, in 280 characters or less (a special skill in itself). Other people reply to these tweets to continue the discussion.
All Twitter accounts are public, so anything you share or tweet online can be viewed by anyone. Tweets are usually accompanied by a hashtag, a keyword or topic preceded by the hash symbol (#) to make it easy for others to search for, or to contribute to a conversation. A good example is the ABC’s Q&A show, which encourages its viewers to join in the conversation by posting messages on Twitter with the hashtag, #QandA.
Part of Twitter’s appeal is it allows people to follow public figures like celebrities and politicians who regularly post messages. Some of the most followed Twitter accounts in the world include former U.S. president Barack Obama, and musicians Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift.
What is Pinterest?
Do you need inspiration for your next kitchen update, a holiday destination or a knockout chocolate cake recipe? This is where Pinterest comes in handy. You can use it to collect ideas on a range of topics like food, fashion, homewares, health and travel.
Type in any subject in the Pinterest search bar and you’ll most likely see hundreds of related images and articles. You can then save (or ‘pin’) the pictures you like to your ‘board’, which is like the online version of cutting out a picture from a magazine and gluing it in your scrapbook.
As with most social media sites, you can share your boards with friends or set them to private, so only you can see them.
What is Snapchat?
Snapchat is a popular messaging app for teenagers and young people, but with a difference. You can send text, pictures or videos to friends, but they disappear shortly after the message has been opened.
Like other messaging apps you can send a message to a contact or start group chats, but with Snapchat there’s no trail of old pictures or messages to look back on. There’s also a popular ‘Lenses’ feature, which applies special effects over a photo so the person in it appears to have features like bunny’s ears or a dog’s face, or the scene in the picture shows things like rainbows.
The self-destructing messages appeal to a younger audience who want to live in the moment. They also mean people are more comfortable with what they share, knowing it can only be seen for a very short time. But it’s important to note that the message can be recorded – the person who receives it just needs to take a ‘screengrab’ or ‘screenshot’ of the picture before it disappears. If this happens, the sender is automatically notified that a screenshot has been taken.
If you’d like to know more about the social media sites listed in this guide, or about other games and media apps you may have come across, the eSafety Commissioner’s website is a great place to start. You can learn about how these apps work and how to protect your information and report inappropriate content.
Glossary: social media terms you need to know
Short for application. Like a computer program, an app is designed to do something specific on your device. For example, a weather app provides the day’s forecast. Apps can be downloaded to your smartphone, tablet or computer.
Term used in Pinterest. Think of it like a blank page or piece of paper, but online, that you can add things to like pictures or articles.
Just like you would use it in real life, to ‘comment’ on something means to respond or react to something somebody has posted on a social media site.
A photographic effect that can be applied to photos on social media. For example, black and white and sepia.
When you ‘follow’ somebody it allows you to see that person’s social media page, so you can see their pictures, videos, and anything else they post.
A person who subscribes to your social media account in order to see your updates.
Facebook users connect to one another by becoming ‘friends’ via a friend request that’s sent from one user to another. Users only become friends once the friend request has been accepted.
Group chat lets you send messages, pictures or videos to a number of people at once.
Term used to describe someone’s unique username on Twitter. For example, Oprah Winfrey’s Twitter handle is @Oprah.
Adding a hash symbol (#) to the start of a word or phrase creates a 'hashtag' that allows people to join in the discussion around a particular topic, as well as search for a chosen topic. Twitter was the first platform to adopt the hashtag, however it’s used across many social media sites now.
A social media user with a large following who has established some sort of credibility to create awareness about a particular product, brand or service. Almost like a word-of-mouth recommendation from a friend.
Also known as Insta-worthy. A term commonly used when describing a visually appealing thing or place. For example, you can search online for Instagram worthy cafes or places to visit.
A Snapchat feature that applies design effects to the people or things in your pictures or videos.
When you click the Like button on a social media site, it means you’re reacting positively to somebody else’s post without having to type a comment.
Term used in Pinterest to describe the act of saving a picture, idea or article to your Board. For example, you can pin a chocolate cake recipe found on Pinterest to your Cake Recipes Board.
To post something on a social media site means to publish or share your thoughts, messages, pictures, or videos. For example, “I just posted pictures of my holiday on Facebook.”
A private social media account means what you post can only be seen by the people you have accepted as friends or followers. The general public cannot see your photos, updates etc.
Anything posted to a public social media account can be viewed by all users. They don’t need to be your friend or follower to see your photos, updates etc.
A Twitter term. When you re-post a ‘tweet’ from someone you follow to your own followers. For example, you can share a post from Barack Obama’s account so that your own followers can see it. Sometimes people type “RT” at the beginning of a Tweet to indicate they’re re-posting someone else’s content.
Also known as a screenshot, it’s an image that’s created by capturing or copying part or all of what you can see on a computer or phone screen.
A photo that somebody has taken of themselves.
The term commonly used when you post something on a social media site for your friends or followers to see.
The most popular topics and hashtags on social media at a particular point in time.
A term used to describe the short message of 280 characters or less posted on Twitter.