social network, Internet-based web sites such as Twitter and Facebook, is a relatively new phenomenon which has taken over the social lives of many in a similar manner to e-mail taking over the art of letter writing and communication. It has become the main method many people use to stay in touch with family, school friends and work colleagues both over long distances and during times when they cannot meet up in person. For some, fortunately relatively few in comparison to the numbers involved, it has become the only form of social intercourse they participate in and has replaced the television as the number one occupation for evenings spent at home alone. For others it is a distraction from the pressures of everyday life, a form of diary detailing their feelings and actions or, again in relatively small numbers, a means to create a different, better personality and present it to the outside world. Social networking sites are generally integral, offering a wide variety of activities the user can spend their time on, from the accepted status updates through the ability to comment, to exchange information, to write about events and, to a certain extent without any extra cost, to play online games either alone or in competition with others.
The most popular social networking sites tend to be used both my private individuals and by companies bringing their products and services to a wider audience though commercial Pages, sponsored messages and direct advertising. For private individuals the use of social networking sites is clearly a personal matter, and time is allocated to the various sites according to both need and desire. Commercially instigated networking, on the other hand, is a very professional activity requiring a solid base knowledge both of product or service, target audience and marketing strategies. The two forms of social networking – private and commercial – have very few overlapping entities.
The one thing which must immediately be accepted is that social networking, whether on one single site or across several, requires a good deal of dedication and time. For the private individual merely updating their status is not enough, there is the desire to communicate, the need to stay in touch with other people on a Friends List or in a Timeline, to see what they are doing and, often, to comment on their activities as well as sharing with yet more people. A private individual with a basic Timeline connection to one hundred people within roughly the same time zone can expect to receive new updates every few minutes, depending on how active their friends are. For some the feeling that they might miss something, a message or a relatively important status update results in constant checking of the social network to see what has changed, what is new and to add their own viewpoint, their own activities, events and experiences to the mass. The sight of people walking along the street or standing in shop doorways, riding the bus or waiting in traffic checking their smart phones is no longer something which excites interest, it is part and parcel of daily life. People who are not constantly checking through their chosen social networking site are out of the cycle, out of reach and out of touch.
Companies using the commercial facilities offered by various social networking sites tend to have a specialized team of experts who are dedicated to both publicity through such means and who have a certain background knowledge of the functioning of the Internet and IT. The creation and maintenance of a company web site, the constant updating of information, contact with customers through a Help Desk or the completion of contracts online is no longer the only activity possible on the Internet. A company which does not have a Facebook Page or which is not present on LinkedIn, Twitter or a wealth of other social networking sites is no longer considered present on the Internet. Social networking sites bring the company closer to the customer, allow for a greater level of interaction and an almost immediate means of getting a new product accepted in the marketplace. As with private individuals using social networking sites, a commercial use requires dedication as well as excellent background knowledge and a good deal of time. Most companies present on the Internet will have a team dedicated solely to this task, including individuals responsible just for Twitter or Facebook and constant interaction with those contacting them or, in the case of Twitter, Mentioning (the inclusion of an @ name in a Tweet) them.
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