A benevolent patriarch or an evil uncle? You can be the judge of that one, but there’s no denying that it’s the largest social media network in the world.
Started as a way to help people connect at US universities, it’s now grown into a worldwide phenomenon with over a billion registered users.
The value of this service for businesses really came about with the advent of company pages, allowing businesses to customise their own Facebook pages and post updates.
Facebook advertising also offers a very cost-effective way to reach a highly targeted audience. Although, in my experience, LinkedIn advertising provides a greater response.
Over recent years, Facebook has dramatically reduced the amount of free exposure given to business (and personal) updates. So if you’re going to use Facebook for your business, I’d strongly recommend at least a small investment in their advertising offerings.
Who would ever have thought that broadcasting messages limited to 140 characters would become so popular, with 313 million monthly active users?
But people have liked the ability to view snippets of information for a long time. Do you remember when newspapers used to include a column eight? That was a Twitter stream of sorts, with hyperlinks replaced by page numbers.
What’s the real value of Twitter for a business? Many people use Twitter for searching because you can target a specific topic and obtain a result with the most up-to-date information.
If people are searching for something your business provides, you certainly want to have a regular presence on Twitter.
The leading social media site for businesspeople. It has over 450 million members and reached profitability as far back as 2006. Revenue is generated from advertising and premium membership offerings.
More recently, its efforts have been focused on establishing itself as a major publishing platform.
On the downside, LinkedIn has managed to annoy much of its membership base with petty rules and an inability to prevent the deterioration of the quality of its update stream.
That said, it’s still an invaluable way to remain connected with your business network and identify new prospects.
Often derided by many industry experts, Google+ now ranks as the social media network with the second-highest number of active users.
Unfortunately, it’s one of the hardest networks on which to build up a community, the limitations imposed by Google being the main impediment.
So why bother to have your business on Google+?
To make sure Google is informed of your complete online ecosystem and ongoing business developments. This, in turn, will improve the discoverability and search ranking of your online resources.
The pre-eminent video-sharing website. Launched in 2005 and purchased by Google the following year for US$1.65 billion!
If your business is making the effort to produce videos, you’d be mad not to place them on YouTube.
Very high levels of search activity take place on YouTube, helping to generate considerable traffic through to the video producers’ websites.
Aunts and uncles
An image and video hosting service, which also became an online community.
Founded way back in 2004 and acquired by Yahoo in 2005, the site now hosts more than 6 billion images. If you’re looking for a specific image, it’s not a bad place to start.
Many images are available for re-use under a Creative Commons licence.
A portal that helps people with common interests organise real-world meetings.
Many businesses use this service to facilitate meetings, such as user groups and networking events.
Founded in 2002, over 200,000 groups are organised worldwide through Meetup.
A 'microblogging' site that has well-established social networking features. Users can easily follow other users’ blog posts. Acquired by Yahoo in 2013. By 2015, it claimed to host over 250 million blogs.
Operates rather like an online pinboard, where users can post and comment on images.
Users can also browse content posted by others and 're-pin' items to their own boards.
Great for businesses with visually powerful product offerings, such as those in the fashion and food industries.
In 2013, it was estimated that Pinterest had 70 million users worldwide.
A mobile app that provides recommendations for places to frequent in the user's locality.
A popular check-in feature allowed users to let their friends know where they were.
However, this functionality has now been spun off into a separate application known as Swarm.
Foursquare and Swarm are useful services for businesses such as restaurants and bars, that wish to attract patrons to their premises.
Launched in 2010 as a free mobile app for sharing photos.
It rapidly became popular and acquired over 300 million users before the end of 2014. Acquired by Facebook in 2012.
If your business has visually appealing products and you want to market to the younger generations, then establishing a presence on Instagram might be a great choice for you. Some 68 per cent of Instagram users are female.
A messaging application that allows users to exchange photos, videos and drawings. Users set a time limit for how long their 'snaps' remain viewable.
If you want to do some leading-edge promotion to younger people, Snapchat may be just the tool for your business.
In 2014, Snapchat claimed its service was handling 700 million images every day.
Based in Germany, this social media service is very popular in Europe. Around 90 per cent of page views come from within Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Sina Weibo, Renren & WeChat
Three of the leading social media networks in China, where foreign services have considerable difficulty making headway.
There are a many social media services that have gained a high degree of prominence only to fade from the scene. Here are just a few of them:
Once the largest social networking site in the world, Myspace has experienced a steady decline over the past seven years.
It has tried to remain influential with a focus on music and gaming, but there has been a drastic reduction in staffing and the future can only be described as very uncertain.
Founded in 2002 and regarded as the top online social network service until 2004, when it was overtaken by Myspace and Facebook.
Friendster evolved into a gaming site based in Malaysia, before the service was suspended altogether in early 2015.
Founded in the US but gained popularity in the UK and Ireland. Purchased for $850 million by AOL in 2008 in what has been described as one of the worst deals ever made in the dotcom era.
Bebo failed to thrive and, after another change of ownership, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2013.
The next generation
Will social media die out? Is it just an online fad? This would seem impossible when you consider just how popular it has become. It’s really a question of how it will evolve.
There can be no doubt that new services will rise to popularity, and some of the current leaders will disappear.
From a business point of view, it’s a case of monitoring the genre and picking the services that can best help you access your specific target market.
Richard Carter is the owner of a business event promotions company.