Experts weigh in on how people navigate the many social networks

Yammer, Ning, Bebo, Xanga - the what-the-heck-are-they sites go on and on. While some might sound like they're straight out of a science fiction novel, they're actually examples of the ever-expanding list of online social networks. Indeed, long g...

Yammer, Ning, Bebo, Xanga - the what-the-heck-are-they sites go on and on.

While some might sound like they're straight out of a science fiction novel, they're actually examples of the ever-expanding list of online social networks.

Indeed, long gone are the days when MySpace was one of the biggest names in social media, and "The Facebook" was exclusive only to college students.

Eventually, though, "The Facebook" became just "Facebook," and college students were joined (much to their horror) by middle-schoolers and high-schoolers, and later followed by parents, then grandparents.

As more websites picked up on the model pioneered by MySpace and perfected by Facebook, a plethora of these new sites started appearing, all trying to cash in on the boom.


Despite the new competitors, Facebook's still the leader when it comes to social networks. According to Libby Hall, a digital strategist with Flint Communications based in Fargo, 54 percent of North Dakotans use Facebook at least monthly to socialize with friends and family, making it the most widely-used social network.

Twitter, meanwhile, is the second most popular social site, but it's used by far fewer people than Facebook.

Citing research done by the Pew Internet & American Life Center, Hall says that only about 15 percent of all online Americans use Twitter regularly for news updates, to follow athletes and celebrities, or for professional networking purposes.

The next leading networks are sites like LinkedIn, used to connect business professionals, and Pinterest, which essentially acts as an online bulletin board of inspirational things for users.

But these are only four of the most popular. With so many more options, and with the typical learning curve that Hall says comes with joining a new website, how is a social media consumer supposed to navigate such an intimidating, crowded landscape?

Value, connections and community

To make matters worse, even though consumers have so many more options available to them, there's still only 24 hours in the day (that much, at least, hasn't changed).

"We're getting more options for social networks, but we don't have more options for time," Hall says.


The ease of Internet access through mobile devices like phones or tablets at least helps out a little bit there, says Josh Lysne, another digital strategist with Flint.

"These sites have their features on mobile apps, so people can get this information on the go," he says, adding that a significant portion of Twitter use happens on mobile devices.

"And that goes back to the fact that we don't have more time in the day," he adds.

But even so, consumers still only have so much time to spend online, which means they have to decide which sites give them the most value, Hall says.

"For the average person, it doesn't make sense to be active in every single social network," she says. "They have to pick and choose what's going to give them the most value for their time."

Pinterest, for example, is a social network that has experienced especially fast and recent growth because it offers a unique service to its members.

"I think the reason Pinterest grew so fast is that it's providing a value that a social network has never provided before," Hall says.

Moreover, the other users that exist on any given site make a difference as well, says Chris Welle, development manager for FCC Interactive, the online arm of Forum Communications Company, which owns The Forum.


"If your friends aren't on there, then you're not going to go on there," says Welle.

So, a person can have an account for every single social network that exists, he says, but they're unlikely to use all of them if their friends or family aren't there to interact with.

And that simple idea, Welle says, gets back to the most basic premise of the Internet as an online community.

Even with the recent mass proliferation of all these different social networks with their strange-sounding names, the idea of the Internet as a community will likely never change, and people will keep using social websites in one form or another.

"The Internet has always been social," Welle says. "And it will always be social."

Social media cheat sheet

You probably know about or likely use Facebook or Twitter, but what about all the other social networking sites out there? Here's a handy cheat sheet to get you started:

Instagram: Launched in October 2010, Instagram is a free photo-sharing social network that also allows users to share photos on Twitter, Facebook and other sites.


Yammer: Unlike Facebook, where anyone can join, Yammer is a private social networking service for use within businesses or organizations. It was launched in 2008 and purchased by Microsoft in 2012.

GetGlue: GetGlue is unique among sites on this list because it's entertainment-based. Users of the service "check in" to the entertainment that they're watching, such as TV shows or movies.

Posterous: Started in 2008 and acquired by Twitter in March 2012, Posterous is a pretty simple blogging system geared toward use on mobile devices like phones or tablets.

Bebo: Bebo is a basic site where users get profiles, like with Facebook, which can then be enhanced with pictures, music, videos and more (Bebo also has its own "Timeline"-style profile, similar to Facebook's unpopular feature).

Xanga: Created in 1998, Xanga hosts blogs and lets users create social networking profiles.

Ning: Ning has a more complicated premise than most sites on this list - the website allows users to create a community website and tailor its appearance, essentially creating their own social network, rather than individual profiles.

Digg: Similar to competitor Reddit, Digg is a social news site that allows users to vote stories up or down based on levels of interest or popularity.

Tumblr: Described as a "microblog" like Twitter, Tumblr allows users to post multimedia and other content to their own blogs/profiles, and then follow other users.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535

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