Social Sites Defined

There are a bewildering array of social media sites. In this post, we define many of the popular sites and terms your company should be familiar with. This is the second in a series of excerpts from our book, Be a Person: the Social Media Operating Manual for Enterprises.

The book (itself part of a series for different audiences), is available in paper form at save $5 using Coupon Code 62YTRFCV

See the first post, What is Social Media? See the subsequent posts Why Social Media? and How is Social Media Relevant to Business?

Social Networks


Some rights reserved by Butch Lebo

Social networking sites will come and go, but approaches to going social  can be adapted for any site. With that said, let’s take a look at some of the most popular and useful social sites and concepts out there, and give some quick definitions.


Facebook is the largest social networking site by far, with more than half a billion users. Many of its users use the site to keep up to date with friends and to “follow” celebrities, popular TV shows and movies, and causes. However, many use Facebook for serious purposes such as recruiting talent, selling products, and creating communities around brands or products.

The major features of Facebook include friending – connecting with other users so that you can see their activities; posting statuses – short blurbs about what you are doing or interested in; reading what others are posting in your News Feed, a constantly updating timeline of the comments and activities of your friends; and playing online games such as Mafia Wars and Farmville.


LinkedIn is the most professional of the popular social networks. Users tend to be more affluent and influential, and more of their interactions involve some business purpose rather than being purely social. LinkedIn is a great place to prospect for talent, find partners and customers, and find volunteers and donors. LinkedIn is organized around your user profile, which is like a resume on steroids. In addition, users’ profile pages feature a News Feed similar to Facebook’s as well as any number of plug-in applications such as Reading List by Amazon, SlideShare, blogs, and others.

LinkedIn has many features that enable you to find and connect with other users, but you are limited in the number of people you can contact directly and/or connect with. LinkedIn uses a principle of three degrees of separation: those you are connected to are your first degree network; those that your connections are connected to are your second degree network; those who are connected to your second degree network are your third degree network.

You can only directly contact your first degree network, but can ask those contacts for help in connecting to people in your second or third degree network.

One of the most useful aspects of LinkedIn is their Groups function. Anyone can create a group and invite like-minded people to join. It’s a great way to meet others who share your interests. Another useful function is LinkedIn Answers, which enable users to ask and answer questions on any subject.


Twitter is what is known as a microblogging social network. Members post messages of up to 140 characters (known as tweets) and those who follow them see the messages in their News Feeds. Often derided as shallow, trivial, and boring, Twitter is used for talent acquisition and all sorts of business and professional functions, including organizing online and offline events, and spreading the word about products and brands.

People who follow your tweets are called followers, and if they like a tweet they may retweet it – repeat it – to their followers. You can find people to follow by using the Twitter Website’s search function to search for words or phrases, or for special keywords called hashtags. Hashtags are created by putting a pound sign (#) in front of a word, for example #nonprofit. People do this so their tweets can be associated with others on a similar topic. For example, many recruiters post their job openings on Twitter using the hashtag #job.

Twitter is often used to call attention to a Website or a blog or other online destination. With only 140 characters to play with, it’s hard to say anything complicated, and thus Twitter often serves as an advertisement for lengthier treatments of a subject.

Twitter Directories – WeFollow, Twellow, etc.

Twitter has spawned its own universe of related sites, including many different sites dedicated to helping users find tweets and tweeps (people on Twitter) of interest. Directories like WeFollow and Twellow enable users to list themselves, add tags describing their interests, and use tags to search for tweeps that share their interests.


A tweetup is not a site, but rather an offline gathering organized via Twitter. Organizations as diverse as NASCAR, NASA, and non-profits such as GiveMN and Maui Food Bank[6] have used tweetups. Tweetups offer a chance for people who may only know one another virtually to meet in person. It’s a great idea for enterprises because it can solidify interest and support for your cause.


YouTube is a free service that lets people post short videos. Users can create a channel to house multiple videos, and other users can subscribe to the channel, tag videos within it, and comment on them in text or by posting a video reply. In most cases, users can embed (insert) videos on their Websites without the poster’s permission, thus providing a free source of content for their own Websites.

YouTube is largest video service of its kind, but there are lots of others. YouTube tends to be in the forefront of the social networking aspect of video.

StumbleUpon, Delicious, Digg, Flickr

These sites are known as social bookmarking sites. Each provides ways for people to discover Websites, videos, blogs and pictures of interest based on the efforts of other users, who tag sites of interest with keywords that others can find via searches. StumbleUpon will email you with suggested sites in categories that you select. Delicious and Digg enable you to search for keywords and suggest general interest items. And Flickr specializes in photos, enabling you to post and tag photos and share them with friends.


Short for Weblog, blogs are a way to post longer-form articles that may include pictures and videos. The average blog post is not terribly long – perhaps 400 to 700 words – that usually treats a single subject. Some blogs are user’s everyday thoughts, like a diary, and others examine technical, philo­sophical, or religious topics. The most popular blog site is the Huffington Post (now part of AOL), which examines political topics, but there are also popular blogs that follow celebrities (TMZ, Perez Hilton), technical gadgets (engadget, Gizmodo, TechCrunch), or post satirical takes on current events (Gawker, The Onion). Anyone can create a blog, and tens of millions have. A blog is a particularly good way for enterprises to engage with their communities.

Google Alerts, Blog Search, Reader

Google has a wealth of tools to aid you in monitoring what people are saying about your organization on social media sites. Google Alerts are automated searches you can set up that will search for keywords and email you the results regularly. At the very least, your organization should have some Google Alerts set up. Google Blog Search does, guess what? Blog searches. It’s another great way to keep tabs on the conversation. Google Reader enables you to subscribe to RSS feeds (see below). Most blogs have feeds that Google Reader can consolidate into one place for you to read, sample, or skim.


Google+ is a young network with features similar to Facebook but with a more-effective way to organize your friends into “circles.” The network exhibited phenomenal growth, attracting more than 10 million mostly male users in its first two weeks of operation. While many of its features are derivative, Google+’s Hangouts feature, which enables users to create ad hoc meeting spaces, may force other social networks to create their own equivalents. The site’s Sparks instant messaging feature may even give Twitter a run for its money. Google+ has a real potential to challenge Facebook for social networking dominance. A related effort, Google’s 1+ equivalent to the Facebook Like button, released in March, 2011, achieved broad acceptance in a phenomenally short period of time, and has been especially spurred by the release of Google+. By the beginning of July, 2011, four percent of the top 10,000 sites had added a +1 button to their homepages, up 33% since the beginning of June. Google combination of a social network with its search engine dominance may help it eat into Facebook’s impressive social media dominance.

RSS Feeds

Standing for Really Simple Syndication, RSS is a way for users to “subscribe” to the updates of a site or a blog. Subscribing means that whenever the content changes on the subscribed-to site, an update is made available. You can keep up with the update by subscribing to the RSS feed using an RSS feed reader, like the free Google Reader. That way you don’t have to constantly revisit the site to see if anything has changed. You should consider implementing an RSS feed for your own site and social media properties.

Social Aggregators – Plaxo and FriendFeed

Started in 2002 as an address book synchronization service and purchased by Comcast in 2008 for $150 million, Plaxo added social aspects including the ability to follow multiple social media News Feeds from more than 30 sites (like Twitter, Yelp, Flickr, Facebook, and LinkedIn), a birthday reminder and e-card service, and user profiles. Plaxo’s 20 million social members (and 50 million address book users) tend to be business-oriented. Although it’s not often thought of for its social networking features, Plaxo is worth considering for use by enterprises. FriendFeed enables social media friends to follow one another’s’ feeds from more than 50 social networks in one place. FriendFeed pulls friend activity from other sites and assembles it into a News Feed on its site. Users can thus just check the FriendFeed without having to visit several social sites to keep up with their friends.

Personal Curation

An emerging type of social media site allows users to create and curate their own publications based on their social media activity and feeds. The resulting magazine-like electronic publications feature articles harvested from, for example, the activity of a user’s Twitter followers and Facebook friends., for example, scans and categorizes your feeds daily for links to articles, blogs, pictures, and videos. The publication has a front page and multiple “departments” containing material in categories such as technology, business, and politics. See an example at Summify is much simpler, presenting your top five news stories from your social networks, and delivering it by email, web or iPhone. Storify is less-automated, and enables you to curate your own publication by selecting specific material from Twitter, Facebook, Delicious, YouTube, Google searches, RSS feeds, and other Storify publications via a simple drag-and-drop interface. PearlTrees takes a little different tack, installing a brower plug-in to enable you to publish “pearls” – little pointers to Webpages or other resources. PearlTrees users can navigate “pearltrees” – organized connections ¾ link to them, or collaborate on creating them. As the torrent of social information grows, more tools to enable users to filter and curate information will crop up.

Location-Based Sites – FourSquare and GoWalla

With the rise of the smart phone, location-based sites have gone wild. FourSquare allows users to “check in” either manually or automatically at real-world locations such as bars, restaurants, and other venues. The idea is to help provide a real-world connection for social-world friends. But detractors say the information these sites provide about where people are right this moment is an invitation to burglary or worse. You’ll want to consider whether to make location-based sites part of your social media strategy.

Expert Sites – Squidoo,, eHow

There are lots of expert sites on the Web. Some are heavily curated ( has editors assigned to most of their expert areas); some are automated (Squidoo aggregates lots of content on a single topic); others are organized around how-to areas (eHow has articles and videos that show you how to do almost anything). You should review these sites to see if they’re talking about you and your cause, and to determine if they might include your organization in their materials.

White Label Sites – Ning

White label social media sites provide the tools for you to build a standalone social media site for your organization. One of the oldest and best is Ning (“peace” in Chinese), which hosts more than four million sites. Incidentally, cofounder and Ning chairman Marc Andreessen created the first insanely popular Web browser, Netscape, back in 1996 and sold it to AOL for $4.2 billion in 1999. Your organization can get started on Ning for a few dollars a month. Of course, first you need to know whether your community needs (another) place to go, and whether you’re ready to commit to the effort necessary to create and host a community.

Orkut and Bebo

Social media is a worldwide phenomenon, and while a large percentage of Facebook’s membership lives outside the US, there are also social networks like Orkut and Bebo that focus on non-US members. Orkut is owned by Google and has more than 100 million users. After starting as an invitation-only network in the US, its largest proportion of users now come from Brazil, where it is one of the most popular Websites, and from India. Acquired by AOL in 2008 and then sold to hedge fund operators Criterion Capital Partners in mid-2010, Bebo was also started in the US and now has more than 40 million users, a quarter of which are from the UK. If your organization wants to reach outside the borders of the US, consider using social networks such as these.


Knowem is one of many sites that will allow you to reserve your organization’s presence on hundreds or even thousands of social media sites. You can use the site to do this even if you have no plans to create a presence on hundreds of sites. It’s a good idea because a) you may someday want to join one of the obscure sites and b) you may want to prevent others from usurping your identity on social sites. Knowem is also a good way to research specialty social media sites where your community may have an active presence.

Social Media Badges

Many sites provide badges, little graphics that represent the site or some achievement, to supporters who then post them on their blogs or other sites. One example of this is on LinkedIn. When you join a LinkedIn group, you have the option to display the group’s badge on your profile so others see you’re a member. Badges are also given by sites like FourSquare to signify some achievement or status. It’s a good way to enable and encourage evangelists. There are also other types of badges that recognize achieve­ments of your supporters, such as “Top Blogger” or “Most Valuable Evangelist.”

Up next: ­Why Social Media?

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