A social network is a web-based platform or website, where users can communicate with one another and share digital content such as text, images, links or videos. Social Networks are used both by individuals and companies. In 2013, more than two-thirds of all Internet users were active in social networks.
Social networks have been established as a major social medium for the exchange of opinions on the Internet mostly through the popularity of Facebook. These networks are called “social” because people get in contact and communicate with one another individually or in groups.
Each social network consisting of user profiles, which individual users or companies can usually create for free. Through a profile, companies or individuals can introduce themselves and send status messages to friends, customers, business partners or the entire network. Status messages consist of text, images, videos, links, locations or memes, depending on the network, and can be viewed and commented on by other users. Some networks also offer mail and chat as communication channels.
The conscious building of links between users within one or more social networks is also called social networking.
With over one billion users, Facebook is the largest social network in the world (as of 2013). In addition to private use, Facebook has a major role in marketing for companies. Even public institutions are represented on Facebook.
More than 50 percent of Facebook users in Germany are between 18 and 34 years old. The social network is mainly used by individuals to stay in touch with friends and share with others.
Facebook offers numerous opportunities to companies to represent themselves, make direct contact with potential customers and the target audience. Fan pages can be managed by several people. Images, texts, links, and videos can be posted. Individuals can additionally be encouraged contribute posts to achieve even more coverage. Through the multiple targeting options, many companies use the social network in order to increase their advertising reach.
Facebook is financed since its IPO through investments by shareholders and diverse advertising.
After its founding more than 10 years ago Facebook is now widely criticized to be no longer innovative and up-to-date. It took quite some time for Facebook to provide a solid functioning app. Similarly, nothing was changed about the appearance of the profiles for a long time. One of the most important and recurrent points of criticisms is privacy, which manifests itself both in new technologies such as face recognition software or the problems surrounding the “Like” button on websites.
Facebook is repeatedly under fire in regards to privacy and data security. The social network reserves the right to use content from profiles commercially. After several modifications, users now have the ability to accurately define in the privacy settings what data will be publicly available from the profile and what isn’t.
Google Plus is the social network of the search engine company Google. With just under half a billion registered users, it is the second largest social network in the world. Apart from the classical forms of communication through status updates with photos, text, links, and videos, it provides what’s known as “hangouts,” a type of video chatting - yet another means of communication.
A typical Google Plus user has their own Google account, which automatically creates a profile in this social network. According to statistics, Google Plus is more commonly used by older users. The focus on Google Plus is more in the business sector, such as maintaining of business contacts. Google Plus is also very popular in certain sectors such as online marketing and SEO scene.
Companies can create their own profile on Google Plus with the myBusiness account. You can align such a profile to the business type. As an integral part of Google’s product portfolio, companies have an option to have their Google Plus profile appear directly in the search results the company name is entered. At the same time, the business profile can also be used for advertising with Google AdWords.
The social network is funded through the advertising revenue of the Google Group.
Google Plus was often criticized to be a “ghost network,” because although it could have a lot of profiles their owners may not be actively using their accounts. This is because a Google Plus account is automatically created when a user opens a Google account. A Google account is also a prerequisite for the use of a smartphone with an Android operating system. The rapidly increasing number of Android devices has consequently raised the number of profiles. Since Google has been integrating its social network increasingly into its overall concept, there has been increased activity of users on Google Plus.
The Google Group is repeatedly caught in the crossfire of privacy advocates. Google Plus has been criticized for the fact that a public profile is created automatically when a user opens a Google account and images published on Google Plus are also automatically indexed.
Twitter is a micro-blogging service where users can exchange content. With more than 230 million active users, it is one of the largest social networks in the world. Of note is that you can only use 140 characters for a “tweet.” Users can comment with posts or “follow” other users. Through hashtags, all tweets can be searched by topic. Another special feature of Twitter is that all postings are displayed immediately in real time in the timeline of the followers.
In Germany, the short message service is used largely by users 14 to 29 years of age. People can communicate about current trends or parallel events on this social network. Older users use Twitter mainly to be informed in real time about political and cultural news.
Companies mainly use Twitter to set trends or inform followers about events in real time. Twitter is a popular medium for the rapid dissemination of news on events and press conferences.
Twitter was financed for a long time through investors who were interested in user data. Meanwhile, Twitter also offers paid advertising in the form of promoted tweets or promoted accounts.
For a long time, Twitter was branded as an unnecessary addition to Facebook, because many people saw no point in just 140 characters short messages. For investors, Twitter was often unattractive because the advertising opportunities are limited on such a platform.
Twitter, like all other social networks from the United States continuously runs into problems with the local data protection legislation. Automatic creation of placemarks for mobile Twitter users has now been deactivated again for example.
XING is a German social network, which has existed since 2003 and is used in Germany by more than 5 million members. It is primarily used to expand professional networks.
XING is mainly used by members 35-54 for business contacts. At the same time, users are keen to maintain their own profile to use it in applications or new customer contacts as a reference.
Companies can create their own profiles on XING to address or attract new hires. In addition, the company's profile can be used to provide company information to the public.
In the so-called XING groups, topics can also be discussed by companies or even individuals with other XING members.
XING AG is part of the Burda group and has been publicly traded. At the same time, the network is funded through the subscription fees of its premium members.
Criticism of XING is of a more general nature because there are, so far, no studies that demonstrate measurable benefits of a shared business social network.
If you use the XING network, you have to be aware of the fact that any data published by you will be visible. Nevertheless, you can set in the profile if the data should be read only for registered users and whether search engines can index the profile.
LinkedIn claims to be the largest online professional network, which is active in over 200 countries and has 200 million recorded members. LinkedIn offers its users access to people, places, news, updates and insider information. This is to ensure that users operate successfully in professional life. Compared to XING, LinkedIN is more internationally oriented.
About 70 percent of LinkedIn users in Germany are between 35 and over 50 years of age. Its users are primarily interested in expanding business contacts and to present themselves.
Companies can use LinkedIn mainly for recruiting new staff. Headhunters use LinkedIn profiles to fill jobs with matching candidates. With LinkedIn ads, companies may also advertise on the social network.
Moreover, companies can have their own page on LinkedIN and present themselves to a broad audience.
LinkedIn is financed firstly by its revenues on the stock exchange and secondly through advertising and payments from premium members.
On the part of the consumer advocates, LinkedIn is routinely criticized. For one, deleting an account is extremely complicated since the necessary functions are not obvious. Secondly, the lack of privacy is repeatedly criticized.
Pinterest was established in 2010 as a novel social network in Palo Alto, USA. The network is characterized mainly by its bulletin board image collections. Registered users can upload pictures or “repin” them, which is equivalent to “share” or “like” on social media platforms. According to company information there are more than 30 billion images uploaded on Pinterest (as of August 2014). Pinterest has more than 70 million registered users worldwide as of 2014.
The target group of Pinterest are users who want to share their images with other users.
In Germany, there is still relatively little use of Pinterest by companies, although the social network offers pages specifically for companies. In the US, Pinterest is utilized by large companies mainly for branding.
Pinterest was funded in the first years after its founding by investors. In 2014, the first “promoted pins” were introduced, i.e. paid posts from companies.
Two years after its launch Pinterest came under fire because the network was earning money with affiliate links without indicating such in their Terms and Conditions. Copyrights were also criticized. Until the Terms and Conditions were changed, Pinterest reserved the right to sell images which had been uploaded on its platform. After protests, this passage was removed from their Terms and Conditions. Today, Pinterest is mainly being criticized because uploading of images is often incompatible with local copyright laws and private users are therefore under threat of warnings.
As with all social networks which are based in the United States, Pinterest’s handling of privacy and data protection can be criticized. It is important to know that Pinterest can use the information that users provide as part of their profile for advertising and their own purposes. In addition, Pinterest may access contact information from Facebook or Twitter if a user logs into Pinterest through these social networks.
Tumblr is a microblogging platform in the US and is part of Yahoo. Users can share texts, videos, music, links, images, or quotations with others. You can also comment on individual posts, use of hashtags and “liking” are also possible. According to the company there were nearly 200 million blogs and 83 billion posts on Tumblr in 2014 (as of August 2014). By 2014, Tumblr was the fifth-largest social network in Germany with 3.5 million users.
Anyone using Tumblr is primarily interested in the rapid distribution of images. For this reason, Tumblr has established itself especially in the art and fashion scene as a social network. Because of its fast and easy way to share content, Tumblr is popular among users 15-24 years of age, and is already competing in some countries strongly with Facebook.
Tumblr is hardly used by companies for marketing purposes if at all, although the micro-blogging service could offer potential for viral marketing campaigns as an example.
So far Tumblr belongs to the Yahoo network and is financed by investors. The parent company has not yet found a solid business model (as of August 2014).
Tumblr is often criticized because content published there violates copyrights or the protection of minors. By simple use of the blog system it is also prone to webspam.
The privacy settings on Tumblr are rather sparse. Everything that is published is visible to all. Sending of private messages is only possible if you follow a blog for a long time.
Badoo was founded in 2006 in England and now consists of more than 200 million users and is one of the largest social networks in the world. The brand is therefore one of the world’s most valuable brands in the area of social media.
The focus in Badoo is primarily on making new contacts through the Internet. Frequently, the network is considered to be a kind of dating platform. With the location function, members can see where they happen to be located. Thus “live meetings” can be organized easily.
Badoo is mainly designed for private use.
Unlike other social networks, Badoo dispensed with advertising. Instead, members pay a monthly fee if they want to use more than just the basic functions.
It is said that many Badoo profiles are fakes and they do not represent genuine members. To date, there are no exact studies on this.
Badoo users should be careful what information they divulge through their profile, as with any social network, because this data is used extensively and made public by default.
Klout is an electronic and fully automated service to improve online reputation. The English-language portal checks web activity and the activity in social media for registered users and uses this data to calculate the so-called “Klout score.”
To use Klout you must first have at least one profile in another social network. Klout is mostly used by professional bloggers or opinion leaders in order to improve their online reputation.
Companies can use Klout for branding actions, send messages to network users, and launch viral campaigns.
This social network is financed by the investor Lithium Technologies and from advertising campaigns revenue. In particular, the Klout Perks are interesting. These are awards for especially active social networks users granted by companies for their activity on behalf of a particular brand.
Klout is often criticized for its calculation scale, because the exact composition of the “Klout score’ is not exactly comprehensible.
The company often creates user profiles from existing publicly available data. This practice is repeatedly criticized mainly by European privacy advocates. Another point of criticism is the so-called obligation to provide information. Similar to Schufa, any collected and personal information must be made available upon request to Klout users in Germany.
VKontakte is a social network that is especially popular in the Eastern Bloc countries such as Russia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Belarus and Ukraine. With more than 300 million members it is the largest social network in Europe.
VKontakte is often called the “copy of Facebook.” VKontakte users are therefore similar.
To date (as of August 2014), there are no opportunities for businesses to present themselves on VKontakte except through advertising.
VKontakte is financed through advertisements and the investment of shareholders.
VKontakte has been criticized from the start that it is more or less a copy of Facebook. In addition, the social network is often rumored to be infiltrated by the Russian intelligence service.
As with all major social networks, VKontakte users have to be careful what information they want to reveal publicly.
With almost 50 million users Odnoklassniki is one of the largest European social networks. In Germany alone, the network is supposed to have more than 1.5 million members. Founded in 2006, the network is available only in Russian.
Odnoklassniki is used mainly by Russian and Ukrainian speaking adult users who want to get in touch with former classmates or fellow students and work colleagues.
Companies do not have their own custom profiles. They only have the option to book advertising.
Odnoklassniki is financed through advertisement bookings from companies. In addition, the company receives money from its premium memberships. These profiles provide a lot more functionality than a free membership.
A major criticism is the major hurdles users have if they want to delete their Odnoklassniki profile.
The privacy provisions in the basic profiles are very lax. Fundamentally, everything that gets posted on Odnoklassniki is publicly available.
Social networks are now an integral part in the daily life of modern man. The actual benefit depends, however, on how much a user is linked in each social network and for what purposes it is used. For businesses, social networks can provide good opportunities to maintain either one’s brand or contact with customers.