Skip main navigation

What is social media?

This article describes what social media is and how it has evolved over time.
Small business owner taking a photo of their organic cosmetics

Social media is any tool, website or application that allow us to create and share content, such as images, text or videos, to wider virtual communities and networks online. Social media has become a large part of our daily lives, from interacting virtually with our friends and families, to accessing news and information and enabling us to grow our brands and businesses through digital marketing.

Social media includes a wide range of different websites and apps, all of which serve different purposes. For instance, platforms like Twitter specialise in short messages, whilst others like Instagram and TikTok are specially designed to share visual content such as photos or videos. Whilst each platform has its own specific set of features, they all broadly allow users to create personalized user profiles; “follow”, “subscribe” or add other users as a “friend”; allows users to scroll through content via “feeds”; and give users the ability to engage with their friends by “liking” and sharing posts.

It’s clear that social media is valuable in our social lives, allowing us to connect with users all over the world. Social media is also an extremely valuable tool for businesses. In particular, it can be a key element of marketing activities, allowing them to connect with their target audience, engage with potential customers and grow their business.

It must also be noted that social media also plays a large role in shaping the way businesses communicate and engage with their own employees. From sharing new information and allowing employees to express opinions, social media can create an environment where individuals feel involved and connected to the business, which can lead to a strong and healthy work culture.

In recent years, we have also seen how leaders and employees interact more on social media to communicate their company values with prospective clients and shape a company’s reputation. For example, the CEO of a corporation can build excitement by having an active presence in the online sphere and can spread awareness by consistently communicating exciting updates about the business, as well as information about its values and mission. Employees can also like, comment and share these posts, helping to reach new audiences with minimal use of advertising.

Look at the infographic below which portrays a timeline of when the biggest social media channels were launched and some key stats on the impact they have made to our lives!

This article is from the free online

Digital Skills: Social Media

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now