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Social Media: A Quick Guide for Lawyers

This article is based upon a Practical Law Practice Note, one of more than 65,000 similar resources available on Practical Law

As social media spans a wide variety of platforms and formats, understanding its scope is challenging. To help you begin, read this brief guide.

Social media: A quick guide

Lawyers dealing with legal issues involving social media may find it useful to understand how the sites, applications, and services in the social media universe are categorized, at least in general. Keep in mind, however, that social media technology is constantly evolving, so many sites and services can fit into more than one category, and their capabilities can also change over time. 

General categories of social media

Blogs
Short for “web log,” a blog is an article, series of articles, or an entire website written by one or more people, often on a specific subject or directed towards a particular audience published on digital media. Practically speaking, however, the word “blog” has become a generic term for almost any self-published form of personal expression.

Social and business networking services
Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter—these are all sites that allow individual, corporate, and organizational users to connect with like-minded communities of other users, including friends, professional contacts, and fellow enthusiasts.

Digital media sharing services
Sites such as YouTube, Flickr, and Pinterest serve as a platform for users to upload and share videos, music, and photographs.

Wikis
A wiki is a database of web pages that can be edited live by the public. Wikipedia is the most famous wiki, but there are many others, such as Wikitravel (travel), Wikinews (news), JurisPedia (legal), ScholarPedia (academic), etc. Wikis are examples of crowd-sourced information, the veracity of which varies depending on the contributors.

Massively Multi-player Online Role-playing Games (MMORPG)
MMORPG is a gaming genre that can be played by several users simultaneously over the internet, regardless of their physical location. World of Warcraft, Second Life, Animal Crossing, Minecraft, EverQuest, and SkyForge are examples of MMORPGs, but there are many others.

Players of MMORPGs interact through their avatars, which are customized digital characters created and controlled by the player in order to navigate through the game and communicate with other players.

Popular social media sites and services

Social media sites and applications connect their users to one another, to new content (including user-generated content), and to communication channels that allow for an instant and permanent online presence. Many sites include traditional communication capabilities within their proprietary technologies, such as email, chat, and blogging. A popular function of most social media sites is the ability for users to post links online for others to see.

Below is a descriptive list of some popular social media sites, services, and applications. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it does include some of the most popular social media sites on the internet.

A Small World 
An invitation-only social-networking service that includes private messaging, forums, and event calendars.

Digg 
An online community where users discover, vote for, share, and comment on content from the internet, including news, video, and images.

Doostang 
A career-focused social-networking site that enables members to post and apply to job openings, network with friends online, and conduct job searches according to industry, geography, and other criteria.

Facebook  
A social-networking service where members can connect with friends and other people in their network, post links, comments, photos, and videos, and conduct public conversations by writing on members’ timelines. It also allows members to send private messages..

Flickr 
An online photo management and sharing application that enables members to make the photo and video content they upload available on the web for public or private viewing and commenting. Flickr is for personal, non-commercial use only.

Foursquare
A location-based social networking service generally logged into using a mobile device. Users share their location with friends, check in to businesses to collect points and badges, and post information about nearby businesses or venues.

Geni 
A website for families to privately connect with relatives, post pictures, and send messages to other members in their online family tree. Members build their family tree by connecting with other relatives, who are members of the website, and by posting their personal family data.

Instagram  
A service allowing users to take photos and videos with their smartphones, apply various filter effects, and share them with other users who can “like” and comment on the photos. Users can also share to other social media services such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, and Foursquare. Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012.

LinkedIn 
A professional networking website where members can maintain connections with other members, establish connections to contacts of members in their network, give recommendations for members, and be introduced to other members for help in job searches and other career-related goals.

Meetup   
A social-networking website that allows users to organize into groups and plan face-to-face meetings.

Pinterest 
A content-sharing website that allows members to pin images, videos, and other content to their own pin boards and share their boards with other users.

Reddit 
A social news website that allows users to submit content that other users vote on, which ranks the posts and determines their position on the site’s pages.

Skype 
A social-networking app that provides video chat and voice-call services. Users may exchange text and video messages, create groups and chat rooms, and instantly share digital files with one another. Microsoft acquired Skype in 2011.

Slack
A real-time messaging platform designed to be used by groups—typically co-workers—as a collaboration tool. The platform offers both desktop and mobile apps, as well as archiving and file-sharing capabilities. Although it is free for employees to use, companies that want access to a full range of features must pay a fee.

Snapchat 
A mobile app that allows users to share Snaps (photos and videos with captions) to friends. Unlike other forms of social media, the Snap “disappears” after the recipient views it. Snapchat also includes Stories, which are video clips that can last up to ten seconds and disappear after 24 hours

TikTok  
A media app for sharing short videos. The app allows users to record and edit 15-second videos, post them to their profiles, message other users, browse popular users (known as musers), and follow trending songs, sounds, and hashtags. TikTok merged with social networking app musical.ly in August 2018.

Tumblr
A blogging website where members can post and share text, photos, links, music, and videos from their browser, phone, or computer.

Twitter 
A microblogging site where users post status updates in 280 or fewer characters through the service’s mobile application or website, or by mobile text. Status updates are known as “tweets.” Users can also share other people’s tweets, which is known as “re-tweeting.” 

WhatsApp  
A popular messaging platform that lets users send text-style messages to other users without incurring mobile data charges. Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014.

Yammer 
A microblogging site similar to Twitter aimed at streamlining internal workplace communications. Although it is free for employees to use, companies that want to gain control of and manage their corporate Yammer networks must pay a fee.

YouTube 
An online video community that allows users to publicly post, share, and view original videos, with a forum for user comments and a platform for creating individual channels. Google acquired YouTube in November 2006. 

While Facebook and YouTube are some of the most popular social media platforms, it’s worth noting that most people do not limit themselves to one platform. In fact, according to BrandWatch, the average person has 7.6 social media accounts, and spends an average of 142 minutes per day engaging with social media. Furthermore, BrandWatch estimates there are 3.7 billion active users of social media in the world, or almost half of the world’s entire population of 7.8 billion.

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