Mobile phone on desk

What is social media?

Social media is one of those terms that seems to have come from nowhere in the last few years. Friends and family talk about it, supermarkets talk about it, even GP surgeries are referring people to social media for more information. It is often used alongside other words like Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. It is assumed that everyone knows what these mean; but do we?

Before we look at social media more broadly, it is important to understand what is meant by the term. If we split the phrase up and start with the two separate words, we can see that social means shared, communal or public, while media is used to describe methods of mass communication.

At its heart, social media is a way of each of us being to able share opinions, experiences or even photos and videos with others. It might be useful to think of it as each of us having our own TV show! I can choose what I share on my show but I can also choose who gets to see it. I may choose to just send it to friends, or I might make it available for anyone to see.

These days social media is used to refer to a collection of websites and services that allow us to share things with others. If we continue with the previous example of our own “social media” TV show, then I could broadcast it on BBC1, ITV or Channel 5. Picking which channel depends on who I want to watch it and what I want to say. Instead of talking about channels, when we talk about social media, we refer to platforms. Common platforms include Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

In future articles we will look at the different social media platforms and how to use them in more detail, but for now here is a brief explanation of the most popular social media platforms.

  1. Facebook
  2. Twitter
  3. Instagram
  4. WhatsApp
  5. TikTok


This is one of the best known social media platforms that lets you share opinions and information (generally known as “posts”). With over 2 billion users globally, Facebook allows you to connect with people all over the world as if you were in the same room and this is one of the reasons it has become so popular. You can set up little groups and share things between yourselves. You might have a family group, a private book club or group of local neighbours.


Another very popular social media site, you can write about anything you want and share it on Twitter. These shared messages are called “tweets” and in general they can be read by anyone on Twitter. You can choose to “follow” people you know or people that you are interested in hearing from so that you always see the things they tweet.


Whereas Twitter and Facebook focus on sharing your thoughts and opinions, Instagram’s main focus is to share photos and videos. You could take a selfie (a photo of yourself) or a photo of your favourite flowers to share with people who follow your account. In recent years this has become more popular with young people who often refer to it as ‘Insta’. There are around 9 million photos a day posted on Instagram covering a range of topics from fashion and fitness to cookery and housekeeping.


This service allows you to chat to friends and family as well as sharing pictures and videos. You can communicate between two people or between a group, but in most cases, you are interacting with people you know. This is quite different from other social media which can often be available to the wider public.


This is one of the newer social media platforms and is one of the most popular at the moment. People film themselves dancing to popular songs and share it on Tiktok. Lots of famous people have got involved with the craze including Dame Judi Dench and her grandson Sam.