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Social Networking 101

Social Networking 101
By Emily Strand, VAN Program Specialist and highly valued millennium mentor

Social networking sites allow you to connect with others, find new and old friends, and share information on the internet. Popular social networking sites include: MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. You also can find social networks that are geared towards people with particular interests such as for artists and for gardeners.Wondering how to get started? Here are the steps I recommend:

Step 1: Determine the Right Social Networking Site

Ask your friends and family members if they participate in social networking sites, and, if they say “yes,” ask them “which ones?” Decide what you want to get out of your social networking experience. Do you want to make professional connections or connect with friends and family? Or do you want to connect with people with similar interests, such as quilting or gardening?

The following brief overview of popular sites also can help you determine which one is right for you:

If you are looking for connections that will help your career, LinkedIn is probably your best bet. This tool is the most professionally oriented of social networking tools. LinkedIn advertises that it has over 40 million users that exchange information, ideas, and opportunities.

If you are hoping to connect with family and friends, MySpace and Facebook are the way to go. Facebook and MySpace primarily connect people to others that they know.

  • MySpace allows you to personalize your profile to a greater degree than most networks. You can add music and decorate the background of pages to personalize your profile.
  • Facebook uses a standard background for all users. Many find Facebook screens more orderly and easier to follow.

If you want to meet people with similar interests, a good place is or

  • is a social networking site targeted to boomers. It allows you to connect with friends and to make new ones based on shared social interests.
  • is a website where you can find groups who participate in activities or other things that you might enjoy. People plan activities based on these interests and get together. Groups range from participating in book clubs, volunteering, or hiking to scrapbooking.

If you want to keep people updated on your status, then Facebook and Twitter are the way to go.

  • Twitter asks the question: What are you doing? You have 140 characters to answer. Each entry is a status update or a tweet. People can set up links to follow your status, and you can follow others. Facebook provides space for similar status updates with the question: What’s on your mind?

Step 2: Sign Up

When you have determined the right place for you, sign up. At most sites, you need to sign in with an e-mail address and create a password. Tip: Make sure your password has capital letters, numbers, and lowercase letters in it.

Step 3: Create a Profile

Your profile allows you to post information about you. Remember that you can decide how much information you want to put on your profile. I have found that my friends who are 50+ tend to put their name, birth date (minus the year!), hometown, and educational and employment information.

I suggest that you at least put your high school or college in your profile as doing so allows you to find other people who went to school with you. You can add photos, videos, and regular updates about what you are doing. Don’t put something on the site that you are not feel comfortable sharing with the world.

Step 4: Find Other People or Organizations

You can find others on these sites by searching for people from your high school, college, or even elementary school. Recently, I was able to reconnect with a friend from 2nd grade who moved away. Twenty years later, I learned about his life since he moved.

On Facebook, you also can search for people by typing in a name. The site allows you to identify people who are your friends. After you indentify people as friends, Facebook automatically suggests people that you may know based on shared connections. You also can become fans of organizations, musicians, causes, or nonprofits.

Step 5: Choose your Privacy Settings

On all sites, you can choose how private your want to make your information. People cannot access your information if you don’t want them to do so. For example, on Facebook only people that are your in your network can view your profile, but you can limit viewing to friends. A network on Facebook is any community/group to which you choose to belong. It could be a geographic place, school, or company. For example, I belong to the Minneapolis/St. Paul network. However, I have controlled my settings so that only my friends can see the information on my profile. On Facebook, you can control your privacy by clicking on Settings at the top of the page.

Step 6: Have Fun and Enjoy

Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other networks are fun ways to stay connected with
other people. For more information about social networking, visit the following helpful websites:

This site provides a video that offers a very basic overview of social networking:

AARP's website offers help in understanding terminology, creating Facebook accounts, and learning the etiquette of social networking sites:

This site offers an overview of terms, provides a history of social networking, and identifies its uses:



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