Greg Barila

Journalist. Editor. Social Media specialist.

Everything you wanted to know about social media... but were too afraid to ask

YOU’VE got a Facebook page. You’ve dabbled with LinkedIn. Hey, you’ve even logged into Twitter once or twice (but you didn’t inhale).

C’mon admit it! You probably think you’ve got a grip on social media, don’t ya?

But if you still think a Meerkat is just a curious and furry desert creature and the only place to find a Periscope is on a submarine….we hate to break it to you. You may need a little social media refresher.

To borrow from a well-worn phrase, there’s a social media network born every minute.

But which ones are likely to follow the pioneering path of Facebook and change the way we connect and communicate for years to come and which are bound to be dead, gone and forgotten by next week?

We’ve put together this handy cheat sheet to help you navigate the minefield that is social media.

TWITTER

The microblogging service set up in 2007 has always struggled to build a user base as big and sprawling as its rival Facebook. But with more than 280 million active users and users firing off 500 million tweets per day, Twitter is here to stay. The platform has been criticised for being too ‘noisy’, making it difficult for people to find interesting people and conversations to follow. But the company says it’s working on a bunch of improvements that will allow users to more easily filter the vast amount of content being published to the network. Despite its shortcomings, Twitter remains a powerful tool for breaking news, being first to break dozens of big stories from the death of Osama bin Laden to the 2008 China earthquake.

SNAPCHAT

Launched in 2011, Snapchat is the fastest growing social app of 2015 with more than 100 million active monthly users, many of them teens and millennials (gen Y). The app allows users to send picture messages and short videos or “snaps”, which dissolve and disappear after being viewed – a key selling point of the app. Some pundits were initially sceptical about the ephemeral nature of the app but the feature was truly revolutionary. Unlike any other social app, a key part of its success, especially among younger users, is that it allows them to communicate freely without worrying that mum and dad will find that lewd or embarrassing photo or video.

Recently, Snapchat partnered with several major news publishers, including news.com.au, to launch a new feature called “Discover”, which allows users to read news stories and watch video story packages, which it hopes will broaden the app’s appeal to older users.

WHATSAPP

whatsapp.jpg

If smartphones killed the landline, apps like WhatsApp have helped to drive a nail into the coffin of phone calls and even SMS. Apps like WhatsApp (Kik, Facebook Messenger, Line, Viber, HeyTell and many more) are apps that allow users to message each other – just like sending a text – but using the internet, not a phone provider, to do it. Users can also send photos, emojis and voice clips and because messaging is free, use of these kinds of apps has exploded in recent years. So popular have these services become Facebook forked out a staggering US$19 billion to acquire WhatsApp in 2014.

WICKR

With topics like terrorism and internet metadata dominating the national conversation in recent months, more of us have been looking for ways to keep our private and personal conversations secret and safe from prying eyes and probing governments. And it turns out some of our pollies share the same concerns. Last month, in an article in The Australian, Federal Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull revealed he’s been using a ‘secret agent-style’ messaging app called Wickr, which encrypts messages and causes them to be “forensically” wiped after they expire.

TINDER

Online dating isn’t new but Tinder takes the game to a whole new level by recognising that most young singles are heavy users of mobile devices and social media and folds all the elements into a single product. The app scans a user’s Facebook page to find compatible candidates based on their location, mutual friends, hobbies and interests. Users can then browse possible candidates and swipe left for “not interested” or swipe right if they’re as keen as mustard.

MEERKAT

One minute you’re hot, the next minute you’re not. Just ask the guys at Meerkat, makers of an app that literally no-one had heard of just a few weeks ago and which, for at least a few days, was all anybody was talking about. The app is simple. Just login with your Twitter account, start a new event and suddenly you’re a walking TV station, streaming live video to your followers and to the world. Sadly, for Meerkat, the app never really gained traction with users and Twitter used the launch to fast-track the launch of its own live video streaming service, Periscope. It’s hard to see Meerkat recovering from here.

PERISCOPE

Acquired by Twitter just a few months ago and launched just last week, Periscope is a personal live video streaming app that’s just like Meerkat, only better. The app has exploded globally since its launch, with everyone from Hollywood A-listers to your next door neighbour signing up to start broadcasting their lives to whoever cares to watch the show. Socially significant, culturally exciting and downright dangerous, this is the one and only social network to watch right now.

RELATED:Periscope explained: How Twitter’s live streaming app is delivering news and views in real time

ELLO

Set up in March 2014 as an ad-free alternative to social media behemoths Facebook and Twitter, Ello fizzled out almost as quickly as it arrived on the scene. As new social networks do, Ello generated plenty of buzz and plenty of press and built-in exclusivity by giving new users a selected number of tokens to invite friends. The network made a selling-point of its simple design but it failed to get traction. It lacked any truly unique or original features and being so minimalistic it felt like being alone in a big, empty room. The network still exists but the buzz is gone.

This article was first published in The Advertiser and on advertiser.com.au