Social media: Big names in the biz

Whether you’re a fan of Facebook or not, you have to admit that social media isn’t just beginning to shape the way we interact with others: It’s been doing so for quite a while. And while talking to people online is no substitute for having meaningful conversations in person, taking advantage of what social media sites have to offer can extend far beyond just keeping in contact with your closest friends.

*1. FACEBOOK*

We’ll start with the king of social networking sites. Chances are you already have a Facebook profile that you use to keep up with your friends daily. But more and more frequently, businesses, celebrities, news organizations and others are using Facebook to interact with their consumer base. Pop superstars like Justin Beiber and Lady Gaga frequently advertise giveaways through their Facebook fan pages while at the same time providing behind-the-scenes looks at concerts and other venues.

*2. TWITTER*

Twitter often gets a bad rap for being a place where anyone and everyone can mindlessly post about whatever they’re doing, no matter how mundane it is. But for every Average Joe who tweets about eating a sandwhich, there are scores of others who are worthy of your attention. Like Facebook, several celebrities have taken to Twitter to express their thoughts — many of whom are insightful or hilarious. Comedians, politicians, tech junkies and other personalities also populate the service. And when it comes to breaking news, no other format can beat Twitter’s 140-character, instant messaging style of delivery. It’s often credited for breaking huge news such as the death of Osama Bin Laden faster than any other service.

*3. FOURSQUARE*

This one is a little less known, but when used properly, FourSquare can be a blast. This geo-tagging application lets you “check in” to any location through your smartphone, allowing you to compete against friends for badges and “mayorships” of different buildings (meaning you need to check in more than anyone else at a certain location). While a lot of these features merely offer bragging rights, several corporations are also in on the FourSquare game. Checking into some restaurants might nab you deals, while some retailers offer coupons to those who have multiple check-ins.

*4. GOOGLE PLUS*

This application is new on the market, but Google Plus is priming to be Facebook’s number one competitor for your social networking needs. Like Facebook, Google Plus features something akin to a news feed (this time called a “stream”), but unlike Facebook, it lets you follow other users and put them in your “circles” — without them having to reciprocate. You can categorize friends by circle and follow online personalities without having to worry about changing your privacy preferences for every individual you come across. Google Plus also features what it calls “hangouts” which allows you to video chat with up to nine other people in a single session. Don’t have nine people all at once? Google Plus “hangouts” sets up a notification in your friends’ streams so that they can drop in anytime you have the video chat open. The service is also a part of any Google account you’ve previously signed up for, meaning you get easy access to Google Talk, Docs, Mail, Calendar or any other service you already use.

There are plenty of other social media websites and applications to check out: Tumblr, WordPress, Blogger, YouTube, Digg, Reddit … the list goes on and on. While the prospect of trying to keep up with as many of these kinds of sites as possible might seem daunting, the payoff can actually be pretty rewarding. Check it out!

_Jill is a senior in Media._