1. Overview of social media

What is social media?

Research shows that in 2024, there are over 5 billion social media users in the world. This equates to over 60% of the total global population. As more and more people are realising the importance of social media and how beneficial it can be, this number is likely to continue to increase.

In order to be able to take full advantage of ways to use social media, we will first have to understand what social media is, the types of social media available and how to make use of them.

Social media is the term for online communication which allows us to keep in touch with people, join existing networks or create new networks. Social media platforms include:

  • social networking sites e.g. Facebook
  • photo sharing sites e.g. Instagram
  • video sharing sites e.g. YouTube
  • instant messaging platforms e.g. WhatsApp
  • discussion forums e.g. Reddit.

There are many uses to social media, these include:

  • developing personal learning networks
  • accessing useful information
  • establishing your personal or professional online brand
  • communicating and collaborating with others
  • keeping up with organisations and people that interest you.

Over 20.8 million Australians were active social media users in January 2024. Interacting and sharing information with others online can be fun and informative. However, when you use social media, you can’t always control your audience, so you need to be aware of ethical concerns. Kindness, fairness, truthfulness and integrity are just as important in your online interactions as they are in your face-to-face ones.


Social networking sites

Social networks allow users to create online profiles and interact with other users on the platform. Users can keep interactions private or connect with people outside their social circle.

Facebook is used as tool to share information, and keep up to date with family and friends. This is used by organisations (including UQ) to share news and upcoming events. Facebook also comes with a messaging app, Messenger, where students create unofficial study group chats and communicate with each other.

Another example of a popular social networking site is X (Twitter). Here, users can post messages, images, and gifs for the public to see. X (Twitter) is mostly used for posting quick thoughts and learning about worldwide trends. In July 2022, X (Twitter) tested out a new status feature, which allows users to add a status label to their posts, including “Hot take”, “Breaking news”, and “Watching football”. Did you know that on average, there are about 6,000 posts posted every second? That comes up to about 500 million posts every day!

Photo sharing

Photo sharing is an engaging way to share aspects of your life. You can upload photos to share with friends, family and anyone else on the platform. If you are someone who enjoys photography, arts or creating pieces and showcasing them, they are a great way to promote yourself, comment on others’ work and receive feedback.

The most popular photo sharing sites include Instagram and Snapchat. Through these tools, users can record and share videos, while interacting with each other’s posts.  Instagram’s audio-visual features also allows for knowledge sharing — it is not uncommon to find news and academic accounts like @theeconomist and @chicksforclimate. These apps may assist students in enhancing their language, interpersonal and social skills.

Video sharing

Video hosting sites like YouTube and Tiktok allow people to share videos with others. Video content includes music, entertainment, instructional videos, news, political commentary, movies and shows.

TikTok is currently one of the most popular social video sharing apps, with approximately one billion monthly active users. Users can watch, create and share videos and apply filters, audio, animation and special effects. You will find many tiktoks designed just to amuse you like this one with a cat. However, users are creating tiktoks for learning too, such as teaching maths and study tips.

TikTok for study?

Search the word tiktok in your search engine, with tags like #studyhacks #studytips and #studynotes to get some good tips.

Instant messaging platforms

Instant Messaging (IM) technology allows users to send messages in real time over a connected network. Messages can be transmitted between 2 or even 500,000 members at once. There are numerous free and easy-to-use instant messaging platforms available today, including WhatsApp, Discord, and Slack.


With over 2 billion monthly active users, WhatsApp is one of the most popular messaging platforms. WhatsApp is very accessible and can be easily downloaded on your mobile phone and PC. Its ease-of-use also contributes to its popularity. Setting up an account is very simple — all you need is a phone number and you’re pretty much set! WhatsApp allows users to send texts, videos, images, links and documents in just a few clicks. This makes the app very popular for students to create group chats and talk amongst themselves. WhatsApp also has an app specifically designed for business communications called “WhatsApp for Business”.


Discord is a growing group-chatting app that enables direct voice, video, and text communication between users. It was launched in 2015 and was originally created to provide a platform for gamers to build communities and connect with each other. Today, it has grown to encompass a variety of online communities (called servers), ranging from writers to artists to K-Pop fans.

UQ has a Discord server for most courses.


Slack is a messaging app most commonly used by business organisations to connect people with required information. It is organised to facilitate communication in the workplace bringing people together to collaborate as one unified team. Designated spaces called channels can be created to bring people together to discuss a certain topic or project together. In these channels, members can easily share files, ideas, and polls. It is a good way to bring people from different parts of the world into one single space, which is especially useful for today’s work environment.

Discussion forums

These types of media are Q&A type platforms used to hold discussions and conversations amongst users. The most well-known discussion apps are Quora, Reddit, and Digg. Discussion topics may include science, politics, universities, or even this very interesting question! If you have ever wondered about something, someone else has probably asked the same thing on one of these platforms.

Check your knowledge

There are three questions to answer. Use the arrow at the bottom to move to the next one.



Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Social Media Copyright © 2023 by The University of Queensland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book