The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media
Everything you need to know to sign up, post, and keep your information secure on Facebook, Twitter, and more.
Social media can be a double-edged sword. On one side, it can seem intrusive and even a little scary, as people post everything from pictures of their children to their exact whereabouts at any given time. Plus, it’s all too easy to stumble across hate-filled comments from anonymous posters.
On the other hand, social media offers a unique way to learn new things, share joyful moments, and connect with friends and family who you don’t often see in person. “Social media lets us reach out to old friends and relatives across the country and the world,” says Andrew Selepak, Ph.D., director of the graduate program in social media at the University of Florida. It also provides an up-to-the-moment way to keep up with the news, while exposing you to sources beyond the traditional gatekeepers of the media, he explains.
It’s certainly possible to enjoy the perks of social media while avoiding potential perils—as long as you know a few essential tips. Here, social media professionals share everything a newbie needs to know, including how to sign up, make a post, and, most importantly, ensure your information remains secure on four of the most popular social networks.
Social Network #1: Facebook
Facebook.com; also available on the App Store and Google Play
Facebook is the best platform for the social media novice, Selepak says. “Because other platforms like Instagram fall under the Facebook umbrella, learning Facebook will help you become more comfortable with the online social space,” he says. And many people you know are likely already using it: About 62 percent of online adults ages 65 and older now use Facebook, up from 48 percent in 2015, according to the Pew Research Center.
The main purpose of Facebook is to share thoughts and ideas, says Eric Johnson, a social media coordinator and web content specialist at FeedbackWrench. “It’s also a great place to connect, as many of your friends and family are likely to share photos or life updates on a regular basis.” (You can also connect with other SilverSneakers fans, watch workout videos, and get great health tips on the SilverSneakers page!)
But be warned: Facebook is also very opinion-based, Johnson adds, and you’ll find people sharing their opinions on everything from politics to business and everything in between—whether you want to hear them or not.
How to sign up: All you need is an email address or mobile phone number to get started. First, go to Facebook.com. On the right side of the page, you’ll see a section to sign up. It will ask for a few personal details, including your first name, last name, email address or mobile phone number, and birthday. “Don’t worry, the only thing that has to be viewable by the public is your name,” Johnson says. “Everything else can easily be kept private once your account is set up.”
Facebook will also prompt you to add a profile picture, cover photo, and more details once you log in, which you can choose to add or not.
How to post: To share a thought, article, or photo, simply look to the top of your screen when on the homepage or your profile page. There will be a box that says “What’s on your mind?” Click anywhere inside the box, and then type what you want to say into this field. To share a link, simply copy and paste the URL into the box. You can also upload a photo or video. Once you’re finished, click the blue “Post” button to share it with friends.
How to keep your information secure: To maintain proper privacy settings on Facebook, click the “?” icon in the top-right corner, and then click on “Privacy checkup.” Facebook will walk you through three steps to ensure you’re only sharing posts with the people you want to.
From this page, you can control who sees your posts, who can look you up, and who can message you. Knowing the following key privacy words can also help, says social media consultant Joshua Jarvis.
- “Public” or “Everyone:” This means exactly what you think it means—anyone can see what you post.
- “Friends:” Only people who you’ve sent or accepted a friend request from can see the post.
- “Friends of Friends:” People who have accepted friend requests from any of your friends can see the post. Be careful using this option, Jarvis says. If you are friends with someone who may have added a scammer inadvertently, then that scammer can now see your posts too.
How to learn about advanced features or get help: Go to Facebook.com/help.
Social Network #2: Instagram
App Store or Google Play; also available at Instagram.com
“On Instagram, the name of the game is inspiration,” Johnson says. People go to Instagram to see beautiful imagery, delicious food, and even motivational thoughts. While you can view Instagram on your computer, it’s designed mainly for mobile use.
How to sign up: First, you’ll need to download the Instagram app on your mobile device, such as an iPhone or Android. If you’ve already set up a Facebook account, you can use it to get started on Instagram, since Instagram is owned by Facebook, Johnson explains. Simply click the “Log in with Facebook” button. If not, create an independent Instagram account by providing your email address or mobile phone number, name, a username of your choice, and a password.
How to post: To post on Instagram, find the “+” button on the bottom of your screen. Once you click it, you’ll notice that Instagram has preloaded a post for you: the last photo you took on your phone. To choose a different photo, simply scroll through the other photos that are presented below.
Once you’ve selected your photo, click the “Next” button in the top-right corner. Here, you can change how the photo looks with Instagram’s built-in tools. Choose “Filter” for preselected edits, “Edit” to customize photo attributes on your own, or “Next” if you want to skip this option. Finally, you’ll reach the screen where you can write a caption and “tag” family members or friends if they’re also on Instagram. Once you’ve finished, click “Share.”
How to keep your information secure: To make all of your posts private and viewable only by those you allow, click on the person icon in the bottom-right corner of your screen to view your profile, Johnson says. From here, look to the right of the “Edit profile” button, and you’ll see the circular gear icon for settings.
Scroll down until you find an option for “Private account.” Click on the circle until you see it switch to blue. This means your account has been made private. You’ll know it worked if you’re prompted to approve each new request to follow you.
How to learn about advanced features or get help: Go to help.instagram.com.
Social Network #3: Twitter
Twitter.com; also available on the App Store or Google Play
Twitter is the place to go for news and entertainment, Jarvis says. All of the major news outlets share frequent updates and breaking news on Twitter, and plenty of regular people share thoughts and opinions—all in 140 characters or less. If Facebook is the place where you can see what your friends and family members are up to, Twitter is the spot to interact and discuss current events with people you’ll likely never meet in person. (You can also get great health tips by following @SilverSneakers.)
How to sign up: Go to twitter.com, or download the app on your mobile device. You’ll need to enter your name, email address or mobile phone number, and a password. You’ll also need to create a username, which looks like @username and appears above every tweet. Once you sign up, Twitter will provide suggested accounts to follow, but only select the ones you want to hear from regularly.
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How to post: If you’re using a computer, simply type your text into the box at the top of the page that says “What’s happening?” On a mobile device, click on the blue button that looks like a feather in the top-right corner of your screen. Remember to be brief: Twitter limits what you can write to 140 characters, which is about one long sentence or a couple short sentences. You can see a character counter next to the “Tweet” button. You can also add photos or videos to your tweets.
How to keep your information secure: The default privacy settings on Twitter are pretty good, Jarvis says. If you want to keep your tweets completely private, open Twitter on your computer, and click on your profile picture in the top-right corner. Next, click “Settings and privacy” on the drop-down menu. On the next screen, click “Privacy and safety” on the left side. From there, you can check the box next to “Protect my tweets,” so that only users you’ve allowed to follow you can see your posts. No matter what, never tweet account numbers or other personal information, Jarvis adds.
How to learn about advanced features or get help: Go to support.twitter.com.
Social Network #4: Pinterest
Pinterest.com; also available on the App Store or Google Play
Pinterest is a great place for hobbyists to find ideas and inspiration, Johnson says. So if you’re into crafting, cooking, decorating, or other artistic hobbies, you’ll likely want to create a Pinterest account.
How to sign up: Pinterest might be the easiest network of all in terms of getting started, Johnson says. Simply go to Pinterest.com, enter an email address, create a password, and you’ll be ready to go!
How to post: Pinterest is different from other social networks in that it’s more about discovering ideas than uploading things yourself, Johnson explains. You’ll spend a lot of your time using the search bar at the top of page. If you’re looking for information about a home renovation project, for example, simply search for “bathroom remodel” to pull up a set of images.
Need some new meal ideas? Type “chicken recipes,” and you’ll get seemingly endless options. Pinterest also provides keywords to help narrow down the results by type of recipe, ingredients, cuisine, and so on. You’ll see these options across the top of the page, below the search box.
If you see an idea you like, you can save it by “pinning” it to a board. Simply click the “Save” button that appears when you hover over the image, Johnson says. At this point, if you haven’t already, you can create a “board” and title it according to what you’ll save on it, such as“dinner recipes” or “home improvement,” so that your pins remain organized.
How to keep your information secure: Once you’ve selected “Create board,” you’ll be given the option to make the board secret. Switch this setting to “yes,” and any pin that you save to this board will be visible only to you, Johnson says.
How to learn about advanced features or get help: Go to help.pinterest.com.