Social networking is the activity of connecting with other people, often on social media sites, to create new relationships and build existing ones. Websites dedicated to social networking allow people to create profiles, connect with other users, exchange messages, and share information. Social networking activity may happen on large, general-interest social media sites (like Facebook) or on smaller social networking sites with a narrower focus that serve as the foundation for an online community. Social networking sites exist for people in a specific field, with shared interests and hobbies, or in need of support for a particular problem.
When someone signs up for a social networking site, they first create a profile. In most cases, they may remain anonymous, but by providing some background information they can make it easier to connect with other people who share their interests or have similar backgrounds. Once someone has created their account and profile, they can view the profiles of other users and connect to them (often using the terms "friend" or "contact"). Other features common to social networks include private messaging between people, sharing content (like images, links, and text-based posts) with their friends, and posting comments on the content shared by others.
Relationships on social networking sites can take multiple forms. "Friending" creates a one-to-one mutual relationship, while "following" someone creates a one-sided connection to see their posts without them necessarily following back. Relationships built on social networking sites may remain entirely online, but many people use them to establish offline relationships. For example, LinkedIn is a popular business-focused social networking site where many people make contacts that help them find a new job or advance their careers; dating sites are also considered a form of social networking.
NOTE: The terms "social networking" and "social media" are often used synonymously with each other, but they mean different aspects of a larger concept. Social networking refers to making connections between the users of an online community, often fostering one-to-one relationships and discussions. Social media instead refers to user-generated content created and shared online, often aimed at a large group of followers. Sites focused on social media content (rather than social networking relationships) often have a primary focus on algorithms designed to get people to follow accounts they may be interested in, with less emphasis on making friends with other users.