For many people, using social media is one of the main benefits of being online. In fact, an estimated 57.6 million people in the UK use social media. That's about 84% of the population.

So, what is it? Social media is a term that refers to a type of website or application (app) that allows people to communicate with each other and share ideas, opinions and content.

Some of the more commonly used examples are things like Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat, LinkedIn and Instagram. You may have heard of some, if not all of these, but you likely want to know more about how you can use them and why you would want to.

In this lesson, we will help you understand the basics of what social media is. You'll know the benefits of the different social media platforms and how they might help you in your daily life. Social media can also affect your career too. So, we'll touch on how it can help as well as how you can stay safe and ensure you're not sharing more than you should online.


  • Know what social media is and what it is used for.
  • Know the benefits of using it to talk to your friends and family.
  • Feel comfortable with the basics of using social media.
  • Be aware of the ways you can better protect yourself online.

Read time

14 mins

Chapter 1


Read time

3 mins

Stay in touch with the people in your life

Working through websites and apps, social media can be a great addition to the way you socialise. Social media doesn't need to replace the other ways you communicate. It is ideally meant to be an add on and it can bring different things to your social life than meeting in person, phoning, emailing or video calling.

Social media allows you a way to express yourself, to connect with people and even to find people who you might have lost touch with.

Social media platforms tend to all have their unique benefits and traits, but there are some common aspects most social media platforms can help you with.


These are:

  • Staying connected - Social media enables us to send messages, share updates, photos and videos with friends and family. You can keep in touch with people, and you can see the updates they post. This can be really helpful if you don't live close but want to see what is going on in their lives. Yes, you might want to call and speak in depth, but when life gets busy it can be really nice to see pictures and updates to know your loved ones are happy and well
  • Set up events and time with family and friends - Social media can provide a simple way of creating and scheduling events. On most some platforms you can share invite details and allow people to chat, send invite responses and make changes
  • Accessing content - Whether it's video content, written posts, images or articles, you can access a range of information. Social media allows you to follow pages and profiles on topics you are interested in. You can also join community or networking groups so you can meet people with similar interests
  • Connecting with a global community - Many people all around the world use social media, every day. So, it can be a great way of making new friends or contacts. It can also help you to find and stay in touch with people who now live far away and people you have lost touch with
  • Chatting and video calling - Not all social media platforms will allow you to message or video call, but most will. This means you don't have to just watch for people's updates. You can reach out and socialise with them directly

Every site and every person is different

There are so many social media options out there. It is certainly not 'one size fits all'. You may have read some of these features and thought they sound helpful. You may have read about other aspects and found they worry you. The good news is, there are lots of options and flexibility. This means you can choose platforms that are better suited to your needs and what you want to do and share. You also have choice around what it is you want to do and share once you are on these platforms.

In the next few chapters we'll look more at the options open to you so you feel better equipped to make choices that will suit you.

Chapter 2


Read time

6 mins

According to Statista, the most popular social media platforms in the UK are:

  1. WhatsApp - Is an instant messaging service. You can use it to connect to other users using their phone number. It's free to use and can be used to have chats, calls and group chats with people. These kinds of social media platforms are used only for sending and receiving messages and having calls and video calls with people, which makes them unique from posting apps like Facebook
  2. Facebook - Is free to use too. Facebook has most of the features that can be used by social media platforms. You can use it to chat, post, react to other people's posts, view videos and images, create and join groups and communities. You can also use it to keep track of your friends' birthdays, to organise events and meet-ups. There's even a virtual 'marketplace', where you can buy and sell goods. There are many features of Facebook and people will all use it for different reasons
  3. Facebook Messenger - This is the instant messaging aspect of Facebook. On desktop you can access it on the Facebook app, but most people will use the separate Facebook Messenger app. This service is free to use and much like WhatsApp, it exists as a messaging service. This means you can chat, group chat, phone and video call through the platform
  4. Instagram - Instagram is another more feature-full social media platform. Its unique selling point is as an image sharing platform. Instagram allows you to share images and videos, with all posts having some kind of visual aspect to them. Instagram also uses something called 'stories' to allow user to share short video clips. These video clips will only be there for your followers to watch for 24 hours. Instagram also has a shopping feature to allow you to buy and sell goods. It's also free!
  5. Twitter - Twitter has a broad range of features. It is mainly used to share updates, thoughts and opinions with all Twitter users, not just your network of friends and family. You can edit your settings, so your posts are only seen by certain people, but it is more common that Twitter is used to share far and wide. Posts to Twitter, known as 'tweets' are up to 280 characters in length. So, they're short and get to the point. You can also post images and videos, follow people and groups, plus more
  6. IMessage - This is another social messaging service. Available only to users of Apple devices, it is a free app that can be used to chat, group chat, call and video call
  7. TikTok - TikTok is a relatively new, free platform but has quickly risen in usage. It works quite differently to the other social media apps, focusing on video. You can message people through the app and there are other features. The main benefit is the ability to scroll through short videos from friends, people you follow or the wider TikTok community
  8. Snapchat - Snapchat is similarly focused on video sharing. The difference is it tends to be with your friends and for a short period of time. TikTok videos stay there unless you delete them. Snapchat videos can automatically delete after a certain period of time, depending on your settings. Like on Instagram, there are also stories. Snapchat offers a chat function which you can use to chat or snap, one to one or with a group. You can also call and video call too. There are a lot of other features of too
  9. Pinterest - Is mainly considered an image sharing platform where you can get ideas from its users. People share images and ideas on many topics, for example baking ideas, craft ideas and make-up ideas. It's free to use and is generally made up of images shared with text and links. You can use the search bar to find posts on your interests. You can then pin them to a virtual ideas board. You can have many boards, private and public
  10. LinkedIn - This is mainly a job / career based social media platform. It is used by professionals, businesses and people looking for jobs. It's not just used for job searching and offering, it's also used for networking, sharing posts and events. LinkedIn is free to use, but you can pay for their premium service which has additional features. You can also use LinkedIn to chat with your network and video call

How to choose a platform

You don't just have to choose one platform. It's common for people to use more than one social media platform. This is because each platform has its different features and benefits. This also means they might attract a different audience on each platform.

Which ones you choose for which purposes is entirely your choice. You should read more about the platforms that sounds like they fit with what you need. It's important you know what you're signing up for before you do. The list above are just some examples of commonly used social media platforms in the UK. There may be others that might better suit your individual needs.


Some of the main things to consider are:

  • What do you want to use social media for? - This will help you look for platforms that can best meet these needs
  • What social media platforms do the people in your life use? - If they aren't on the platforms you want to use - are they willing to join? If not, is there any point creating an account without anyone to socialise with on the service
  • What are the platform's security and privacy policies like? - Staying safe on social media is very important. You need to make sure you can protect your personal details. This means checking the platform you want to use have good privacy policies and security. It also means checking your personal settings once you sign up to make sure that only the people you want to see your posts and details can. We'll cover this more detail later

Chapter 3


Read time

4 mins

The main features of social media

How you learn to use social media will depend on your device and the social media platform you use. There are a few main features of social media platforms that it's worth being familiar with before you start.

These are

  • Calling - Most social media platforms will have some kind of calling/video calling feature. These are usually represented by a phone and video camera icon. These calls run through the internet. You can use them to speak one to one of in a group with your contacts on the platform
  • Messaging - Like calling, most platforms will have some kind of messaging feature. This allows you to use instant messaging in one to one and group chats. You will usually find this shows as a speech bubble symbol
  • Creating a post - Most full feature social media platforms will allow you to share some kind of posts. These can be just text, or they can be images, videos or a mixture of different things. This depends on the platform. Posts will be shared either with your contacts on the platform or publicly. So, you need to check you have your settings set correctly. Some platforms will also allow you to change who sees your individual posts. So, you can have your account set to post publicly, but you could adjust one more personal post to just be seen by your 'friends' or 'followers'
  • Adding friend/followers - We've mentioned these a few times, but different social media platforms all have quite unique ways to describe what are essentially your contacts. These are people you send a request to or receive a request from. You can then either accept or decline their request to connect on the social media platform. If you accept, they'll be able to interact with you on the platform, see your posts, send you messages and so on. It's sometimes not just the name of these contacts that changes between platforms. It can also be the way they can interact with you and what they can see. So, be sure you check you are happy what you are giving permission for someone to see and do before you add them on any social media platform
  • Notifications - When someone interacts with you on social media, you will see something called a 'notification'. This is usually a little red dot with a number in it. When clicked, you can see the list of ways people have interacted with you and you can see and respond to them. Think of it like an inbox or mailbox. Except, it's not just for messages, it can also be that someone has interacted with your post. Maybe they have commented or 'liked' it, meaning they have used the platforms' reaction tools to share their feelings about your post. These reaction tools will differ from platform to platform. The number of notifications you have is usually indicated in the red dot
  • Stories - These are like posts, but they are usually short videos which will be available for your contacts to view for only a short period of time. How this works will vary between platforms
  • Groups - These are generally pages/spaces where lots of individuals can come together through social media. They tend to focus on a specific topic or theme. You will usually need to ask permission to join a group depending on if it is set as private, some others will be open to join
  • Profiles - This is a personal space that is given to users on most full feature social media platforms. This is where people can see your details, your pictures, your posts - all in one place. On platforms that have profiles, you will be able to see the profiles of your friends. You can also sometimes alter which aspects of your profile are visible to different people. Perhaps you keep your birthday private to just friends, but you allow friends of friends to see your main profile picture

Chapter 4


Read time

1 min

How to stay safe

In this lesson, we've talked about the importance of staying safe on social media. This is to make sure your personal details stay safe and are only seen by the people you want them to be seen by. If you use social media safely, you should be able to talk to only those who you want to connect and talk with. You should think carefully about connecting or talking with people who you don't know, as this can be risky.

Social media can have many benefits for you and your social life, but only if you use it with the right protections. You need to be clear on the privacy and security settings of the platforms you want to use. You also need to check your personal settings once you have signed up. There are two main types are generally used for quite different things. As the name suggests, social medial videos tools are used for more personal, casual, and social purposes.

To learn more about how to make the most of social media and stay safe, you can take our lesson on 'Using social media safely', if you haven't already. It will help you to understand more of the ways you can better protect yourself on social media.

Module complete!

Well done on completing this lesson! You should know how to get started with using social media. If you've been working through our 'Get started online' learning, you should now have completed all the lessons. Well done! You should now feel comfortable on lots of topics, from using a device to get online to using services online. If you haven't then we suggest you keep your learning going by going back to 'Get started online' and finding the next module that can help you feel more comfortable with the basics of getting online.


Up next for you:

Next module: Using social media safely

Back to: Socialising online

Scottish Widows Be Money Well is committed to providing information in a way that is accessible and useful for our users. This information, however, is not in any way intended to amount to authority or advice on which reliance should be placed. You should seek professional advice as appropriate and required. Any sites, products or services named in this module are just examples of what's available. Scottish Widows does not endorse the services they provide. The information in this module was last updated on 31st Oct 2022.