For many people, using social media is one of the main benefits of being online. In fact, over 57 million people in the UK use social media. That’s about 84% of the population.


of the UK population use social media

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use it every day

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So what is social media? It's a type of website or application (app) that lets people communicate with each other and share ideas, opinions and content. Examples include Facebook, X, TikTok, Snapchat, LinkedIn and Instagram.

In this lesson, we’ll 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. Plus tips on how to stay safe and make sure you’re not sharing more than you should online.


  • Know what social media is and what you can use it 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

What is social media?

Read time:

3 mins

Socialising online

Social media can be a great addition to the way you mix with others. But it doesn’t need to replace the other ways you communicate. Ideally it’s meant as an ‘add on’, a fun choice. You’d still meet up in person, send emails and have phone and video calls. Sometimes we want to call and speak in depth. But when life gets busy, it’s nice to see pictures and updates to know your loved ones are happy and well.


Why use social media?

Social media lets you express yourself, connect with friends and family, and even find people you’ve lost touch with. All social media platforms have their own benefits and features. Most of them have common features too.


They can help you:

  • Stay connected – Send messages and share photos and videos with friends and family you don’t see so often
  • Plan events with family and friends – Most sites let you share invite details (like date and time) and get responses from people.
  • Access content – Video content, written posts, images or articles – you can find all these and follow topics and people who interest you
  • Connect with a global community – Stay in touch with friends and reconnect with old ones. Join community or networking groups to meet people with similar interests.
  • Chat and video call – Some social media platforms let you message or video call. So you can reach out and chat with people directly


Take a few minutes now to think about how each of these could help you

Finding a platform that’s right for you

With social media, there’s no ‘one size fits all’. You may have read some of the features here and thought they sound helpful, while others don’t. The good news is, there are lots of options to pick from. So you can just use the sites that work for you. You also have the flexibility to decide what you want to do and share once you’re on these platforms.

In the next few chapters, we’ll take a closer look at the different social platforms available. This will help you feel better equipped to make choices that will suit you.

Chapter 2

Channels and their benefits

Read time:

6 mins

Popular social media platforms

Let’s look at the UK’s Top 10 most popular social media platforms:


1. WhatsApp

WhatsApp is a free instant messaging service. You can use it to connect, chat and call other people using their phone number. Unlike apps like Facebook, this site is just for sending and receiving messages, and having calls/video calls with people.


2. Facebook

Facebook is free to use too. It has lots of features and people use it for different reasons.


You can:

  • Chat with friends, family and contacts
  • Post images and videos
  • View and react to other people’s posts 
  • Create and join groups/communities
  • Keep track of your friends’ birthdays
  • Plan events and meet-ups
  • Buy and sell goods on the virtual ‘marketplace’


3. Instagram

Instagram is a free image sharing platform. People post photos and videos on it. There’s also a feature called ‘stories’. This lets you share short video clips or images that disappear after 24 hours. You can buy and sell goods through the shopping feature.


4. Facebook Messenger

Facebook Messenger is the instant messaging part of Facebook. You can access it on the Facebook app, but most people use the separate Facebook Messenger app. This is a free messaging service just like WhatsApp. So you can chat, group chat, phone and video call through the platform.


5. X (used to be Twitter)

Twitter was renamed ‘X’ in 2023. It lets you share updates, thoughts and ideas with other X users. You can edit your settings so only certain people can see your posts, like your friends and family. People also use it to share far and wide. Posts, known as ‘tweets’, are up to 280 characters long. They’re short and to the point. You can also post images and videos and follow people/groups you’re interested in.


6. TikTok

TikTok is a fairly new, free platform. It became popular very quickly – especially with younger people. They use it as a video sharing app. So you can scroll through short videos from friends, people you follow, or the wider TikTok community. It also has a messaging option.


7. iMessage

iMessage is another free social messaging service. This one’s only on Apple devices. You can chat, group chat, call and video call on it.


8. Snapchat

Snapchat is another video sharing platform. People tends to use it with friends or family members. Snapchat videos automatically delete after a set period of time, depending on your settings. Snapchat also has ‘stories’ and a chat function that you can use to chat or ‘snap’, one to one or with a group. You can call and video call too.


9. LinkedIn

This is mainly a job/career-based social media platform. Professionals, businesses and people looking for jobs all use it. It’s free to use, with extra features you can pay for.


You can:

  • Search and apply for jobs
  • Network with others
  • Share posts and events
  • Chat with your network
  • Make video calls


10. Pinterest

Pinterest is a free image sharing platform. People share images and ideas on many topics. Mostly, you’ll find images shared with text and links. Use the search bar to find posts that match your interests. Then pin them to a virtual ideas board. You can have multiple boards and they can be private or public.

Make sure you do your own research to explore the options and find out what is best for you and your needs

How to pick a platform

You don’t just have to pick 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. Which ones you pick and how you use them is up to you.

Before you decide, it’s important you know what you’re signing up for. Always make sure you do your own research. We’ve listed just some popular social media examples. There may be others that suit you better.


Ask yourself:

What are some of the ways you want to use social media sites?

What social media platforms do the people in your life use?

What are the platform’s security and privacy policies like?

What do you want to use social media for?

Do you just want to chat with friends and family? Share photos or videos? Are you looking for groups and others to connect with? Think about what you want out of the platform. This will help you work out which one is best for you.


What social media platforms do the people in your life use?

There isn’t much point creating an account if there’s no one there to mix with. So ask your friends and family which ones they use.


What are the platform’s security and privacy policies like?

Always check the privacy policy and security settings, to keep safe online. Check your personal settings there, too. These can help you control who sees your posts and details. We’ll talk more about this later.

Chapter 3

Using social media

Read time:

4 mins

The main features of social media

How you learn to use social media depends on your device and the social media platform you use. Take time to look through and learn the features of the social media sites you use. Here are some common features to get to know, before you start. Let’s start with what you can do.


Have voice or video calls with others


Send and receive instant text messages


Share text content, photos or videos


Send and receive requests to connect


Most social media platforms have some kind of calling / video calling feature, which runs through the internet. You can speak one-to-one or in a group chat. To find this feature, look out for a phone or video camera icon.



Like calling, most platforms have some kind of messaging feature. This lets you send an instant message in one-to-one and group chats. To find this feature, look out for a speech bubble icon.


Creating posts

Most full feature social media platforms will let you share posts. These could be text, images, videos or a mix of all three. Depending on your settings, you can share posts with just your app contacts, or publicly. Some platforms also let you change who sees your certain posts, for instance only ‘friends’ or ‘followers’.


Adding friends / followers

These are just other words for ‘your contacts’ on the social media site. They’re people you send a request to, or who you receive a request from. You can then either accept or decline their request to connect. If you accept, they’ll be able to chat with you on the app, see your posts, send you messages and so on. But this varies, depending on which platform you’re using.


Before you accept a request, make sure you check what you’re giving them permission to see and do.


When someone interacts with you on social media, you’ll see something called a ‘notification’. This is usually a little red dot with a number in it. If it says ‘2’, it means you’ve got two new notifications. Select this red dot to see how people have interacted with you or your post. It’s not just for messages, either. Someone may have interacted or ‘reacted’ to your post.


You’ll usually get a notification if someone:

  • Likes your post
  • Comments on your post
  • Shares your post
  • Sends you a ‘friend’ or ‘follow’ request
  • Accepts your ‘friend’ or ‘follow’ request

Each platform has different reaction tools which people can use to share their feelings about your post.


These are like posts. They’re usually short videos your contacts can see for a short period of time, normally 24 hours. This may be different for each platform.



These are generally pages/spaces where lots of people can come together through social media. They tend to focus on a specific topic or theme. If the group is ‘private’, you’ll need to ask permission to join. Others will be open to join.



This is where other users see your pictures, posts and any other details you share. Not all platforms have profiles. Those that do will let you change your privacy settings, so you only share yours with people you trust. So maybe only ‘close friends’ see your birthday, but ‘friends of friends’ can see your profile picture.

Chapter 4

Staying safe on social media

Read time:

1 min

How to stay safe

Social media can have many benefits for you and your social life, but you need to use it safely. In this lesson, we’ve talked about the importance of staying safe on social media. This is to make sure your personal details are only visible to the people you want to see them


Here are few things to think about:

  • Be wary about connecting or talking with people you don’t know
  • Check the privacy and security settings of the platforms you want to use
  • Check your personal settings too – Do this once you’ve signed up to a platform


Want to find out more?

Want to learn more about how to make the most of social media and stay safe? Take our lesson on ‘Using social media safely’ – if you haven’t already. It will give you a better understanding of how you can protect yourself on social media.


You're in control of who can see your posts by adjusting your personal settings in the social media platforms you use.

Test your knowledge

Answer this question by selecting one answer from the three options provided.

That's not quite right!

Remember, not everything you post is suitable for everyone to see.

That's right!

Adjusting the permissions on an individual basis will make sure people can interact with your profile in ways you’re comfortable with.

Lesson complete!

Well done on completing this lesson. You should now have a good idea about how to start using social media. If you’ve been working through our ‘Get started online’ learning, you’ve now have completed all the lessons. Well done!

We hope you feel more comfortable with the topics you’ve covered, from using a device to using services online. If you haven’t completed all these lessons, we suggest you go back to ‘Get started online’ and complete any unfinished lessons. This will help you feel more comfortable with the basics of getting online.


Up next for you:

Next lesson: Using social media safely

Back to: Get started online


Bank of Scotland Academy 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. Bank of Scotland does not endorse the services they provide. The information in this module was last updated on 8th November 2023.