Now, more than ever, it’s possible to feel like part of your family and friends’ lives, even when apart.

Social media and other platforms and apps make it easy to stay connected right from your personal computer, laptop, phone and other handheld devices.

Yet, because there are so many social platforms and apps, it might feel confusing to keep track of what you can do with each and how they work. The following basics should help you get started.

Apps

Apps is short for applications, programs that you can download to your devices instead of using an internet browser. They’re found in an application store on your device (App Store on iOS/Apple devices, Google Play Store on Android and Google devices, or Windows Store on Windows devices). Just click on the app store for your device to download free or paid apps or to see what you’ve already installed.

Apps are available for almost anything you can think of: games (e.g., New York Times Crossword, WordsWith Friends), social media (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok), reading (e.g., Kindle, Libby), video streaming (e.g., Netflix, Hulu), shopping (e.g., Amazon, Target), and more. Apps are organized in app stores by category. You can also search by most popular or by name or type of apps.

TikTok

TikTok is a short video-based social media app and website. You can create 15-second to one-minute videos and share them to your account for others to see. You can also edit videos by putting together short clips, using filters to alter the video’s appearance, and adding audio from other users or songs.

Videos can be seen by your followers, found by others searching by hashtags (searchable phrases preceded by a # sign), or on the for you page that all users can see.

When viewing others’ videos, you can tap a heart on the right to indicate you like a video. You can tap a speech bubble to read or leave a comment. You can also tap the user’s handle (@ followed by a unique name) to see more videos they’ve created. People use TikTok in various creative ways, and you can even participate in challenges, dances or trends.

Instagram

Instagram is a social media app and site based on posting pictures and videos. Users can create a post that displays on their account page and the homepage timeline of their followers. You can also comment on posts, like them by tapping the heart underneath, or share them with friends or to your story.

Instagram stories are temporary posts members can share for up to 24 hours. These are found in the small circle profile pictures at the top of the homescreen or user pages. Besides individuals, many companies and organizations use Instagram to reach users, sell products or share information.

Twitter

Twitter is another social media app and website. Users can post tweets, which are short messages up to 280 characters. Tweets may include a link, video, picture or retweet (sharing a tweet from another user).

You can follow people you know, strangers, celebrities, companies and organizations to see their posts on your homepage on Twitter. You can also see timelines of other users or post to your own timeline for your followers to see.

Users often add specific hashtags (see above). With the explore feature, you can look up hashtags or particular words and what’s trending (top hashtags or popular phrases at the time).

Blogs

Blogs are basically web pages run by one or more individuals working to share information, usually in a specific niche, in an often informal way. Anyone can visit a blog. Blogs may be found in a web search or by recommendation.

Typically, blogs have a reverse timeline on their main page. The most recent post is usually first, with the rest shown in reverse chronological order. They typically include writing about the topic and may include pictures, videos, recipes or links to other pages or products. Menu tabs or blocks are usually near the top of the page to click so you can explore the blog or an about section to learn more about the author/s and the blog. Authors often encourage visitors to leave comments at the bottom of their posts, follow the blog site for updates, or sign up for email lists.

Posting photos

On social media platforms, users can post photos or videos to share with friends or followers. The exact method varies depending on the platform. But many have either a plus sign or a button to click that says post. If you’re using an app to post photos, you may need to give permission for it to access your saved images.

You can also usually take a picture or video while in the app. You should see a screen notification that your photographs or videos have been posted. But to check, you can look at your own profile or ask someone you know to look at your page from their account. SL