Ten years ago, being 'social' meant going to the pub at the weekend. Fast-forward to 2014, and 'social' has become something of a buzzword, describing how we interact with each other online through different networks. Today, around half of all UK adults use social media daily, making us the second-most prolific social media users in Europe, according to recent figures from the Office for National Statistics.
But it's a global trend, too: one in seven people around the world regularly uses social media, according to market research firm eMarketer, meaning we can access the entire world with just an internet connection and a smartphone. But rather than spending time posting photos and playing games, social media can also be a great money - making tool - you just need to know how to exploit it.
There are all kinds of social media - from social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn and 'micro-blogging' sites such as Twitter and Tumblr to photo-sharing sites Instagram and Flickr - and all offer direct access to a huge range of people, groups and companies.
Of course, it's relatively easy to find a new job using social media if you can advertise yourself successfully. LinkedIn is a good example of a business-based social network designed to help jobseekers find a new role, and other networks such as Facebook and Twitter can also link up employers and employees. However, there are plenty of other ways that you can make money without leaving your job.
Firstly, social media can be a great place to advertise your services and can help you sell anything from old clothes and technology to language skills and photos.
While eBay offers a cheap way to sell unwanted items, advertising to your Facebook and Twitter connections is free and will save you the listing fee and commission on sold items.
If you have a particular skill, you can use social media to make some money from it. For example, talented photographers can upload their images to photo-sharing site Flickr and be paid when they are used. Likewise, skilled videographers can sell their clips to YouTube and if they are successful and get lots of views, it could translate into a regular income stream.
Meanwhile, technology whizzes could write a smartphone app or a social media game and sell it for big money. However, all these options require very specific talents.
Something that requires less skill is to take advantage of social media competitions. Many brands regularly run giveaways on networks such as Twitter and Facebook in order to increase their followers. Competitions could range from a £50 gift card to a year's worth of holidays – but you'll need a keen eye and time on your hands to make money.
Additionally, many companies will offer discounts and offers through social media, again to increase their reach. Simply 'liking' a Facebook page or 'retweeting' a tweet can win you exclusive discount codes.
Get paid to tweet
If you are a regular user of sites such as Twitter and Facebook, you can earn money by posting promotional messages about certain companies. Sponsoredtweets.com is a platform that you can use to earn money to tweet about different products to your followers on Twitter. Facebook also allows you to do this. Similarly, users can post product reviews on social sites such as Dooyoo.co.uk, and earn when people read them – it pays around 50p for a 150-word review.
Another way to make some extra cash is to show advertising on your Facebook or blog page. Typically, if you have a lot of connections on Facebook and are what a company might label 'an influencer', you can show advertising from big brands and you'll earn money from the number of clicks your advertising generates.
To do this, you'll need to sign up as an 'affiliate' to marketing programmes, which is easy to do on company websites. For example, if you become an affiliate of Amazon, you'll earn up to 10% of what click-through visitors purchase, typically in Amazon vouchers.
You can also show advertising through Google's Adsense service, which will tailor advertising to the visitors' interests. However, how much money you earn depends on how many visitors you get to your blog each day.
As an example, if you have 1,000 visitors to your site a day, and 1% of these click through on an ad, you could be making an easy £10 a day - assuming the 'cost per click' of the ad is £1, although this can vary greatly. The only drawback with display advertising is that you'll need to update blog content regularly to make sure you're getting the necessary number of views, which can be rather time-consuming.
There is another option for bloggers and frequent Facebook users. Rather than carry advertising for a brand, some social media users can write positive messages about a product and get paid by advertisers for an 'advertorial', which is not as obvious as a paid-for ad.
Humans are inherently social, says Kimberly Penney, president of social media firm Visage Marketing Group, and this means people are getting 'creative' over ways to generate revenue from social networks. "People who have lots of followers can sell space on their
personal social media accounts to product sponsors," she says.
"For example, there is a person on Fiverr.com [an online marketplace for services], who has 30,000 Twitter followers, and he tweets about a business, website or product to his followers for a mere $5 (around £3)."
As the number of users on social networks booms, the market is expanding with new services. Shopa.com, whose slogan is ‘shop, share and earn', launched in October and works by recommending products to friends via social media and being rewarded with cash.
Services such as Shopa thrive on the network that social media users gather, which means that they can exploit an incredibly wide network for advertising. BzzAgent is another service that works in a similar way, by asking users to trial products and then create a social ‘buzz' about them. But it doesn't pay cash, so you could find your home full of everything from Mr Muscle to packets of biscuits.
Some companies rely on social media for their entire operation. Social trading company eToro, which has three million users across the globe, allows users to follow and copy the trading activity of other users. It's possible to make a lot of money through copying others' trades but as is the golden rule with investing in the stockmarket, it's important to understand the risks and take financial advice before you dive in.
Head of marketing Alon Levitan says through social media, eToro is "democratising" financial markets. "It is opening up the door to investment like never before," he says.
"The everyday person can invest their money without having to know a single thing about trading or having to quit their day job. We've done this by applying the concepts of social media to investment. Through social media, users can share, see, follow and copy other individuals' trading decisions – nothing is hidden," says Levitan.
He adds: "Just as you interact with and check your friends' Facebook statuses or their latest tweets, on eToro you can check what investment decisions other users are making and choose who to copy. Anyone with as little as $50 (around £30) can invest, trade and copy, allowing easy entry to a world previously inaccessible, and this is all down to social media."