What is social media?

Everyone is blogging about social media these days.  So much so that one would assume that the whole world is familiar with this term. ...

10 Jun 2008 4498 Views

Everyone is blogging about social media these days.  So much so that one would assume that the whole world is familiar with this term. But every once in a while I’m brought back to reality by some astute client or colleague looking at me funny and saying “Sorry, what’s web 2.0?” or “Social media, isn’t that’s some fad with kids?”  It happened to me today so I thought I’d spend a few paragraphs on the basics of “social media” and, particularly, how the term differs from “social networks”.

“Social media” refer to the entire landscape of new web applications (websites) that have been developed over the last few years. These new types of web applications were such a clear departure prom previous applications that internet trend-spotter Tim O’Reilly collectively dubbed them “Web 2.0”.  This name makes sense because it indicates a whole new generation of internet applications.

And what is it that makes Web 2.0 sites so different from Web 1.0 sites? In a word: collaboration.  Social media are web applications that are powered by people. They tap the wisdom of crowds and depend on interaction between people to shape content and provide value. This content can be words, pictures, chat, maps, audio, video, recommendations, ratings, or a mix of all of the above.

Social media applications are finding there way all over the net wherever collaboration can add value. And that’s just about everything: from buying a book on Amazon, to sharing sites that interest you on StumbleUpon, sharing news stories on DIGG or photos on Flickr, sharing your musical interests on Last.fm, reading blog posts about web developments on TechCrunch, posting a video on YouTube, posting a profile on Meetic, editing an article in Wikipedia, collecting the news that interests you on Reddit, publicizing events on Upcoming, or getting tips from locals on TripAdvisor.  All these sites differ from the anti-social web 1.0 because they are all interactive and involve the visitor in shaping content.

Web2_logos1Then there are social networks like MySpace, FaceBook, Orkut, Hi5, Bebo and their 3D counterparts like Second Life or Cyworld.  For many people, these are the first sites that come to mind when they hear “social media”. But social networks are just one type of social media. Other types of social media include those mentioned above like video sharing, event sharing, news aggregation, blogging, photo sharing and bookmarking. There are dozens more categories of social media and new ones being invented every week.

I think the name “Social Media” itself is causing some of the confusion. While there are a lot of websites for socializing, like FaceBook, Meetic, or SecondLife there are a lot of sites that are not social in that way but are still “social media” because they depend on collaboration. That’s probably why a lot of people confuse “social media” with “social networking” sites. For that reason, I feel the term “social media” is misleading.  A more clear label for these type of sites would be “collaborative media”.  Collaboration is the one thing all social media sites have in common.

But that train has left the station, so I guess we are stuck with the name “social media” and with trying to help clients and colleagues understand that all social media media sites are not necessarily about socializing so much as they are about collaboration.  Hope this helps.

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Sean Duffy | @brandranter
Speaker, consultant & founder of Duffy Agency, the flipped digital agency that provides accelerated growth to aspiring international brands.