Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What Is This Social Media Thing?

Last night, I had a pleasant conversation with Brad King for a new book he's writing about social media (in a nutshell). In the midst of him figuring out what I'm all about, he asked me a simple yet surprisingly baffling question.

"So," he said, "let me ask you this ... what is
social media?"

I had been throwing around the term here and there in description of my experiences, so it was only fair of him to clarify. At first my response consisted of a jumbling of "umm" and "well it's, you know," but after some careful thought and prior to a trip to Wikipedia, this is what I came up with:

"Social media is any digital application that allows users to share media with each other."

However, I'd argue that many people have different interpretations of the term, and I've noticed a lot of discussion about this in the blogosphere lately. David Meerman Scott, for example "[suggests] that the term social media describes online media with a participatory or interactive component."

Wikipedia offers quite a muddled definition:

"Social media is an umbrella term that defines the various activities that integrate technology, social interaction, and the construction of words and pictures. This interaction, and the manner in which information is presented, depends on the varied perspectives and 'building' of shared meaning, as people share their stories, and understandings."

Hmm - this sounds like much of the goobledygook David Meerman Scott talks about. Although I have a serious issue with the lack of simplicity in its wording, I do agree social media is an "umbrella term." For example, I think social media includes but is not limited to social networking (i.e. Facebook, LinkedIn).

I agree with @Brad_King when he suggested social media is one of those things you recognize when you see but can't easily describe ("much like the term pornography," he offers). There have been so many times I've tried to explain to my family and friends not familiar with social media what it is and what it means for my new job. This often proves a challenge. I end up talking about "Twitter" and the "blogosphere" and am frequently confronted with a blank stare.

For the simple sake of my budding career in public relations,
to me, social media means opportunity.

What do you think social media is, and more importantly, what does it mean to you?

Related Articles:

"What is 'social media?'" Joseph Thornley
"What's Wrong with Social Media?" Brian Solis


Brian Solis said...

Hi Pamela. Here's how a few of us agreed to define it two years ago:

Short Version
Any tool or service that uses the internet to facilitate conversations

Longer Version
Social Media is the democratization of information, transforming people from content readers into publishers. It is the shift from a broadcast mechanism to a many-to-many model, rooted in conversations between authors, people, and peers.

pamelump said...

Thanks Brian. I love how you developed a short and long version.

David said...

Well said. I think this debate will rage on for another few years until your generation is solidly in senior positions at companies. Then it will cease to be an issue. It's all just communications...

David Meerman Scott

Average Jane said...

My one-sentence explanation when I do presentations about social media at work (which happens more and more often lately), is that social media is any online destination that facilitates communication. Which, I just now realize, is almost exactly what Brian Solis said, only not as succinct or complete. I'm stealing his now.

Yvonne said...

Hi Pamela, I think social media is what brought me to your post. Someone wrote about me in a blog post and it showed up in a Google alert. I followed the alert, found the post, wrote a thank you... and the blogger emailed me.

Then, he mentioned David Meerman Scott Twitters so I went to David's Twitter page and found you and here I am.

It's media, it's social, and it connects people interested in similar things. Much like networking offline, you meet new people via the groups and connections with existing people.

Glad to meet you, btw.