A simple definition of “social media”


“Social media” means websites that allow average users to create content and interact with each other around the content.

Dissecting the words “social” and “media”

“Social” means people interacting with each other.

“Media” (plural for “medium”) means the types of material used to create artwork and communicate information or ideas.  Media can include video, photography, graphic design, writing, oil paints, etc.

The political meaning behind the term “social media”

Traditional media offers a monologue communication style in which one authoritative source, such as a TV station or newspaper, sends out media to people who simply receive and consume it.

Social media differs from traditional media because it allows many people to create content and offers constant opportunities for dialogue.

The contrast can be summed up as a “one-to-many” communication approach versus a “many-to-many” communication environment.  Social media can offer an empowering experience for users and foster broad creativity and is often seen as democratic, open and free.  However, it can also degrade into unsophisticated ranting and raving and production of lame and low-brow content.

Many businesses try to harness social media in their marketing efforts, but the organic and unpredictable nature of social media makes it inherently uncooperative with traditional marketing approaches.  To succeed with social media marketing, a company needs to respect its customers and be ready to genuinely listen to them.  To create trust in a social media environment, a company must embrace the fact that it cannot control emerging conversations about its work or brand.

See the Wikipedia page on “social media” for a confusing and wonky definition.

Check out the Mashable discussion of “social media” for a conversation about the definition.

See the fun and clever SlideShare presentation “What is Social Media?” from Marta Kagan of Espresso.