What is Social Media?

In my daily work, I often use the expression “social media”. I’ve been asked to define it before but I always end up talking about user-generated content and reciprocal, two-way conversation between the user and the media. Wikipedia has a good definition but Joe Marchese from the Mediapost’s Online Spin adds more meat:

Social media describes the online technologies and practices that people use to share opinions, insights, experiences, perspectives and media itself. Social media can take many different forms, including text, images, audio, and video. These sites typically use technologies such as blogs, message boards, podcasts, wikis, and vlogs to allow users to interact. A few prominent examples of social media applications are Wikipedia (reference), MySpace (social networking), Gather.com (social networking),YouTube (video sharing), Second Life (virtual reality), Digg (news sharing), Flickr (photo sharing) and Miniclip (game sharing).” (source: Wikipedia)

Marchese begins: “first I think one of the biggest myths regarding social media is that it equals user-generated content. (…) Second, there is nothing about social media that demands user creation. The “media” part of social media can be anything from professional content to home videos. Just because “America’s Funniest Home Videos” consisted of user-generated content certainly didn’t make it social media. Conversely, just because “Heroes” is professionally produced doesn’t mean that it can’t be social media.”

He continues: “the real difference between broadcast media and social media is not the media itself, but the system of discovery, distribution, consumption and conversation surrounding the media. (…) What many of us are defining as social media today are actually just technologies specifically architected to facilitate people’s natural tendencies to seek out, share and discuss media content. Think about it. How is MySpace social medium? I would certainly say that MySpace is the largest and most influential social media platform of our time, but it doesn’t create media (at least not for most of it). The media one finds on MySpace is a mix of professional, semi-professional and (I hate using the term) “user- generated” content, and that media is made social by the context of its distribution and its ability to create dialogue between people. ANY TYPE OF MEDIA CAN BE SOCIAL MEDIA — and eventually all media will be social media in the most literal definition. This will have serious implications for media companies and advertisers alike, so it is important that we are not dismissing social media as the user-generated portion of the Internet.”

What it means: so my quasi, minimalistic definition wasn’t too far off. I agree that social media is all about the conversation but I think that, as part of that conversation, there will be some “user-generated content” happening. I agree that all media can be social media. I would even say that all media will have to become social media. Consumers are getting used to contributing to the conversation and that’s not going away. BTW, I like his thoughts regarding America’s Funniest Home Videos.

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