What is social media?
My question is prompted from a blog post by Jeremy Toeman, whose article “I hate social media” was featured in our Quote of the Day (Dec 11, Social media hatred).
What Jeremy actually meant, it seems, is that he hates the term “social media” for the way it is so loosely used. But that got me thinking about the definition of social media and what it means to the millions of people that use it daily, not to mention the community of developers and marketers who see it as a way to make money.
Given this diversity of communities that engage with social media, either on the front or back end, there are about as many interpretations of social media as there are people using it, hence Jeremy’s frustration.
In a past life I was a biologist, among my interests being taxonomy, that is, the classification of living things. While people might argue about the usefulness of classifying parts of the social media ecosystem, it makes sense to begin, at least, with defining social media itself.
Clearly there are two words. Let’s briefly deal with each.
- social: the participants—that is the audience and content creators (and to a lesser extent the technology developers).
- media: the technology (applications, widgets, code, browser functions) enabling the participants to convey and share contect
Wikipedia’s description fits this fairly well: “Social media are primarily Internet- and mobile-based tools for sharing and discussing information among human beings.” But this seems restrictive and self referential. Why “tools”? And social media allow much more than “sharing and discussing.”
In summary, I put forward a modified definition: “social media are the suite of technologies that are used by people to share and interact with online content.”
What do you think? Does this definition fit with your view of social media?