A few days ago, Stephen Nold on LinkedIn posed the question “Social media is ________? (fill in the blank)”. A word cloud of the 68 responses reflects the business orientation of most LinkedIn users. From the cloud of responses, social media looks to be “marketing communications that reach people as individuals.”
But the LinkedIn respondents show no evident consensus on defining social media. Moreover, what about social media that is not about marketing? This got me thinking. Do we need to define social media? If so, can we agree on a definition?
Social media seems a simple enough idea. But it can be hard to sell to colleagues and C-suites who see it as just a fad, something that teens do. So maybe we do need a definition.
Maybe a simple definition would help. Definitions allow us to put a stake in the ground, to say what something is or isn’t..
So how about Wikipedia? Surely the world’s largest online reference source would have something meaningful to say. The closest it comes to a definition is: “Social media are media designed to be disseminated through social interaction, created using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques.” Um, okay. But how do you convey that to execs? But the article seems to cover the basics. Let’s take it as a starting point.
A word cloud of the 382 words from Wikipedia’s page (excluding references and the words “social” and “media”) shows the four commonest words are (1) community, (2) information, (3) sharing and (4) technologies. These strung together make a straightforward definition “Community information sharing technologies.” (Note: the prominence of the word “industrial” results from considerable space being devoted to distinguishing social media from traditional media such as print, television and radio.)
So “community information sharing technologies.” How’s that for a succinct oneliner definition of social media?