social media

Four word definition of social media

on Sep 22 in social media, trends posted by

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.”

Cloud of words from respondents on LinkedIn asked to define social media

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.

Cloud of words from Wikipedia’s entry on social media

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?

4 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Roger,
    Great post. You have taken my simple question and offered a simple answer, rich with explanation. I enjoyed your other important question "Do we need Social Media?" I suspect that more and more business executives are waking up to the realization that social media is not a fad. If harnessed correctly, social media offers a new way to present a brand discussion on the customer’s terms.

    I was shocked by yesterday’s Wall Street Journal article WPP Chief Tempers Hopes for Ad Upturn. The leader of the world’s largest communications company, Sir Martin Sorrell, admitted that they do not ever expect to return to the same level of profits from traditional marketing. He also stated they had been slow to move to new media. He still seemed confused by new media as he asked, what is a Kindle? Or more important to his organization, how is it changing his business model for brand promotion.

    In the words of REM, "it’s the end of the <traditional marketing> world as we know it, and I feel fine."

    Comment by Stephen Nold — September 23, 2009 @ 10:41 am

  2. Roger and Stephen…love the dialog…Stephen, interesting question to get the party started.
    Roger, I thank you for the way you addressed the question with your cloud of words, boiling down to the essentials.
    Both, I think a lot of companies (ours included) are having trouble finding the right mix of utilizing social media with traditional marketing. There’s no doubt it has to be done but the dynamics involved are no less than the opportunities. If people don’t know what it is, how can they be expected to be strategic about it, much less claim to be profitable because of it? I don’t believe it’s a trend, but more of a "shifting sand" mentality. It’s going to continue to move and so the "trends" could be considered "changes" in the way we communicate within a global business community. Traditional marketing is something tangible and therefore, something we can control…most people are comfortable with that aspect. Social networking does a 180 on us! It’s a challenge to embrace something from a business perspective that is not always under our control, when we’re trained to do just the opposite.

    So, yes, we need social networking, and yes, it can be defined to a certain extent, but it cannot always be contained. Maybe that’s what we’re missing.

    Hope this makes sense to somebody.

    Comment by Mary Denson — October 1, 2009 @ 5:02 pm

  3. Hi Mary,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Part of the reason I wrote this post (being initially inspired by Stephen’s LinkedIn question) is that social media seems like jargon when you are trying to articulate the value. I’m not saying "community information sharing technologies" is the best or only possible definition, just that we need to be thinking of terms that are readily conveyed to non-experts

    When I talk to execs about social media, they say, "Oh yeah, Facebook and Twitter, and that stuff." But when you say it is about communities sharing information through online technologies, they really seem to get it.

    Comment by Roger — October 1, 2009 @ 8:21 pm

  4. Roger,
    Agreed…once you put it into terminology and a perspective that pertains to them, and not others, it takes on a whole new meaning! Now the ball is in their court to understand how it’s relevant to their business and how they can maximize it’s many facets. Need, want and value become something different for everyone at that point.
    I think most businesses are trying to balance the importance of this as a communications tool, but not get lost in the vastness of the noise. Have a great day!

    Comment by Mary Denson — October 2, 2009 @ 7:44 pm

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