Social Media Definition: The Guide You Need To Get Results

Social Media DefinitionWhat is your social media definition?

More to the point, has your definition evolved?

For  social media marketing success, examine these 80+ expert definitions to:

  • Understand the evolution of social media platforms and use by participants.
  • Determine how to integrate social media into your overall marketing and broader business plans.
  • Allocate budget and resources for social media -related activity. This extends beyond marketing to include sales, customer service and your business reputation.

So let’s see how social media definition is defined now. And more importantly what you need to do to drive results.

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► Social Media Marketing: How The Theory Evolves

To understand social media, start by reading The Cluetrain Manifesto. It was posted to the web in 1999 and published as a book in 2000,

The Cluetrain Manifesto laid the groundwork for social media as it has evolved. Consisting of 95 Theses, it lays the foundation for social media as a form of media, communications and marketing.

 Five of its theses define the key characteristics of social media:

  • Markets are conversations.
  • Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice. 
  • The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media. 
  • These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge.
  • As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally.

Translation for marketers:
When using social media, marketers can no longer push their message and promotions.

In addition,
They must speak human-to-human and skip the jargon and corporate-speak.

Marketers no longer control the conversation!

Social media participants can communicate one-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-many.

At the same time, Seth Godin introduced Permission Marketing, because:
Customers had increased power to ignore marketing: 

“Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.”Click To Tweet


► Social Media Definition: 80+ Marketers Define Social Media

Social Media Definition

Since first publishing our social media definition on May 9, 2011, social media marketing has evolved. So we decided to extensively update this post to reflect these changes.

To find out how social media and marketing professionals define social media and its role in marketing and business more broadly, we asked 80+ experts for their social media marketing definition.

Where appropriate and still relevant, we included some of the original 30 social media definitions from 2011. These social media definitions include a note stating this.

(Editor’s note: Some definitions were reformatted and typos were corrected to improve readability. If the changes misrepresent your point-of-view, contact us and we’ll fix it! Further, we added the date of the definition.)

Ai Addyson ZhangAi Addyson-Zhang – Classroom Without Walls (@AiAddysonZhang)

Authenticity, vulnerability, and quality define social media in terms of content creation, storytelling, and being a media personality. (2019)

Michaela Alexis  (@mickalexis )

Social media is a way to create an extraordinary experience for your audience and make them feel heard and understood.

In 2020, people are wanting more real, candid content that feels conversational. Megaphone marketing that interrupts and talks at folks is no longer tolerated, your audience wants transparent, genuine communications from you and your team. (2020)

Mike AltonMike Allton – Agorapulse (@Mike_Allton)

Social media is increasingly about actually being social, the reason may not be so obvious, and understanding that reason may enlighten other brands.

Years ago when networks like Facebook and Twitter were new, adoption was low and utilization was pedestrian. People just didn’t know what to really do with social media, let alone judge what other people and brands were doing.

Fast forward to today where people, and brands, are far more sophisticated. Folks expect brands to be *human* on social and, what’s more, they can.

Brands using social media today, therefore, must conduct their affairs in a way that their target audience can relate to and adore. (2020)

Andrew and PeteAndrew and Pete (@andrewandpete)

Social Media is a tool we use to keep connected with the people in our lives. It’s a way to strengthen relationships and to make new ones.

While mainly our personal relationships they are also the brands, celebrities and businesses we like… and sometimes love… and sometimes love a bit too much and thus. (2019)

Syed Balkhi – WPBeginner (@syedbalkhi)

Social media is all about building and growing communities.

It’s less jump cuts and more live video. Live video comes across as more authentic with its live comment section. These communities then spread among different platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter.

Many companies think that they need to come up with a mission for people to follow, but joining an existing mission works just as well. (2019)

Shane BarkerShane Barker – Shane Barker Consulting (@shane_barker)

The digital marketing industry is evolving at lightning speed and so is social media.

Since consumers want to be treated as individuals, not demographics, the way brands interact with them on social media is changing.

The focus is on building trust and loyalty using real, personal and authentic content.

With new content formats and challenges, it will be exciting to leverage social media to connect with your audience. (2019)

Nora Ganim BarnesNora Ganim Barnes – University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (@norabarnes)

Social media includes information digitally available. This encompasses aggregated news, individual content, blogs and communities, AI, video and communications delivered via online platforms, websites and tools. (2019)

David BerkowitzDavid Berkowitz – Serial Marketer (@dberkowitz)

Social media marketing needs to get back to the fundamentals of bridging mass and 1:1 media. When people share content, they do so because it feels personal. Don’t forget that human touch. (2020)

Allie Bloyd – Allie Bloyd Media

[Social media helps] build relationships online that follow the natural buying cycle, and increasing sales as a result. (2020)

Susan BorstSusan Borst – Interactive Advertising Bureau (aka: IAB) (@susanborst)

Social media continues to grow by double digits, despite what you read in the press.

Just five years ago, social media revenue on mobile and desktop was $7.0 billion. It’s now over $22 billion. (Source: IAB Revenue reports.)

Social media is a space that’s continually evolving with the rise video/streaming video, social commerce, native advertising, influencer marketing and new ad formats, including AR formats.

Brands and publishers want better measurement to be able to prove ROI. (2019)

Chris BroganChris Brogan – Chris Brogan Media, LLC (@chrisbrogan)

Social media is a set of tools designed to push content and commentary back and forth across the web. (2019)

Lisa BuyerLisa Buyer – The Buyer Group (@lisabuyer)

Social media is today’s most transparent, engaging and interactive form of public relations, communications and beyond. It shapes brands and allows customers to participate in the process.

Social media builds communities and movements.

As a vital part of our communication ecosystem, social media can also be dangerous and unhealthy when misused, overused and abused. (2019)

Antonio CaleroAntonio Calero – Hootsuite (@acalerog)

Social Media is a world of human interactions driven by content and supported by the use of technology. (2019)


Marjorie ClaymanMarjorie Clayman – Clayman Advertising, Inc. (@MargieClayman)

Social Media is a marketing tool that allows you to get to know your customers and prospects in ways that were previously not possible.

This information and knowledge must be paid for with output of respect, trustworthiness and honesty.

Social Media is not a fad, but I also think it’s just the beginning of the marketing revolution – not the end. (Original 2011 social media definition.)

Ian ClearyIan Cleary – (@iancleary)

Anywhere online social media gives people an opportunity to engage with you. This includes social channels, chat bots and private groups. (2019)

Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen – Actionable Marketing Guide (@heidicohen)

Social Media are the platforms that enable the interactive web.  They do so by engaging users to participate in, comment on and create content as means of communicating with their social graph, other users and the public.

Social media characteristics include:

  • Encompasses wide variety of content formats. This includes text, video, photographs, audio, PDF and PowerPoint. ( Social content is a by-product of creating content with your community.)
  • Allows interactions to cross one or more platforms. It uses social sharing, messaging, email, and feeds.
  • Involves different levels of engagement by participants. These uses can create, comment or lurk on social media networks.
  • Facilitates enhanced speed and breadth of information dissemination.
  • Provides for one-to-one, one-to-many and many-to-many communications.
  • Enables communication to take place in real time or asynchronously over time.
  • Is device indifferent. Participants can use computers, tablets, smartphones, [voice-first devices] and/or other options.
  • Extends engagement by creating real-time online events, extending online interactions offline, or augmenting live events online.  (Original 2011 social media definition. )

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Azure CollierAzure Collier – Tripleseat (@azurecollier)

Social media is about access.

With the use  of social media tools, live-streaming video, direct messaging, and content, social media gives businesses direct access to their customers.

On the flip side, customers have direct access to businesses like never before:

  • Find the information they need to help them make purchasing decisions,
  • Feel heard by reaching out directly to the business, and
  • Become more invested by connecting with and learning about the people and practices that make the business stand out from competitors. (2019)

Andy CrestodinaAndy Crestodina – Orbit Media Studios (@crestodina)

[Social media consists of] connecting and interacting with consumers of current content (target audience) or collaborators for future content (influencers). In other words, social media is about promoting content and networking.

This is a slight shift from the early days when it was mostly just content promotion. Marketers went to social media to dump links and cross their fingers. (2020)

Brian DeanBrian Dean – Backlinko (@backlinko)

Social media is any online medium that connects people. (2019)

Juntae DeLane – Digital DeLane, LLC (@juntaedelane)

Will the news feed go the way of the dinosaurs? After being pioneered by Snapchat, Stories are overtaking social media. Over a billion people across WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook are already using Stories.

Text-based forms of media were made for desktop use. However, visual media made with and meant to be viewed on mobile devices is the future. This is a huge change.

Stories are also a key place to help build trust. Brands can do this with quick and “raw” content. This type of content feels “real” rather than manufactured. However, this is not a fit for every brand. There is a lot of room to experiment. So, get creative! (2020)

Gini Dietrich – Spin Sucks (@ginidietrich)

We define social media in 2020 and beyond as “shared” media because it’s gone beyond what we traditionally know as social media.

Of course it’s organic social media. And it’s review sites and social monitoring and media sharing sites and private social (such as Slack).

It’s also content curation and content distribution. And it includes paid media, such as boosted content and social and native advertising. (2020)

Melonie DodaroMelonie Dodaro – Top Dog Social Media @MelonieDodaro)

Social media is an ever changing platform to reach your target audience.

How I define social media ‘done right’ is another answer:

Social media is a platform to meet your buyers where they are, to show up in an authentic manner, and add value to them through content and engagement. (2019)

Perry DrakeDr. Perry D. Drake – University of Missouri – St. Louis (@pddrake)

Social media are channels that allow individuals and brands to connect with friends, colleagues, communities or like minded individuals for the purpose of engaging and sharing experiences, insights, and more. (2019)

Bryan EisenbergBryan Eisenberg – Buyer Legends (@TheGrok)

The biggest problem I have with the term “social media” is that it isn’t media in the traditional sense.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and all the others I don’t have the word count to mention aren’t media; they are platforms for interaction and networking.

All the traditional media — print, broadcast, search, and so on — provide platforms for delivery of ads near and around relevant content. Social media are platforms for interaction and relationships, not content and ads.

Social media isn’t an advertising and branding platform; it’s a hyper-interactive relationship-builder.

Social media isn’t a magic pill for traffic woes; it’s used to deepen longer-term relations. (2019)

Eric EngeEric Enge – Perficient Digital (@stonetemple)

Social media is the practice of creating and sharing content, or interacting online, for the purpose of enhancing your relationships with others.(2019)

Augustine C. FouAugustine Fou – Marketing Science Consulting Group, Inc. (@acfou)

Social media remains the same as always – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

Social media = people’s conversations and actions online that can be mined by advertisers for insights but not coerced to pass along marketing messages. (Note: The second paragraph  appeared in Augustine’s  Original 2011 social media definition. The rest is from 2019.)

Judi FoxJudi Fox – Judi Fox Consulting (@Judi_Fox)

In 2020, it’s even more important on social media to lean into brand awareness and being memorable first before trying to get people to take action.

Marketers should use social media to share stories with an emotional component to connect with the audience and be REAL. (2020)

Adam FranklinAdam Franklin – Bluewire Media (@Franklin_Adam)

In 2020 and beyond, marketers should focus on the personal, human touch. In a social media ecosystem where there is so much pressure to automate and outsource, focusing on genuine human interactions will help set you apart.

Social media is becoming much more competitive and noisy especially with paid ads, so I believe the way to get better traction with real customers is to double down on the human touch. (2020)

Allen GannettAllen Gannett – Author, The Creative Curve (@Allen)

These days social media is a wild amalgamation of customer engagement, owned platforms, and paid media. It all plays off each other and can’t be neatly organized.

This maturation of social media into a set of nuanced capabilities means that marketers have to either work with a lot of specialized experts or become Jack and Jills of many trades (a daunting task!). (2020)

Mike GingerichMike Gingerich – Digital Hill (@Mike_Gingerich)

Social media includes the online platforms and apps allowing social interaction online between individuals and groups. (2019)

Dan GingissDan Gingiss – The Experience Maker, LLC (@dgingiss)

Social media today, like almost everything else, is about the experience. Marketers should not think of it as a broadcast “awareness” channel or even a great sales channel.

Social media is the place where brands can get close to their customers and establish a more personal relationship than in traditional marketing channels. It’s also a place for companies to listen and be responsive to customer inquiries, complaints and compliments. (2020)

Christine GritmonChristine Gritmon – Christine Gritmon, Inc. (@cgritmon)

Social media has been ruined by agenda-driven marketers. But we’re seeing a real return to its origins: as a place to connect with people and have real conversations. This isn’t merely reflected in user behavior, but in the algorithms themselves, which are all shifting to prioritize discussion and suppress one-sided broadcasting. (2020)

Todd GrossmanTodd Grossman – Talkwalker (@ToddMGrossman)

Social media is the world’s biggest virtual marketplace where humans share and exchange emotions, opinions, services, things and information. (2019)

John HallJohn Hall – Calendar (@johnhall)

Social media is beyond just using the platforms like Twitter, Linkedin, and Facebook.

Most social mentions of your brand aren’t just on the major platforms so it’s important that you focus on consistent positive brand mentions and content that will have a spread effect of inbound opportunity for your brand. (2019)

Ann HandleyAnn Handley – MarketingProfs and Author of Everybody Writes (@MarketingProfs)

Social media is an ever-growing and evolving collection of online tools and toys, platforms and applications that enable all of us to interact with and share information.

Increasingly, it’s both the connective tissue and neural net of the Web. (Original 2011 social media definition. )

Sharon Hurley HallSharon Hurley Hall (@shurleyhall)

Social media includes websites and tools that allow you to have conversations and form connections with people around the world.

Social media can include social networking sites like Facebook, business networking sites like LinkedIn, Q&A sites like Quora, discussion sites like Reddit, and other social gathering places online. (2019)

Holly Homer – Kids Activities Blog (@4kidsactivities )

Connecting with other people is more important now than every before.

As the feeds get busier, people get busier and more distractions enter our devices, CONNECTION is the only thing people will never stop seeking out. (2020)

Mitch JoelMitch Joel – Six Pixels Group (@mitchjoel)

Social media is the ability to create content that has the hooks built into it which enable the consumer to share and talk about it as easily as possible. (2019)


Samantha KellySamantha Kelly – Tweeting Goddess (@Tweetinggoddess)

Social media is all about reaching people you never dreamed of reaching before.

Also, it’s all about how you make people feel by adding to their day, making them smile, building trust and connecting globally.

Community and personal touch win. (2019)

Dave KerpenDave Kerpen – Likeable Media (@davekerpen)

Social media is online text, pictures, videos and links, shared amongst people and organizations. (Original 2011 social media definition.)

Alex KahnAlex Khan – Attractiv Media GmbH (@1alexkhan)

Social Media is connecting the right people with a relevant message that adds value to their lives. (2019)

Nadya Khoja – Venngage (@nadyakhoja )

I think “social media” can be defined differently depending on the channel being used. Different outcomes depend on the channel itself (ie. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc) and the way you use it.

Each channel provides a range of use cases, but I think at its core, “social media” in the wholistic sense of the term, is a channel that should be used to converse with new audiences and existing audiences.

Engaging potential customers via 1-1 conversations is becoming a lot more common with social media, since it provides an opportunity for the general public to feel like they have more of a personal bond with a brand or a public figure. (2020)

Dr. Robin KieraDr. Robin Kiera – Digitalscouting (@stratorob )

Social Media does not harm democracy. It’s the new democracy.

Social Media as the connected mobile state of the internet enables us to build new relationships with people we otherwise would never have met and develop products and services for a fraction of the cost to distribute to customers that never would have been able to afford it.

So Social Media could be the base for a positive turn in human history. (2020)

Larry KimLarry Kim – MobileMonkey, Inc. (@larrykim)

Social media are the online platforms and technologies where users interact with each other and are the content creators. (2019)

Adam KlienbergAdam Kleinberg – Traction (@adamkleinberg)

Most organizations approach social media wrong. They ask “who should own it?” as if it were simply another channel like email or search.

Social media is not one thing–It’s five distinct things:

  • A strategic tool for uncovering business insights.
  • Managing the influencers who drive the conversation around your brand.
  • Marketing to provide value and turn customers into evangelists.
  • A critical component of customer care.
  • Transforming your organization to meet the transparency and humanity customers now expect of brands. (Original 2011 social media definition. )

Katie LanceKatie Lance – Katie Lance Consulting (@katielance)

Social media is still social!

The people who are making the most out of social media understand that at the heart of social media are people!

Social media – when done right is still one of the best tools to scale relationship building (and for a company or business this is priceless.)

Lastly – social media is also all about storytelling and creating value content for your audience. (2019)

Amy LandinoAmy Landino – Aftermarq (@Schmittastic)

I define social media as a place to find and engage in community.

 We come together to have ongoing conversations and share our views so we can decide what the next natural step is in our own lives.

From consumption to creation, how we use social media is helping us figure out that next step based on the communities we engage. (2019)

Annica Lin – Thimble Insurance (@Annica_Lin )

From the paid social point of view, platforms emphasize more on providing machine learning with more healthy data by running simplified campaign structure. (2020)

Stephanie LiuStephanie Liu – Lights, Camera, Live® (@heystephanie )

Social media is all about authenticity and building meaningful relationships versus vanity metrics.

It’s about creating content that shows off your personality so you can easily and effortlessly build rapport so you stay top-of-mind and tip-of-tongue. (2019)

Fiona Lucas – iRespectOnline and Futureproof Your Kids (@irespectonline)

For businesses, social media continues to offer new ways of engaging with existing clients and attracting new ones.

In many ways, social media forces a degree of transparency as users demand more interaction and accountability from businesses. Social media platforms are humanizing because consumers demand that we listen!

However social media platforms have work to do to increase trust after recent privacy and data breaches. As a result, I expect to see further strengthening of privacy.

Social media is now such a “norm” in our lives that we forget that these platforms are private companies. As such, they need to follow their own policies as well as government policies. (2019)

Lisa MarcyesLisa Marcyes – Oracle (@lisa_marcyes)

Social media is an open digital platform that allows groups to network, engage, and share content. (2019)

Ryan McCready – Venngage (@RyanMcCready1)

Social media is any platform or place that you can interact with other people and companies online.

People may think that you should only care about the Big 4 social networks (Facebook Instagram, LinkedIn and twitter.)

But you can find customers in any social network, big or small. Forums, community pages, and even comment sections can be parts of your social media strategy. (2019)

Alisa MeredithAlisa Meredith – Tailwind (@alisammeredith)

Social media is the way brands and fans of a brand connect on a human level. (2019)

Scott MontyScott Monty – Scott Monty Strategies (@scottmonty)

Social media is any method of sharing content and interacting with other humans online. (2019)

Donna MoritzDonna Moritz – Socially Sorted (@sociallysorted)

Social media is about conversations, connections and engagement … being social.

We might have lost our way a bit with automation and turning social media into a place where content is blasted to the masses (like old-school advertising)… but smart marketers are realizing that we need to bring it back to human interactions.

Social Media is less about controlling the conversation with content, and more about joining or being invited into conversations with our audience or customers, including conversations about our brand. They’re our best storytellers anyway. (2019)

Drew NeisserDrew Neisser – RENEGADE (@drewneisser)

Social media defies easy definition given its ever evolving intersection between paid, earned and owned media along with customer service.

Paid social, through channels like Facebook and Instagram are proving to be incredibly effective and resilient media options.

Earned social, as in getting “organic” or “free” exposure, is increasingly challenging saved primarily by employee advocacy, influencers and the rare “viral” video.

Owned social, especially for B2B brands, is being absorbed into a brand’s overall content marketing strategy. For customer service, social remains a place to turn haters into lovers and lovers into evangelists or vice versa.

Bottom line:
Defining social media is a lot less important than understanding its role in a brand’s overall marketing strategy. (Original 2011 social media definition)

Daniel Ocner – MediaMorphosis (@docner)

Social media is less about entertainment and more about news, opinions and even PR.

Also it’s moved beyond our own social circles and into those of other people who may have their own Youtube video channels and offer their opinions on everything. Marketers need to figure out how to leverage this. (2020)

Lee OddenLee Odden – TopRank Marketing and author of Optimize (@LeeOdden)

With social media, I think there’s a literal definition concerning the media that people create and share online.

But there’s also the notion that social media is about the technology that facilitates individuals and groups of people to connect and interact, create and share.

Unlike other software that works fine with a single user, social media applications and websites work better the more people there are using them Technology that facilitates collective wisdom, engagement, creation and sharing – that’s what I consider “social media”.  (Original 2011 social media definition)

Aaron OrendorffAaron Orendorff – iconiContent (@aaronorendorff)

Social media is any third-party platform built on an open foundation of a time-bound or popularity-bound feed.

Such platforms can certainly have closed elements, but if the foundation isn’t open, it’s not “social.” (2019)

Joe PulizziJoe Pulizzi – Author of Killing Marketing (@JoePulizzi)

Social media is all about leveraging online tools that promote sharing and conversations, which ultimately lead to engagement with current and future customers and influencers in your target market.

The key to social media working, is having a content marketing strategy that involves the distribution of valuable, relevant and compelling content that promotes the behavior you are looking for that will ultimately drive your business.

Most businesses start with the tools.

Effective social media starts with a content strategy that helps to position you and your brand as the expert in your niche through provocative, informative and helpful content.  Then, once that is accomplished, the social media tools are now available today that make the plan come together. (Original 2011 social media definition)

Keith Quesenberry Keith A. Quesenberry – Messiah College (@Kquesen)

Social Media is an attention machine. If you want to be seen you must be relevant there.

Social media is computer-mediated technologies that allow creation and sharing of information, ideas, and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks. (2019)

Rebekah RadiceRebekah Radice – RadiantLA (@rebekahradice)

Social media is the convergence of conversational, relational, and visual marketing that facilitates organic, vibrant, and genuine communication. (2019)

Laura Rubinstein – Transform Today Digital Marketing Agency & Social Buzz Club (@CoachLaura)

Marketers are being challenged everyday to get more ROI from their social media strategies. The algorithms and services are changing daily.

Now we have Instagram growing, influencer marketing popularized, and millennials getting off Facebook. You must be more cognizant than ever about WHERE your target audience is participating. Go there. First, research what they are responding to. Engage them with crowdsourcing tactics, like interactive polls, big questions that get people talking. Groups are the talk of the town. Facebook is putting more focus on it for sure. Video has continued to advance.

If you’re B2B continue to build your authority with high quality offers. Capture them with bots, email and start planning your SMS strategy. Every brand will have a unique set of strategies based upon their business, market and budget. (2020)

Serena Dot RyanSerena Ryan – Serena Dot Ryan (@serenadotryan)

Social media is the ability to connect with whoever you want in order to create the life you want. (2019)

Neal SchafferNeal Schaffer – PDCA Social (@nealschaffer)

Social media marketing 2.0 is all about the realization that our marketing should be not only Digital-First and Mobile-First, but Video-First and People-First.

People-First means utilizing other people to tell your story, and this is best represented by my holistic perspective on influencer marketing.

Anyone that has digital influence can be an influencer, so it is not limited by social network or by celebrity status. As nano-influencers are defined by having only 1,000+ followers, more and more of your followers, customers, and even employees now yield more digital influence than you might think. (2020)

Jason Schemmel – Amway (@JasonSchemmel)

Social Media has become a platform that has given everyone a voice.

Social media is multi-faceted and it all depends on what your intention with it is. For marketers, it’s a tool to get your brand as well as your content potentially seen by many. It’s an opportunity to find and engage with your audience in a way that builds that trust and authority every brand needs to thrive. (2020)

Brooke B. Sellas – B Squared Media (@BrookeSellas)

Social media is still the same — it’s the brand who’ve been “behaving badly” on social by using it as a broadcasting channel versus using it to have meaningful interactions and being customer-centric.

Our mantra for marketing and especially social media holds true today (and likely for all time):
Think Conversation, Not Campaign. (2020)

Dennis ShiaoDennis Shiao – Attention Retention LLC (@dshiao)

Social media has evolved over three distinct phases.

Phase 1:
Get your basic presence established and figure things out. This included securing your handle, completing your profile, learning how to tweet, post and snap. Also, included figuring out the customs, rituals and norms of each social network.

Phase 2:
Share good content. Load up our [insert social scheduling tool here] with 50 tweets and watch them go out over the next 2 weeks. If our audience found the information useful, we got strong engagement and gained lots of followers.

Phase 3:
Engage authentically and “in the moment” with people you know and people you don’t. I prefer replies over tweets and Twitter chats over scheduled tweets. Video is a part of Phase 3, both pre-recorded and (gasp) LIVE VIDEO! (2020)

Ann SmartyAnn Smarty – Internet Marketing Ninjas (@seosmarty)

Social media is any digital channel based on collaborating and interactive communication. (2019)

Michael StelznerMichael Stelzner – Social Media Examiner (@mike_stelzner)

Social media marketing is the act of using social networks to connect with customers, drive traffic, generate awareness, and increase sales. (2019)

Dustin StoutDustin W. Stout – (@DustinWStout)

The evolving definition of social media is any digital platform in which people can openly express themselves to others through sharing ideas, thoughts, and perspectives through text, images, or video. (2019)

Liz StraussLiz Strauss (@lizstrauss)

Most literally, social media would be any object or tool, that connects people in dialogue or interaction — in person, in print, or online.

In common usage, social media has come to mean a specific category practices, technology, tools, and online sites that involve social relationships, participation, and user-generated content. (Original 2011 social media definition.)

Chris StrubChris Strub – Giving Day Guy (@ChrisStrub)

The more things change, the more they stay the same: proactive social listening should be top-of-mind for marketers across the board.

Marketing departments should be empowered to ‘surprise and delight’ vocal customers, while also being equipped to solve problems quickly and efficiently. (2020)

Ivana Taylor – DIYMarketers (@DIYmarketers)

Social media is a communication and connection tool. A hybrid of traditional phone/TV but with content you curate yourself. What’s changed is that after more than a decade, marketers are beginning to wrap their heads around how to use social media to entertain and engage their audiences. (2020)

Christoph TrappeChristoph Trappe – The Authentic Storytelling Project (@ctrappe)

Social media is still a relevant channel and I define it as any channel where two-way communication can happen. I’ve seen success with a good mix of sharing valuable content, responding to customers and prospects and listening to what people say about your brand.

The types of content that work however changes frequently. I’ve seen more success with video, gifs and other visual content, for example. Keep in mind that multimedia content also have to be useful. (2020)

Eric T. Tung – Dignity Memorial (@EricTTung)

Social media is about stories, but no longer about the brand. It’s unique, interesting, entertaining or emotional stories about how your brand or company has affected someone else. It’s about what they learned about themselves, how they live life differently. That’s how social media is in 2020. (2020)

Magdalena UrbaniakMagdalena Urbaniak – Brand24, MaxTractor (@Meg_Urbaniak)

Social media is a place for brands to listen to their audience and create the communication that really meets their needs. 

Brands must show a human face, talk like a real person, and ignore differences due to distance and time.

It’s ironic because:
As businesses show more realistic presentation, real people do the opposite.

As individuals, we constantly create a world of people who are always happy and who do nothing but spend time on the beach or drink coffee in fancy bars.

Personally, I’m really interested in how this develops because let’s be honest, no one knows. (2019)

Andrea VahlAndrea Vahl – Andrea Vahl, Inc. (@andreavahl)

Social media is still a relevant channel and I define it as any channel where two-way communication can happen. I’ve seen success with a good mix of sharing valuable content, responding to customers and prospects and listening to what people say about your brand.

The types of content that work however changes frequently. I’ve seen more success with video, gifs and other visual content, for example. Keep in mind that multimedia content also have to be useful. (2020)

Owen VideoOwen Video – The Video Sales Machine (@owenvideo)

Social media is the new Marketplace.

It’s where people and vendors and politicians and everyone comes to gather and share ideas.

Social media is how we interact with our communities and our world at large. (2019)

Deborah WeinsteinDeborah Weinstein – Strategic Objectives (@debweinstein)

The greatest equalizer of all time, social media makes it easy for people the world over to create and share ideas, news and information, and participate in social networking.

Social media forms the perfect platform for brand marketers to dive in and engage people targeted for human-to-human communications. As a result they build actionable brand awareness, advocacy, and/or sales.

Social influencers have established nano, micro, medium, mega and macro communities. They have become increasingly important and useful to represent brands. They do this by engaging their following and positively sway behavior.

Take care to look beyond the influencer’s numbers to measure and evaluate the value, risks and rewards for your brand. And remember you must be transparent and provide brand disclosure. (2020)

Anita WongAnita Wong – Bommiemedia (@_anita_wong)

On social media the move is towards creating valuable content that your audience connects and engages with.

This is different for every business and your choice of platform should be dictated by your ideal audience. It is easy to be swept of your feet by new platforms and become distracted by all the hype.

Video will still tick all the boxes but video still needs to be engaging and as more and more people turn to video, the need to make your video stand out and be thumb stopping increases.

Consistency is also key to maintaining valuable engagement and followers will reward you for that. 

‘Stories will rule the way and consistent use of video within Stories will stand your business above the crowd. Being able to explore the capacity of stories is wonderous for some businesses and enables flair/creation and a unique insight into their business world that only lasts for 24 hours. (2020)

Susan B Zimmerman – SBZ Enterprises (@suebzimmerman)

A social network allows anyone from anywhere to make meaningful connections. (2019)



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Social Media Definition Conclusion

Regardless of your social media definition, all of these networks continue to evolve and our conversations grow. As it does so, participants find new ways to use social media to improve their business and personal lives

Surprisingly, many marketers and business executives feel that they lost a source of “Free” traffic. But, in reality, social media marketing campaigns always required budget and support to yield measurable results.

The difference:
In addition to tools, creative and employee time, you need paid advertising.

As marketers:
We have a responsibility to our audiences digitally and in real life to ensure that social media platforms deliver truthful and trustworthy content, communications and engagement. Or we risk losing our audiences and hurting our brand.

Further we have a responsibility to protect the data of our audiences and those with whom we interact across social media platforms. This includes both information privacy and security. As a result, we must continue earning their respect and deepening  our relationships with them.

How do you define social media?

Please include your social media definition in the comments section to expand this conversation.

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen


Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies.
You can find Heidi on Facebook, and Twitter.


This post is dedicated to Trey Pennington, an early social media influencer, who died since the original post was published.

Editor’s Note: This Social Media Definition post was originally published on May 9, 2011, with 30 social media definitions.

The content was significantly expanded with new data and input from other marketers on March 19, 2019. Again on March 1, 2020, it was expanded again. This article continues to be updated to reflect the evolving definition of social media.


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Photos of contributors are sourced from Twitter or LinkedIn profiles.

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