As social media continues to evolve and its uses change and expand, so does the social media definition.
In part, this is attributable to the fact that social media relates to the technology and platforms that enable the interactive web’s content creation, collaboration and exchange by participants and the public.
Yet, many users, business executives and the public consider the marketing around these networks and the content created on them to be social media.
To clarify how social media, marketing and PR professionals define social media, I surveyed a group of my peers. Given social media’s dynamic nature, I expected a range of responses.
The biggest surprise: one long-term practitioner responded he wasn’t sure what social media was anymore.
Social media definition
In their own words, here are 30 social media definitions from active participants. (Editor’s note: For formatting purposes, some multi-paragraph answers appear as one paragraph and typos were corrected.)
- To start, Wikipedia, the social media go-to reference created by the public in the form of thousands of contributors, defines Social media as “media for social interaction, using highly accessible and scalable communication techniques. Social media is the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogue.”
- Social media consists of various user-driven (inbound marketing) channels (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube). These channels represent a stark difference from the advertiser-driven (outbound marketing) push model. As the principal owner of the customer relationship in the firm, typically, the marketing department is responsible for managing these social media channels. Although some may argue that the customer relationship is “everyone’s” responsibility in the firm, the overarching responsibility rests with the marketing department as the champion for the customer. Cheryl Burgess – Blue Focus Marketing
- Social media is today’s most transparent, engaging and interactive form of public relations. It combines the true grit of real time content with the beauty of authentic peer-to-peer communication. Lisa Buyer – The Buyer Group
- Social media is not about what each one of us does or says, but about what we do and say together, worldwide, to communicate in all directions at any time, by any possible (digital) means. Michelle Chmielewski – Synthesio
- Social Media is a new 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. Marjorie Clayman – Clayman Advertising, Inc.
- Social Media are the platforms that enable the interactive web 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 has the following characteristics:
- Encompasses wide variety of content formats including 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 through social sharing, email and feeds.
- Involves different levels of engagement by participants who 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. It can take place via a computer (including laptops and netbooks), tablets (including iPads, iTouch and others) and mobile phones (particularly smartphones).
- Extends engagement by creating real-time online events, extending online interactions offline, or augmenting live events online. Heidi Cohen – Riverside Marketing Strategies
- Social media broadly defined consists of any online platform or channel for user generated content. By this definition, for example, WordPress, Sharepoint, and Lithium qualify as social media, as do YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Social media more narrowly defined includes only channels for user-generated content, as distinguished from platforms, which are referred to as social technologies. By this definition, for example, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter are social media, and WordPress, Sharepoint and Lithium are social technologies. Joe Cothrel – Lithium Technologies, Inc.
- Social media is digital content and interaction that is created by and between people. Sam Decker – Mass Relevance
- Social media is a shift in how we get our information. It used to be that we would wait for the paper boy to throw our news on the doorstep (or into the flowers) and we’d read the paper, front to back, with our morning coffee before going to work. Now we get information, 24/7 and on the fly, from anywhere. In the more traditional senses, online, on our phones, and through the social platforms. Social media allows us to network, to find people with like interests, and to meet people who can become friends or customers. It flattens out the world and gives us access to people we never would have been able to meet otherwise. Gini Dietrich – Arment Dietrich, Inc.
- We are still trying to come to terms with the definition of social media. To start I think we should look at what it is not. The biggest problem I have with the term “social media” is that it isn’t media in the traditional sense. Twitter, Facebook, 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. This is quite similar to what Ted McConnell, General Manager-Interactive Marketing and Innovation at Procter & Gamble Co. likes to say about social media. Bryan Eisenberg – Author of Waiting for Your Cat to Bark (Affiliate link)
- Markets have become conversations. Social media are the online platforms and locations that provide a way for people to participate in these conversations. For individuals it is a way to connect and share content with friends and like-minded people. For businesses it’s a way to tap into what people are saying about your brand, your product and/or your service, participate in the conversations, be open to new ideas and then use these insights to make better business decisions. Sally Falkow – APR, PRESSfeed
- Social media = people’s conversations and actions online that can be mined by advertisers for insights but not coerced to pass along marketing messages. It’s the new form of media that does not exist until it happens and that cannot be bought by advertisers to carry their messages. Dr. Augustine Fou – Marketing Science Consulting Group, Inc.
- Social media is the tools, services, and communication facilitating connection between peers with common interests. Chris Garrett – Chrisg.com
- Social media are the online technologies and practices that people use to share content, opinions, insights, experiences, perspectives, and media themselves. They are media for social interaction.You can tell social software because it is no fun to use by yourself – an account with no friends connected has no value. Howard Greenstein – Social Media Club-NYC
- 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. Ann Handley – MarketingProfs, Author with C.C. Chapman of Content Rules (Affiliate link)
- Social media is a reflection of conversations happening every day, whether at the supermarket, a bar, the train, the watercooler or the playground. It just allows for those conversations to reach a broader audience due to digital being a megaphone for scale Sarah Hofstetter – 360i
- Social media is online text, pictures, videos and links, shared amongst people and organizations. Dave Kerpen – Likeable Media
- 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:
- It’s a strategic tool for uncovering business insights.
- It’s managing the influencers who are driving the conversation around your brand.
- It’s marketing that provides value and turns customers into evangelists.
- It’s a critical component customer care.
- It’s transforming your organization to meet the transparency and humanity customers now expect of brands. Adam Kleinberg – Traction
- Social media is digital, content-based communications based on the interactions enabled by a plethora of web technologies. Rebecca Lieb, author of The Truth About Search Engine Optimization (Affiliate link)
- Social media is a collection of online platforms and tools that people use to share content, profiles, opinions, insights, experiences, perspectives and media itself, facilitating conversations and interactions online between groups of people.
- Social Media is the platform/tools.
- Social Networking is the act of connecting on social media platforms.
- Social Media Marketing is how businesses join the conversation in an authentic and transparent way to build relationships.
Doreen Moran – Digital and Social Marketing Strategist
- 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”. Lee Odden – Online Marketing Blog
- Social media is any of a number of individual web-based applications aggregating users who are able to conduct one-to-one and one-to-many two-way conversations. Trey Pennington
- Social media is the media channel that relies on listening and conversation, as opposed to a monologue, to get your point across, make a connection and build a relationship. Rob Petersen – Barn Raisers
- 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. Joe Pulizzi – Content Marketing Institute (Disclaimer – I write for Content Marketing Institute)
- There are three hallmarks of social media: Evolution, Revolution and Contribution. First, it is an evolution of how we communicate, replacing email in many cases. It’s a revolution: For the first time in history we have access to free, instantaneous, global communication. We’re living in an exciting time! Third, social media is distinguished by the ability of everybody to share and contribute as a publisher. Mark W. Schaefer – Schaefer Marketing Solutions. Author of The Tao of Twitter (Affiliate link)
- Social media is communication channels or tools used to store, aggregate, share, discuss or deliver information within online communities. The focus is on interaction and relationships, not the almighty dollar. Angie Schottmuller – Interactive Artisan
- Social Media is simply another arrow to be shot in a company’s marketing quiver. The first goal of all of the arrows used together is to generate revenue. Peter Shankman – Help A Reporter Out (HARO) and Social Media Consultant. Author of Customer Service – New Rules for a Social Enabled World (Affiliate link)
- Social media platforms make it easier to share information–usually online. But a bulletin board at a grocery store or in a college dorm qualifies too. Jim Sterne – eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit and author of Social Media Metrics: How to Measure and Optimize Your Marketing. (Affiliate link)
- 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. Liz Strauss – SOBCon
- Social Media is the new Wild, Wild West of Marketing, with brands, businesses, and organizations jostling with individuals to make news, friends, connections and build communities in the virtual space. A plethora of platforms ranging from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube to a vast variety of newly emerging and rapidly dwindling services, like, Foursquare and MySpace, social media is all about influencing people one-on-one; and achieving P2P (person-to-person) communication that influences awareness, acceptance and behavior. Powerful tactics and tools of communication, social networks can and should play an important role in every brand-building, maintenance and protection strategy. Deborah Weinstein – Strategic Objectives
Regardless of how you define social media, one thing’s for certain, it will continue to evolve and its use will expand. In the process it will become more integrated into both our business and personal lives.
How do you define social media? Please include your response in the comments section to expand this conversation.
Big tip of my hat to those who participated and helped provide insight as well as to my webmaster, Larry Aronson, for his help with the formatting of this post.
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Other definition posts:
Photo credit: Larry Aronson – Webmaster