Social Media Definition

Social Media is the new MarketingAs social media evolves 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.)

  1. 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.”
  2. 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
  3. 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 BuyerThe Buyer Group
  4. 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
  5. 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.
  6. 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
  7. 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.
  8. Social media is digital content and interaction that is created by and between people. Sam Decker – Mass Relevance
  9. 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 DietrichArment Dietrich, Inc.
  10. 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
  11. 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
  12. 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.
  13. Social media is the tools, services, and communication facilitating connection between peers with common interests. Chris
  14. 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
  15. 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
  16. 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
  17. Social media is online text, pictures, videos and links, shared amongst people and organizations. Dave KerpenLikeable Media
  18. 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
  19. 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
  20. 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

  21. 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 OddenOnline Marketing Blog
  22. 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
  23. 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 PetersenBarn Raisers
  24. 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 PulizziContent Marketing Institute (Disclaimer – I write for Content Marketing Institute)
  25. 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
  26. 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 SchottmullerInteractive Artisan
  27. 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
  28. 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 SterneeMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit and author of Social Media Metrics: How to Measure and Optimize Your Marketing
  29. 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 StraussSOBCon
  30. 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 WeinsteinStrategic 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.

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Please note: book titles appearing in the text are linked to via our affiliate account.

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.

Here are some related articles that you might find of interest.

Social media must haves:

Other definition posts:

Photo credit: Larry Aronson – Webmaster

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48 Responses to Social Media Definition

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  5. chicken says:

    what is primary involvment in media?

  6. Great post.
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  7. Alexandra says:

    The best definition on social media is given by professors Andreas Kaplan
    and Michael Haenlein of the ESCP European Business School ”social media is a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological
    and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and
    exchange of user-generated content. “

  8. Alexandra says:

    Number 10 is wrong. Out there we have: social media and social networking (meaning platforms, as he said). Social media exists long B.C. The difference between social media in years B.C. and the social media in our times is the difference between the terms online and offline. Social networks (or social platforms) only make use of social media, but you can t say social media is equal to social networking.

  9. MD Golam Rabbani says:

    Wikipedia defenestration is most perfect from my view point. I have learn a lot from this educative article. Thank you

  10. sony says:

    Your article cleared the doubts I had before in this field….. I was in search of information related with your post… Now the doubts were cleared .. So thumps Up!!! Make Money , Blogging Tips

  11. OnlinePhDUK says:

    wow…so many definitions….and all are worth including in this list…

  12. Brian James says:

    Another great definition of social media can be found here:

  13. WiseStep says:

    Social media is about breaking down barriers.It forgets about demographics and making judgment because of appearance or status.Social media is all about content and quality of contribution.Engagement and empathy in business and life that is social media!!

  14. Marion L. says:

    Can you tell me the sources of the definitons from Sam Decker and Ann Handley? I would like to refer to them in my thesis. Kind regards!

  15. Informative definations for Social media. Platforms
    like Myspace, Facebook, and Linkedin have created online communities
    where people can share as much or as little personal information as they
    desire with other members. The result is an enormous amount of
    information that can be easily shared, searched, promoted, disputed, and

  16. joey says:

    practices that people use to share content, opinions,
    insights, experiences, perspectives, and media themselves.

  17. P says:

    Here is another definition of social media from a German University (if you can speak German, you’ll see that it’s a comprehensive and good one – or google translate might help!)

  18. Zeph says:

    Very well done!! Keep it up Heidi.

  19. SM is a way of making connections between vendors and customers. No matter who you are or what you do – you’re always connected to a vendor, who gets more and more information about you. Another controversial issue.

  20. According to me, social media is nothing but online networking. Before internet, people used to socialize in clubs and pubs. After internet, people are doing the same but on a different platform. 

  21. ….a one-to-one message delivered in a one-to-many format.

  22. DavidWB says:

    Social Media is a 2-way engagement taking the power of marketing away from the old school ‘pushers’.

    Users are now in control of the messages and information they receive, to influence we must engage and incentivise consumers to give ‘worth’ to being a follower.


  23. Lynn says:

    Given the various definitions, is it fair to say that Skype would be a platform for social media? I didn’t see it ever in a list of examples.

    • Alexandra says:

      Yes. Skype it is a type of social media application software, called instant messaging. All the application software and platforms that allow you to communicate with other people can be considered as social media. Although, social media application such as instant messaging software are not the same with social networking (Facebook, MySpace etc.). Both instant messaging software and social networks are types of social media.

  24. IN THE MEDIA says:

    sweet site ill be back

  25. ankur says:

    communication in social media gives instantanious feedback. we can get feed back while interacting ,.

  26. Scott Gray says:

    Social Media is a vast ocean of drivel that on very rare occasions coalesces in mighty wave of action.

  27. Socially@ says:

    Social media is engaging!

    Engage: to occupy the attention or efforts of (a person or persons): He engaged her in conversation. (see

  28. I find it fascinating how we all think differently about what social media is but one thing I’ve got to say and I don’t think many will disagree, it’s affordable for anyone who wishes to use it.

  29. Karola Haase says:

    Hi there!
    Thank you for collecting all these definitions! I am currently writing my thesis about Social Media and would be more than glad if you could provide me with the sources you derived the definitions of Dave Kerpen and Doreen Moran from. Thank you very much in advance!

  30. Kerry Jonas says:

    I ‘wordled’ these 30 definitions and the stand out words were
    online, content, people, platforms….followed by media, marketing, social, conversations.

  31. Karyn says:

    Great post, Heidi. I recorded a few “man on the street” responses to the question: How do you define social media? Take a peek at what some users believe defines social.


  32. Jim Dicks says:

    Heidi –

    Your presentation at the Rutgers Mini-MBA course on social media was very enlightening. What struck me was how social media is forcing producers of goods and services to integrity-based commerce. The customer-driven two-way feedback loops of social media sound the death-knell for asymmetric information that producers could traditionally hide behind. Now there’s nowhere to hide for the unethical and devious.

  33. Looks like we won’t be agreeing on a single definition any time soon! This was really interesting to read, thanks for sharing!

  34. Adeniyi Aduragbemi says:

    All well said. I like the part that says” social media is the new marketing”

  35. Milena Regos says:

    Thank you for the great assortment of definitions. They are all excellent and all correct.
    I made a short video on social media history – you may find it useful.

  36. Rob Petersen says:

    It is interesting to me that, of the 30 definitions, not one is the same and all speak from the authors personal experiences and outcomes. So that makes 30 different positive possibilities for anyone or any company that choses to take any of these definitions to heart. Thanks Heidi for including mine as one of them.


  37. It’s REALLY interesting to see the different definitions that include customer service, PR, and more. We all see social through our own lenses, not through a universal one, and that’s fascinating to me.

  38. Andy Mallon says:

    A top (and I mean top) consumer research official commented to me today he didn’t think Twitter was social media, just a place for brief messages. Wasn’t sure how to answer that, e.g. how companies use Twitter.

    • @Andy Mallon

      I agree that Twitter’s vocation is to bring a voice to the bird communicating to ears that will listen.
      The bird’s song shall not require more than 140 to bring it’s message to life.
      Social media is Facebook

  39. Scott Gelber says:

    Social marketing is the art of encouraging consumers to shift between audience, author and influencer.

  40. Barry Stamos says:

    Social media is the “voice of the customer” infused omni-channel.

  41. Social Media….

    History.. of Social Media