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I’ll be brave and make an attempt at defining social media – Social media defines the process and capability for individuals to express themselves, their ideas, and experiences in a one-to-many communication using digital media. Much like I am doing now.

I decided to take a look at what wikipedia had to say (another form of Social Media) and here is how people have described social media:
Social media describes the online tools and platforms that people use to share opinions, insights, experiences, and perspectives with each other. Social media can take many different forms, including text, images, audio, and video. Popular social mediums include blogs, message boards, podcasts, wikis, and vlogs.

One of the good things about social media is that it creates an outlet for individuals to express themselves in very creative and personal ways. It creates new opportunities for dialog and rich information sources that one can use to learn about new things (such as vacation destinations; something I enjoy reading about). It has also created new forms of entertainment.

One downside is when individuals use social media deceptively or hide behind the potential anonymity. But so far for me, the good outweighs the bad.

From a marketer's point of view, social media can be a powerful form of "word-of-mouth" marketing. I think this is tricky and difficult to manufacture. It's extremely powerful when it's natural and customers actively seek to promote your product, service and company because you have delivered on a relevant and valued brand promise.

For example, I am a frequent user of Trip Advisor - but I have definitely found the reviews to be a mixed bag in terms of accuracy. On balance though, hearing what other people have to say about hotels seems one of the best ways to find place that will meet my needs.

Tom Asacker

Hi Chris,

I suppose we should deconstruct the term. Social, for this discussion and at this point in time, probably means "public." Although, as the various platforms continue to fragment and appeal to ever more narrow "public" interests, social will more likely come to mean "community," as in community of shared interest.

And I like this definition of media(medium)from Dictionary.com: "an intervening agency, means, or instrument by which something is conveyed or accomplished."

Given these definitions, social media are simply tools by which the public communicates and accomplishes things. So, although it never gets categorized as such, Ebay is probably the most economically successful "social media" platform today.

I'll let you take it from there and I'll chime in a little later. Great topic, btw.

Chris Kenton


"Social media defines the process and capability for individuals to express themselves, their ideas, and experiences in a one-to-many communication using digital media."

I like that a lot. There are a couple of subtleties in that definition that I think are useful in the emerging dialog over what, exactly, social media means. First , the idea of "individuals expressing themselves"... A lot of the deep discussion right now around defining social media is centered in the debate between traditional media circles and their "Web2.0" counterparts, where the frame of reference is far too frequently commerce and anti-commerce. In this debate, Social Media is often framed as the democratic response to information shaped and spoon-fed to us by greedy corporations. There's some validity in that frame, which I'll talk about later this week, and which is particularly relevant to marketers, but what it misses is that a huge motivation for social media is simply individual expression and community. It's fun to put something out there and see how people respond.

Second, the concept of "one-to-many"... There's one thread of discussion right now that seeks to eliminate the idea of an "audience". In this frame, social media is strictly viewed as "many-to-many"--an annhilation of the tyranny of broadcast media. There are a lot of passionate pleas to give up the "pre-packaged and positioned content" that marketing serves up, and to open up to authentic dialog and debate. Again, this is an important viewpoint, but it's not sufficient to accurately describe what's happening in social media. Instead of "one-to-many", or "many-to-many", I wonder if it's more like "many one-to-many". As individuals expressing ourselves, we still naturally conceive of an audience when we create content to post, even if we're open to dialog and debate about it. Social media didn't invent dialog and debate about content--before the Web we had the water cooler--it's just made it much easier to engage a broader group in that dialog.

I think you hit the nail on the head in terms of laying down the baseline definition. The debate is in the details.

Thanks for being brave!


Chris Kenton


That's a really interesting insight--the distinction between "public" and "community"--and I think you're right, the definition will certainly change. In fact, some commentators, like Steve Rubel at Edelman, claim that "social media" as distinguished from "mainstream media" is already dead, because mainstream media has already incorporated the tools and techniques of social media. From that perspective, it's all just "media". Personally, I think that viewpoint is a little premature--maybe by a decade. We need the term "social media" to distinguish not so much from the physical forms of media that have overwhelmingly dominated our culture since the rise of mass media, but from the means and politics of production that centered its control in the hands of a few. Social media, enabled by technology, puts the tools of public communication in the hands of anyone with access to a computer, and that radically changes both the content and the form of the communication itself. I strongly believe that culturally, we've only just begun to accommodate this shift. The tools are still evolving, and shaping new concepts of public communication that most of us haven't even dreamed about yet--like SecondLife, before that became old news in an Internet heartbeat.

So I think you're right in sensing the difference between public--which is the focus now, because it's distinct from corporate--and community, which is what becomes of social media dialogs as they aggregate around shared interests.

I'm going to ping you back later, Tom, to weigh in the impact of all this on a company's brand.


Chris Kenton

It's interesting to think about today's Vista release in light of social media. For the past few months we've been getting the full court press of traditional media push and spin on Vista's impending release. Microsoft sent out fancy laptops loaded with Vista to influential journalists and bloggers to drum up a frenzy before the release, and we had the usual parade of pre-reviews of the product. But today marks the point at which social media will start to define the conversation--when ordinary folks who buy new computers or upgrade their systems begin to tell the real story about how Vista performs at 123 Elm Street USA. Watch how the dialog suddenly shifts from a focus on "the Big Milestone for Windows" to the issues of security, compatibility and usability that will be the concerns of actual users. It's not that social media creates that shift, but that it accelerates it from what used to be slow-burn trickle of word-of-mouth over the product lifecycle, to what will be widespread reports flooding from social media to mainstream media within weeks, if not days.

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