What is Social Media?

Social Media is one of those terms that everyone may immediately assume they can define. In our book, Be a Person: the Social Media Operating Manual for Enterprises, we take a stab at a definition.

This is the first of a series of posts from the book (itself part of a series for different audiences) which is available in paper form at http://bit.ly/OrderBeAPerson save $5 using Coupon Code 62YTRFCV

See the following posts Social Sites Defined, Why Social Media? and How is Social Media Relevant to Business?

What is Social Media? Social Networking? Social Computing?

“Social media are online communications in which individuals shift fluidly and flexibly between the role of audience and author.
To do this, they use social software that enables anyone without knowledge of coding, to post, comment on, share or mash up content and to form communities around shared interests.”

Joseph Thornley, CEO of Thornley Fallis

First off, we’re going to use these three terms interchangeably throughout this book — social media, social networking, and social computing — because they all really mean the same thing — online activities involving three major components:

  • User Generated Content (UGC)
  • Participating in online communities
  • Sharing opinions and ratings with others

Most organizations are struggling with the effects, threats, and promise of social media these days. Many are reaping huge benefits from social media. Others are dipping a toe in the water. And perhaps the majority are wondering why they care what some Twitterer had for lunch. (We don’t and frankly, nobody does.)

This book will straighten this all out for you. It not only gives you a solid foundation in the strategies and the “Whys” of social media, but also a firm grounding in the “Whats” of creating your organization’s social media presence. You’ll learn the rules of the social media road, how to create a social media strategy before you start using the tools — our No Tools Before Rules™ concept — and tips and techniques for maximizing the effectiveness of your social media use.

Social networks really aren’t that new. Many recognize the Website SixDegrees.com, launched in late 1997, as the first social network site.[1] SixDegrees allowed users to create profiles, list their Friends and surf the Friends’ lists.

Figure 1 — SixDegrees.com’s First Main Page — First Social Network

Others point to the ancient discussion groups on USENET (begun in 1979), the pioneering online community the Well (AKA Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link — started in 1985), the communities on CompuServe (1979) and Prodigy (1988), and Internet Relay Chat (IRC — started in 1988) as early social networks.

While all these examples did indeed constitute online communities, they may not quite fit the modern definition of social networking for a variety of reasons, including the limited number of social features and their integration into the communities. However, they did fulfill our three requirements for a social network: They enabled, encouraged, and facilitated User Generated Content; they were online communities; and although sharing opinions and ratings with others was not usually formalized, commenting was generally fully supported.

So social networking has been around at least since 1979, when Duke University graduate students Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis, and Steve Bellovin, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina, created the USENET software and installed it on the first two sites: “duke” and “unc,” which were connected by a relatively new network (created in 1969) called the Internet.

But in reality, you probably already belong to the oldest social network of them all: email. Electronic mail began in 1965 as a way to send messages on a mainframe computer. Modern email was invented by Ray Tomlinson, one of the forefathers of the Internet, in 1971.[2] The only one of our three social networking criteria that email doesn’t obviously fulfill is: participating in online communities. If you’ve ever been part of an email group (AKA a listserv) or email newsletter, you know email can provide online community.

So you are a veteran user of social networking!

Up next: Social Media Sites Defined

The book Be a Person: The Social Operating Manual for Enterprises (part of a series for different audiences), is available in paper form at http://bit.ly/OrderBeAPerson save $5 using Coupon Code 62YTRFCV